When the Sun Goes Down: A California Policy Designed to Promote Clean Energy

Max Heaton

Solar panels generate electricity when the sun is shining, but electricity demand during “peak hours” can sometimes occur between the hours of 6 pm and 9 pm. This means that electricity consumers may require a higher load at a time of the day when solar panels are producing less energy.Traditionally, it is during these early evening “peak demand hours” when utility companies will fire up natural gas fueled power stations. These power stations can be fired rapidly and thus support a short-term spike in the energy demand once the sun goes down. Does this mean that we will always rely on traditional fossil fuels for electricity after sunset? The State of California has something to say about this.California has always been and continues to be at the forefront of renewable energy adoption and innovation. A new bill, AB 1405, introduced by assembly member Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, would create a “clean peak energy standard” for California utilities. The bill proposes that by 2029, California utilities would be required to get 40% of their energy from clean sources during “peak demand” at least fifteen days each month. How can this be achieved?The proposed requirement would necessitate the further development and implementation of battery storage systems. Battery systems are designed to store the excess energy generated by a solar system that is not consumed by the customer. When the sun goes down, the battery system can be designed to release the stored energy into the grid, thereby reducing the need for gas plants during “peak hours.”The fundamental goal of this bill is to limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.  The bill also can help stimulate technological innovation and support job creation in the U.S. The clean-energy sector is a growing job sector with 210,000 Americans currently working in the solar industry according to a recent census.  Bills such as this will encourage continued growth and foster the development of key technologies that work towards improving the health of our environment.California lawmakers have set aggressive target goals of reducing emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, and then 80% by 2050. Solar systems and wind farms, supported by these battery systems, will play a crucial role in changing the energy mix of the electrical grid and revolutionizing how we power our world.