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Rooftop Solar and Energy Storage Units Could Help During Emergency Blackouts

Speaker 1: 00:00 More than 2000 people are without power today in the back country, due to the Valley, fire thousands, more STG customers experienced power blackouts last week due to grid overloads because of the record breaking heat spell with the threat of blackouts. Many people now have questions about whether it's worth getting solar panels and storage batteries to hear to talk about the changing marketplace for solar panels and domestic energy storage is Benjamin Erith. Who's senior policy manager at the center for sustainable energy. Benjamin, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. So now having solar panels on your roof, won't help you if there's a blackout Willy, that is correct. They will not and explain what else you would need to have in order to not be blacked out when the power goes down. Speaker 2: 00:44 So, uh, when, when solar was first getting installed batteries, weren't really an option. We typically looked at the grid as the battery to, you know, use those solar credits that we produced during the day, um, and use them, you know, and then when the sun's not shining, but now with the need for backup and with the, you know, innovation around energy storage or batteries, uh, that is now a viable option for homeowners to pair with their solar so they can offset their utility bill, but also have power in that battery if, and when the power goes off. Speaker 1: 01:15 Okay. Now a recent report shows that California and Hawaii not surprisingly have the largest share of buildings with rooftop solar in San Diego ranks. Second is the city with the largest share of solar viable buildings. So we in San Diego are ahead of the game with solar panels, right? But where do we stand in terms of, in investing in battery storage? Speaker 2: 01:35 That is correct San Diego because of our weather. And honestly, because of the high cost of electricity have always been a good market for solar. Now, the penetration of energy storage is not quite where we want it to be where we have about, um, 7,000 installations so far. So otherwise we're looking at over a hundred thousand, uh, solar installations. So we got quiet quite a bit of ways to go. Speaker 1: 02:01 Well, obviously the price is the biggest hurdle to going independent with energy has the price of solar panels and domestic energy storage come down at all. Speaker 2: 02:09 It has, but not, not, not where we would like to have seen it so far. And you know, right now you can get an energy storage system for anywhere between, let's say 8,000 and $14,000. And yeah, we really want that number to come down. And the more this market grows, the more we're going to see that, that number cut down, just like we did with solar since, um, solar really took off and let's say 2004, 2005, uh, the cost has gone down by over 70%. And that's what we're hoping to see with energy storage as well. Speaker 1: 02:40 How about the marketplace companies competing to offer batteries? Is there a healthy competition in the marketplace? Speaker 2: 02:47 Yeah, absolutely. And what has happened is with the cost of electricity and really with the move to time of use rates, all solar companies now are including energy storage or batteries in their package. Now you don't have to install a battery, but with, with the blackouts that we've seen and the need for a backup generation, it is definitely becoming a viable. Speaker 1: 03:10 All right, you can still get solar panels, I guess, but you're saying that most people are being encouraged to get both. Speaker 2: 03:16 Yeah. Again, because you know, the high cost of electricity is at four o'clock from four to nine. And as we all know, the sun isn't necessarily shining that entire time. And so what you need is batteries to take those kilowatt hours from the sun that you just produced and put them in there and then discharge them either to the home or to the grid at 40. Speaker 1: 03:35 So what you're saying is that the new kind of billing that we're all just getting used to at STG and E this time of use billing, where there are peak periods of between four and nine, that makes it more attractive to get battery added, Speaker 2: 03:48 More attractive for solar and storage and less attractive for solar only that's correct. Right. Speaker 1: 03:53 Are the incentives, the tax breaks to get solar and batteries changing much? Speaker 2: 03:58 Yeah. In fact, this is the first year that it has stepped down from 30% to 26%, but that is still a really good number. And that is on top of the state's incentive through the self generation incentive program, which is offering a pretty decent, uh, incentive, especially if you are a low income customer. And if you live in some of these, uh, high fire threat, uh, regions. Speaker 1: 04:23 Yeah. I was going to ask you about that because this is a purchase that is way out of reach for many families. Is there any talk of, of making energy storage, more affordable, more accessible to people who really need it Speaker 2: 04:35 Well affordable? Yes. And that is through upwards of 85 to a hundred percent of the costs paid for through the, uh, SGIP or the self generation incentive program accessible, uh, is a different story because not everybody owns their own home or their own roof. If you live in an apartment, you know, you don't always have the ability to, uh, install solar, even though many apartments in San Diego and in California have. But what the industry is trying to figure out is how can apartments become more resilient and offering access to clean solar energy, as well as the backup that is, is needed these days, Speaker 1: 05:13 What would you have to do to qualify for the a hundred percent subsidy? Speaker 2: 05:18 You have to number one of BA low income customers. And, um, the, the program has those requirements, uh, you know, set out, but you also have to be in a high fire threat, uh, district, uh, tiers three and two, you know, really speaks to some of these areas that are bordering, you know, the wild land out there that we have seen, uh, you know, catch on fire and that's throughout California as well. Um, or you have to have, uh, evidence of two or more power shutoffs through the, uh, public safety power shut up notices that, uh, the utilities have given. So if you fall within those two regions, then you are eligible for that a hundred percent incentive. Well, that could become Speaker 1: 05:58 More common. Speaker 2: 05:59 No, I, I agree. Um, and small nuance though, the PSPS events are from when the utility is notifying customers of when there is going to be a power shutoff because of high winds and the threat of fires. But now the nuance as we saw this weekend is what about the threat of actual fires, right? That has, is shutting customers off. And so, um, those two things are different in the eyes of the public utilities commission. And there's talk of perhaps merging that, which would allow for many more customers to, um, become eligible because you're right fires and other, um, you know, heat waves and other factors are playing into, um, why we're having more and more blackouts, which essentially means that there should be more and more customers who are eligible. Speaker 1: 06:45 Interesting. So what kind of legislations in the work in Sacramento that could make a difference to whether investing in solar and batteries is worth it to the consumer? Speaker 2: 06:55 Um, that's a really good question. And to be completely Frank, not much, um, at least this year, uh, there's been a lot of, uh, bills early on that looked promising for, let's say micro grids, um, and even legislation for solar and storage for schools. But a lot of that has just taken a back seat just because, you know, everything is so up in the air in Sacramento right now, Speaker 1: 07:19 Finally, you know, the state is moving to more sustainable energy sources, but the reason blackouts have raised questions about whether sustainable energy like solar is reliable, but would more people investing in solar and batteries help the state to deal with these peak energy use events. Speaker 2: 07:36 Yeah, that's the million dollar question really. And, um, and it's, it's not just through solar and storage. It's also through demand response programs that allows for homeowners or businesses to actually receive value or reductions in their utility bills. If they dial back their power, you pair that and solar and energy storage, there can be a huge benefit for, for the grid. Cause you you'll have, you know, thousands to millions of these distributed systems in places where that power is needed through micro grids, as an example, it can help power, not only a home, but let's say a block or maybe a downtown area. So there's so many options it's just California really needs to, you know, put a plan in place that allows for this to happen. Speaker 1: 08:20 A lot to think about Benjamin EARTHx is senior policy manager for the center for sustainable energy. Ben, thanks so much for your insights. Speaker 2: 08:28 Welcome. [inaudible].

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With the threat of blackouts back in the news, some people now have questions about whether it's worth getting solar panels and energy storage batteries.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments