Most people know that solar and wind energy is only generated when the sun shines or the wind blows. This leaves potential power gaps at times of no sun or wind. One of the Holy Grails of renewable energy has been storage systems (think battery here) that can store surplus energy when it’s produced for use later.
Various technologies are being explored, and widespread use should not be far off. With the current move from fossil fuel to renewables, we need to push utilities now to acquire storage. If we don’t, their tendency is to stick to business as usual, which favors burning fossil fuels.
Earthjustice is currently before the California Public Utility Commission, arguing the need for such storage. We’re careful not to tell the PUC or utilities what type of storage they must have, only that they must have it.
Recently the CPUC took a big step in a case involving Southern California Edison, the utility serving Los Angeles and other parts of southern California. The PUC told the utility that it would allow it to meet future anticipated electrical demand by building additional gas-fired power plants, but that it would also require them to acquire a certain amount of storage capacity to capture electricity from renewable systems. This was a first in the state. The idea here is that acquiring storage capacity will prompt or channel the utility to then fill it, thus enabling renewable energy systems. There’s certainly enough power hitting rooftops on an average Los Angeles day to warrant establishment of utility storage for it.
There’s an entire storage industry sitting on the sidelines, developing the batteries of tomorrow, waiting for their big chance to sell the perfect complement to renewable energy systems. They are anxiously awaiting results from the current PUC proceedings, knowing their fortunes may fall or rise depending on the outcome.
The state set itself a goal of selling 33 percent of its power from renewable sources by the year 2020. Last I checked, we’re on target, at least on paper, and there’s no doubt a lot more rooftops will adopt solar generators in the future. So we are well on our way towards trading in our old dirty energy systems for clean ones that essentially use free fuel. It’s up to the PUC to send a clear signal to the utilities that renewables are preferred and to require acquisition of storage for the energy they make.