Enjoying Reliable Electricity? Thank Energy Storage

by Anna Gretz
July 29, 2017

It’s the middle of summer, and in California, that means one thing: it’s officially Air Conditioner Appreciation season. The worst heat wave in 11 years hit California this week, bringing temperatures to the 100s, and confining many to the comfort of their air-conditioned homes. CA residents certainly haven’t missed dealing with sweltering temps, and there’s something else they won’t miss this time around: the blackouts.

California has a history of major blackouts, especially in the summer, because of the high demand for electricity. When everyone in the entire state is cranking up the A/C, it puts quite a load on the already-fragile power grid. The California energy crisis of 2001 brought some national attention to the state’s electricity infrastructure, and basically made it a laughingstock.

Now, things are different.

Leaders in California have made some major investments (we’re talking billions of dollars of investments) to try to spruce up the state’s electrical supply network, and it looks like they’re paying off. New power plants, a skyrocketing solar and wind market, and some smart, strategic energy storage developments have transformed California’s energy network into a reliable, robust resource the state can be proud of… and the people can depend on.

Weeks of triple-digit temps can cause electricity demand to rise as much as 30%, with peak demand reaching 45,000 megawatts most afternoons. Fortunately, that still leaves California with 10,000 megawatts of available power. Margins like that are the reason why Californians are enjoying uninterrupted cool air, even with similar temperatures hitting Arizona and the Pacific Northwest, two regions that often sell their surplus power to California.

Things have been good… but they have not been perfect. The state of California presents pretty complex circumstances to its electrical infrastructure, and events like wildfires can throw an additional wrench into the system. The Bay Area has seen a few scattered outages due to overheated transformers, and Sacramento and LA have also been hit in patches because of the extreme heat. Even a revamped energy grid isn’t going to be completely reliable.

So how can you really step up your home energy security? Many homeowners are installing their own solar panels, and storing the energy at home with lithium-ion batteries. This is kind of like a mini-version of what the grid is working on doing… except it’s yours; you get to control it, and you get to reap the benefits directly. More on that in a minute.

One Silicon Valley resident experienced a power outage recently during 100+ degree temperatures and had to wait 12 hours before the problem was solved. His name is Barry Cinnamon, and he also happens to be the CEO of Cinnamon Solar. His response was to do some research, and write an article about how to avoid a repeat sweat-session. His conclusion? Solar and energy storage.

According to Cinnamon, “the blackout would not have happened if just one more home in the neighborhood had a solar or battery storage system.” The issue in this case was an overloaded transformer due to the area’s high demand for electricity that afternoon. According to the article, the output from just one solar + storage system would have taken care of that particular home, as well as letting excess energy flow back into the local grid, reducing the load on the nearby transformer. This simple fix could have prevented the blackout, and the uncomfortable afternoon.

“High temperatures cause outages all over California. Solar power coupled with battery storage is the cleanest and most cost-effective solution to this problem.” - Barry Cinnamon, The Mercury News

In his article, Cinnamon argues that rather than paying local utilities to upgrade their system with bigger transformers, homeowners can take things into their own hands, and install their own “Behind the Meter” systems, securing their own household’s power, and essentially giving their region’s grid an upgrade.

Sounds like a great deal for the power companies, right? It’s even better for homeowners, especially with the funding options that are available in California. One of the big ones is SGIP, and it’s basically paying Californians to install home batteries.

California’s SGIP, which stands for Self Generation Incentive Program, really is one of the best motivators in the country for homeowners who are looking at installing a home battery to store the energy generated by their rooftop solar panels. California is full of solar-savvy residents, with more residential solar installations than any other state in the country. These energy-generating homes are starting to get storage-smart as well, looking to home batteries to store up the energy their solar panels are generating during the day, so they can use it when they need it the most (usually, that’s in the evenings after the sun goes down.) Fortunately, SGIP makes it easy and affordable for homeowners to install home batteries, thanks to the generous rebate offered by the program for energy storage.

In past years, residential customers had a hard time getting their piece of SGIP cash, since many big corporations threw their hats in the ring for funding, leaving very little for smaller, home-based energy storage installations. A lot of organizations (Swell included) didn’t think that was fair, and went to bat for homeowners. It worked. This year, California’s SGIP got a makeover, making it easier than ever for homeowners to use the funding for home battery projects. In fact, PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E customers can see as high as a $400 per kilowatt-hour rebate for home batteries, covering the majority of the cost of the battery… including the Tesla Powerwall 2.

Homes with energy storage systems get more than just free, clean, power from the sun. They also get the peace of mind that comes with full energy security. Securing energy for your household, especially when it’s crazy hot outside, is an investment that pays off whenever the grid lets you down. If the sun is going to be beating down on you relentlessly… why not harness that power and put it to work cooling your home? Having a secure, reliable energy source is one more way to protect your household (and though a day without A/C may not seem like a huge deal to you, a few days without refrigeration, internet, or a way to power medical or electronic equipment may hit you a bit harder.)

At Swell, we believe in energy security for everyone, which is why we have a few different financing options to make sure everyone has access to energy storage for their home. Send us a message if you’re interested in finding out more! Either way, we hope you have a safe… and cool… summer.