Strategic Discussions: California’s Clean Energy Future 2015

Sharing successes & challenges to sustainable energy solutions

This year is shaping up to be pivotal in California’s energy sector. New leadership in the legislature and at the California Public Utilities Commission along with Governor Jerry Brown’s ambitious goals for clean energy present a tremendous opportunity to build on existing state policy and achievements. As part of its mission to promote a clean energy future, CSE participates in conversations with policymakers, regulators, public agencies and key business leaders to create good public policy.

Clean Energy Economy Benefits

Clean energy — from wind farms and rooftop solar to energy efficiency — is now a vibrant part of our economy, creating jobs and driving investment. And, while some equipment is manufactured overseas, rooftop solar installation, window replacements and upgraded insulation require local skilled labor and create jobs that can’t be offshored.

Recent studies by The Solar Foundation indicate that solar employs more Californians than the state’s three large utilities combined – more than 54,500 compared to 40,000! These jobs and the related investments reduce carbon emissions, help us use energy more efficiently, reduce dependence on foreign oil and help make the electricity grid more resilient and flexible.

Barriers to consumer participation

Although the market for rooftop solar is flourishing, and we are starting to see growth in electric vehicle purchases, there isn’t mass-market adoption of clean distributed technologies and many energy-savings investments remain untapped. Here are some very general reasons why.

  • Distributed generation resources are disruptive to utility business models and infrastructure.

Rooftop solar and customer self-generation represent a challenge to the traditional utility business model, and utilities need to develop new models adapting to these technologies. Expectedly, this change is experiencing resistance. Part of the solution is to align the needs of a modern, clean, distributed energy grid with the proper tasks and compensation to the utilities.

  • Customers cannot take advantage of all the value streams that their investment in clean energy could provide.

How do we get storage, solar and all clean energy technologies to provide a fair, good, comprehensive value proposition to customers? Customers want to contribute to their own resiliency as well as the sustainability of the grid itself, but we don’t yet compensate them for these contributions. To truly realize the benefits of a future smart grid, these benefits must be passed down to the customer.

  • Financing is key to equitable access, particularly for disadvantaged or low-income communities.

The benefits of clean energy are no less, and maybe even more, important to communities that are currently unable to participate, and this leads to political and social backlash toward efforts to decarbonize our economy. Certainly, breaking this cycle will depend on education, but must also include broadly available low-cost financing that is commensurate with the value over time.

  • Consumers need education to understand how best to manage their energy consumption.

Among the activities CSE is engaged in through the Energy Upgrade California consumer program is funding community-based organizations statewide to engage large numbers of diverse and underserved people in programs about the simple steps they can take to better manage energy, save money and make their homes more comfortable. There are currently 15 lead agencies engaged and 50 more are soon expected.

Wanted: aggressive clean energy policies

From recent discussions with policymakers and business leaders, we find they recognize the need for very audacious policies for clean energy and are seeking ways to expand opportunities to many more people to participate. These are not radical ideas. For example, the governor has strong clean energy and transportation goals, such as high-speed rail and an all-EV fleet, that might seem improbable now, but will seem reasonable, even indispensable, when we look back on our progress.

CSE is dedicated to creating and fostering partnerships with all stakeholders to advance strategies to secure our clean energy future. Let’s keep talking!

About Sachu Constantine

Sachu was our former director of Policy.