As Californians faced the first big heat wave of the summer, electric utilities and grid operators met the challenge head-on. Thanks to good planning and tools such as flex alerts, they avoided rolling blackouts even with historic levels of customer demand.
Yet the hottest months are yet to come, and with climate change, we will see more frequent and severe heat waves across California and the West. So California must leverage our clean energy leadership to build a system that can stand up to this challenge.
We must continue to build, integrate and expand markets for renewable energy. We must invest in clean, stabilizing and flexible technologies such as battery storage. We must also harness the potential of consumers bringing rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles onto the grid every day. A balanced portfolio of clean energy technologies – in concert with the right strategies – will ensure we have a reliable and affordable grid while fast-tracking our energy policy goals.
One strategy is to ensure a successful transition to time-of-use electricity pricing. Already in use for commercial customers, these rates motivate customers to consume energy when it’s cheap and clean – when solar and wind are abundant. Not only do customers benefit from lower bills, it also stabilizes the grid and reduces our reliance on expensive and polluting fossil fuels.
Utilities are testing these rates with some residential customers now. SMUD already offers a time-of-use rate to solar and electric vehicle customers and plans to roll it out to all residential customers in late 2018. PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric plan to do so in 2019. These tests are critical to making sure the most vulnerable Californians can take advantage of time-of-use pricing.
The Environmental Defense Fund is working hard to see that utilities design and market these rates effectively and target clean energy investments in the most at-risk communities.
These new rates are critical to unlocking the power of smart thermostats, efficient appliances, electric vehicles and the next wave of clean energy innovation. For example, during a heat wave, your thermostat would automatically pre-cool your energy-efficient home while solar power is at its peak and demand is low. Or your electric vehicle would be charged when it’s best for the grid and the environment. It is critical for utilities and regulators to make these tools accessible to all Californians.
Also improving options for customers to share their energy data securely will attract new products and services from third-party providers, creating jobs and ensuring we’re effectively using clean energy for the future grid.
California is already moving toward a cleaner, more resilient grid. Hot summers are reminders of how important these new approaches are, and why we need them to protect our most vulnerable and at-risk neighbors. With good planning, clean resources, and smart strategies, Californians can be confident that our energy system won’t let us down, even on the hottest of days.
Jayant Kairam is director of California Clean Energy for Environmental Defense Fund. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.