Tapping into solar-charged batteries could help prevent blackouts

Source: Rebecca Bauer-Kahan for CalMatters Opinion

Like many of you, I worried for my family, friends and constituents during the recent rolling power outages. Losing electricity during an oppressive heat wave should not happen, it’s simply unacceptable.

One week we were suffering from an unprecedented heat wave, and the next our state is burning. It is clear that climate change is real and it is here. We cannot seek answers in the dirty energy that has significantly contributed to climate change.  Fossil fuel interests have used the opportunity to blame clean, renewable energy sources like solar power for the blackouts. Not only is that absurd, but the answer to these outages rests in clean energy.

The outages resulted from the fact that the heatwave affected the entire western United States. California buys power from neighboring states when we have excess demand, but because all of our neighbors were cranking their air conditioners, there was no surplus power available. As a result, the Independent System Operator ordered utilities to cut the lights to hundreds of thousands of Californians to keep the entire grid from going down. There is a better way.

Some people are calling on the state to build even more natural gas power plants so we have a bigger buffer for the next heatwave, but that strategy has practical limitations in addition to pollution concerns. Energy companies do not want to build large, expensive power plants that are only used a few hours a day, a few days a year. To make these kinds of capital intensive projects pencil out, we would have to commit to running the plants throughout the day, even when the sun is shining.  We should not be committing to that kind of pollution when we can turn to solar with storage.