SDUT: Your Say: Heat waves. Blackouts. Renewable energy. What does it all mean for California’s future?

August 28 – SDUT Letters – California’s overlapping disasters — heat waves, wildfires and rolling blackouts — portend the perilous future we risk if we don’t pivot to clean energy and zero-carbon emissions.

California prides itself on leading on climate change, and we were among the first in the world to commit to 100% clean electricity and carbon neutrality. Now, we must accelerate that transition while ensuring the lights stay on. A just transition is especially urgent for working class communities of color who suffer the worst effects of our dangerously polluting fossil fuel economy.

The first step is for our state and local utilities to conduct a thorough investigation into why rolling blackouts occurred, including possible market manipulation, and to integrate the findings and lessons learned into plans for action. Blackouts should not happen if the right plans are in place. These plans will deploy a combination of more rooftop solar, renewable energy farms, energy conservation strategies, grid modernization, better forecasting tools and diverse energy storage technologies. We also need better collaboration among state agencies and new regulations that promote decentralized clean energy grids.

The governor and the agencies that manage our energy system agree with this path forward. They confirmed that renewables did not cause the blackouts (in fact, it was two natural gas power plants that failed), and they remain committed to achieving our state climate and clean energy goals. Now they must map out how we reach these goals while providing safe, affordable and reliable electric power.

The second step for the state is to highlight some of the things that went right during the blackouts, offering evidence that a better world is possible.

For instance, when the public was asked to conserve energy, we did. The grid operator warned of multiple days of long-term blackouts, but the worst possibilities didn’t materialize because we conserved energy in such big numbers. We will collectively act to protect ourselves and each other when called to do so, which is a good sign in the days and years ahead as new threats from the climate crisis emerge.

Or consider rooftop solar systems, which play a significant role in keeping the lights on. Power from rooftop solar was instrumental to relieving pressure on the grid and keeping energy flowing in the peak afternoon hours. Better yet, rooftop solar systems paired with batteries were able to send clean electricity back to the grid in the evening hours, serving as “virtual power plants.” This kind of local, decentralized solution can be scaled and replicated, and it puts power back in the hands of the people.

Finally, long-duration energy storage technology is finally here, and it helped save the day. Two of the largest long-duration energy storage plants in the world are located in San Diego, and both proved crucial to keeping power flowing. California is pioneering clean technology as well as showcasing what an innovative and responsive clean energy grid can look like.

California had a tough wake-up call, reminding us that we are not yet prepared to meet the chaotic demands of a warming world. But California also showed it has the tools, technology and political will to build a clean, equitable and healthy climate safe future. Now is the moment to take charge, plan, and model for the world how to do it.

To read all op-ed submissions for this topic, click here.