By Raghu Belur:
We are currently facing one of the worst droughts in California history, which will fan the flames of a fire season that is getting more severe every year. Extreme heat and fires have incapacitated our already fragile energy grid and repeatedly left millions without power across the state.
These climate crisis-related events are not just impacting California. If you had flown a plane at night over Texas earlier this year during its wintry climate calamity, the landscape would have been virtually pitch-black due to state-wide power outages. We’re also approaching what’s sure to be another record hurricane season. These storms are increasing in frequency and strength, ripping apart our Eastern Seaboard and Gulf regions, and leaving families and businesses in the dark for weeks and months at a time.
One bright spot in the chaos has been the occasional dots of light that may be seen in the darkness. On closer inspection, you’d realize those dots were homes with lights on thanks to solar panels on their roofs and batteries in the garage. It was surely an extraordinary relief for the families that took shelter in these homes. But for the millions of others without power, those homes represent what could have been—and should have been—but wasn’t.
With the right policies and regulations nationwide, solar and battery storage can turn individual homes into self-reliant “microgrids” that use software to network the homes together and relieve pressure on the grid. These localized microgrids are akin to other kinds of networks that manage everything from air traffic to city bus routes, or even the WIFI traffic in your home. There is no single point of failure, meaning that if one part of the network goes down, other parts of the network step in to fill the void. Put another way, if Texas had a large network of local microgrids, the power may have never gone out in February.
The good news is that it’s not for lack of technology. Over the past 15 years, there has been a convergence in solar manufacturing breakthroughs and battery technology advancements. Together with advances in micro-electronics, communications technology, and software, the renewables industry has redefined what is possible. It’s this technology that enables networks of local solar and batteries to operate independently or collectively and helps guarantee resilient and reliable power—even during mass outages.
The Biden Administration’s commitment to the decarbonization of the electricity grid needs to include a core focus on incentivizing and funding these local clean energy solutions that provide people with energy security and safety, especially in hard hit and vulnerable communities across the U.S.
Support for large scale solar and wind, as well as funding for long haul transmission, has an important role to play in the decarbonization of the electricity grid. However, these systems do not provide the energy security or resiliency necessary to mitigate grid outages due to climate change. We cannot be resilient if we do not adopt a more connected, local energy approach. How we react to this moment matters and doing it right will require deep levels of collaboration and partnership between the private sector, policymakers at all levels of government, and utilities.
Policymakers can help advance more community-based clean energy solutions that address the energy security and resiliency challenges by encouraging the mass adoption of solar and battery storage. It means supporting a standalone storage tax credit that safeguards the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. This includes advancing smaller, portable solar and battery systems that can be deployed anywhere, so the benefits can be shared equally. And it means providing funding for the commercialization and mass adoption of local solar and battery networks through tax credits and federal funding opportunities.
With the right policy, regulatory action, and collaboration across all stakeholders, we could build these networks at unprecedented speed and provide resilient energy for all communities across the United States. And that’s exactly what we need to do. Right now the climate crisis is moving faster than we are and we can’t afford to keep getting caught flat-footed with so many lives and livelihoods on the line. We have the power to do this — but do we have the will?