Energy Resilience and Independence: More Important Now Than Ever

John Plaggmier

John Plaggmier

Project Manager

From no lights to a dead phone cutting off access to emergency updates, losing power during emergency shut-offs can leave you in the dark in more ways than one.

During the public safety power shut-off (PSPS) events this past fire season, buying batteries ended up being the most essential part of my prep. I bought a battery bank to charge my cell phone and batteries for my handheld radio, lanterns, and flashlights. Having these resources not only kept me sane and safe, but it also deepened my resolve to be as resilient and self-reliant as possible – especially now that the pandemic has made having a trustworthy energy source to maintain productivity at home an even higher priority than ever. 

My experience purchasing a battery bank also got me thinking about how nice it would be to have one big battery to power larger electric loads at home. It turns out I’m not alone in this desire for greater energy independence and preparedness. 

In the wake of the 2019 PSPS events, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) recognized that larger-scale battery storage for homes and businesses is essential for those most affected by wildfire-related outages. The CPUC carved out $513 million of the $675 million Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) energy storage budget specifically for Equity Resiliency projects. The Equity Resiliency Budget has a comprehensive set of criteria for residential and non-residential customers that includes those in Tier 2 and Tier 3 high-fire threat communities or customers who experienced two or more power shut-offs. The budget will also provide incentives for those with urgent needs like low-income households, medical baseline households, critical facilities, and critical infrastructure to cover, or nearly cover, the cost of installing an energy storage system with an incentive level of $1,000/kWh. 

While the SGIP isn’t new, it was historically underutilized and this increase in funding and expansion of eligibility by the CPUC is intended to significantly boost program participation. During the initial response to COVID-19 applications were temporarily paused, but have since reopened as of May 1, 2020. It is expected that there will be high demand for this special Equity Resiliency program and it may fill up quickly. If applications for the Equity Resiliency portion of the program are at capacity, the general market SGIP budget should still have funding available for battery installations just with a different set of criteria and incentive levels. 

Batteries are also a great alternative to other emergency backup power options like the ubiquitous gas or diesel-powered generators that flew off the shelves last year. In comparison, batteries are safer to operate, do not produce emissions, and do not emit any unpleasant noise or odors. It’s important to recognize that even with all these perks, battery storage may not be appropriate for everyone’s unique situation. However, those with solar, or modest essential energy loads could significantly benefit from back-up energy storage for both planned and unplanned outages. Regardless of whatever backup power you choose, finding ways to be as energy-efficient as possible will make it that much easier to keep your home or business up and running during a grid outage. 

As we tackle an uncertain climate and energy future, batteries are one of the many solutions that can employ. Thankfully, the timing is right on these critical technologies as the market for solar has matured and battery storage is close behind. Putting in place as many of these options as possible, as quickly as possible, can give our Sierra Nevada residents and communities much needed peace of mind.

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