Snapshot on Sustainability: Generation – Distributed

Photo by David Cristian on Unsplash

A sunny day or a pleasant breeze have long meant more than just pleasant SoCal weather. With solar and wind generation at an all-time high, California is cruising into a clean energy future with the top down.

All right, that’s a sliighhhhttt exaggeration, and we didn’t get where we are by coasting. It has been a dedicated effort from the top-down and bottom-up to bring a blended portfolio of renewable energy to the State. Distributed generation systems are a hot topic right now, especially around the efforts to bring them to scale – and we’re ready to get into it.

Distributed generation is an umbrella term for an array of technologies that generate electricity at the location where it will be used (think rooftop solar panels).

The scale varies – from a small residential PV array accounting for the needs of a single family home to a micro-grid providing energy for a campus, facility or community solar project. At any size, distributed generation can improve the overall efficiency of a grid by generating clean power, delivered directly to users, with minimal line loss.

There are many benefits to a cleaner energy diet, but California has, in large part, prioritized decarbonizing the electrical grid, reducing air pollutants and greenhouse gasses to keep our lights on. California is doing better than most in keeping the grid as clean as possible. Only 0.15% of the state’s energy came from coal in 2017 (CAEnergyCommission.com, Total System Electric Generation), with only one remaining coal plant in the State. However, over 50% of our consumed power still comes from non-renewable and polluting sources (primarily natural gas and nuclear) (see reference page above). Renewable sources are required to make up at least 33% of the electricity generation in CA by 2020, and the California Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan / updates to Title 24 have the state on track for all new residential construction to be Net Zero Energy starting in 2020 (with commercial to follow by 2030). All of this is to say, distributed clean energy is going to keep ramping up.

And this has implications! Reducing the impacts of climate change! Improving air quality! Challenges for the utilities! New strains on the grid! Costs! Benefits! Energy storage challenges! It’s an exclamatory time.

Photo by Heather Emond on Unsplash

State utilities have responded differently to upcoming code changes. Those who provide and distribute natural gas are obviously going to experience this change differently than those who procure and distribute electricity, but both will need to make adjustments and stay nimble as the State makes fundamental changes to our energy production and distribution.

Net Zero requirements in the building code are right around the corner for residential construction, and are accompanied by a requirement for rooftop solar. In May 2018, the California Energy Commission (CEC) voted unanimously to approve a measure requiring new homes built in 2020 (and beyond) to include solar panels as a part of the state’s Building Energy Efficiency Standards. The combination of the new code requirements and the Building Energy Efficiency Standards compliment each other, but homeowners and developers understandably have a lot of questions about how to get there — and what it’s going to cost.

Luckily, uncertainty on the part of those who are making the shift to residential solar and net zero electricity is tempered by the success experienced by many of those who have already made the shift. Large scale institutional property owners have seen immense additional value in adding onsite solar and storage on their properties. There will be differences in scale and timeline for ROI, but these larger users can help demystify the process with a roadmap of sorts.

These are just a few of the threads weaving through the conversation on distributed generation, and each of them keep the experts up at night. To dive deeper, join the conversation at the Net Zero Conference, hosted in Los Angeles September 12 – 14. Top representatives from LA’s major utilities will discuss the future of Net Zero for Los Angeles. Changes to code will be unpacked by leading experts (California Public Utility Commission, Department of General Services, California Energy Commission, and New Buildings Institute). Kilroy Realty will discuss real challenges and opportunities they experienced by installing on-site solar and storage. In addition to answering many of your Net Zero questions, USGBC-LA Board members will be well-represented as speakers, at workshops, and as sponsors – and they would love to meet you. Come out, introduce yourself, and make sure you get your ticket here.

About the Author

Sofia SiegalSofia Siegel is a Project Manager with Verdical Group. She focuses professionally on LEED, the Living Building Challenge, and is actively searching for intersectional solutions to improve the built environment and the lives of the people in it.

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