Good News for Microgrids from California Climate Bills

Sept. 1, 2016
California’s passage of two aggressive climate bills offers good news for microgrids, since they can act as levers to help the state reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

California’s passage of two aggressive climate bills offers good news for microgrids, since they can act as levers to help the state reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Once again, the state has led the climate change battle, this time with last week’s passage by the state legislature of the two bills, SB 32 and AB 197. The bills aim to reduce carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and increase legislative oversight of the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

While the legislation doesn’t specifically call for the use of microgrids, it’s clear that microgrids will help California meet its aggressive goal, said Merrian Borgeson, a senior scientist with NRDC’s energy program.

“What the target means, because it’s quite aggressive, we need to pull all the levers we have to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.  “We’ll need demand response, energy efficiency, distributed energy and solar. All the pieces that make up microgrids will be deployed at a greater scale. This will have an indirect effect on the microgrid market.”

She added that California has a number of specific policies in place promoting demand response, electric vehicles and climate goals that make microgrids one of the tools that allow the state to meet the policies, save money and improve reliability.

Mike Gravely, deputy division chief of the California Energy Commission’s research and development division, said microgrids will help the state meet the requirements of the climate-change legislation.

“Microgrids help you integrate more renewable energy and make it easier to manage,” he said.  And microgrids can be used to share renewable resources, creating efficiencies and bringing more green energy online to meet the state’s climate change goals.

“Microgrids give you options for cleaner, more reliable solutions than you would with a single replacement, such as putting a panel on a roof, or putting energy storage in a building,” he said. “You can develop a community environment and shared resources which help cut greenhouse gases.”

California already had in place a greenhouse gas target, the result of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. That law requires the state cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, which the state is on track to do, noted Borgeson. Like the latest legislation, AB 32 didn’t specify how to reach that goal. CARB was charged with the task of determining how to do it.

To meet the requirements of AB 32, a California cap-and-trade system was created under which companies must reduce their carbon dioxide emissions or obtain permits. “Just like the 2020 targets, it will be up to agencies and electric utilities to figure out what they can accomplish,” she said.

All of the long-term modeling for meeting the 2030 goals suggests that the state needs to pull out all the stops to meet its goal, said Borgeson.

A number of agencies have studied what it will take to meet the 2030 goal, including Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the governor’s office.

“The studies look at how to meet long-term aggressive goals. Both studies say it’s physically and economically possible. There’s always the difficulty of how quickly we can change. We are well on our way to our 2020 goals. There’s nothing in the way of us getting there, but it’s a challenge,” Borgeson said.

Ana Zacapa, California program director for CERES–a non profit organization that promotes sustainability–said that CARB will start developing implementation plans. Those might include programs that have been successful in the past, programs such as the low-carbon fuel standard.

Meanwhile, the cap-and-trade program may be challenged. “It could be that the cap-and-trade could be seen as a tax and would require a two-thirds vote. It’s unclear what will happen to the cap-and-trade program, but if it doesn’t continue, there’s little chance to meet the target. Regulations would have to be in place instead,” said Zacapa.

Since the original bill passed, emissions have dropped 10 percent while employment is up about 8 percent, she said.

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign SB 32 and AB 197.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

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