Distributed generation: California’s energy ace card

Roof-integrated solar
California's wealth of distributed energy will pay dividends.

There’s been quite a bit of commentary on California Governor Gavin Newsom’s electric vehicle mandate, particularly on the challenges electric vehicle (EV) adoption poses to the electricity grid in the Golden State. California’s rooftop solar, especially when paired with battery storage, is an ace card in meeting the anticipated rising demands for energy. California leads the nation in distributed solar generation installed capacity, with 1.2 million solar projects totaling 9,356 megawatts (MW).

Distributed generation (DG), the electricity produced by solar arrays on buildings and in parking lots, is precisely what must be expanded in order to replace a utility system that is at times too dangerous to operate given the increased threat of fires. Locating more electricity at the site of consumption—such as on your roof—is safer and more efficient than building and managing powerlines, substations and power plants to transport it from hundreds of miles away. That traditional transmission and distribution infrastructure is expensive, and increases the probability of mishaps. A traditional utility grid is a vulnerable utility grid. 

Furthermore, utility providers are incentivized to propose large infrastructure projects because their profits are determined by a percentage of a project’s total cost. However, we pay for those costs, and increasingly, we pay for the risk. 

There’s a smarter way, and it’s becoming more urgent that we pursue it: A distributed grid that combines solar and energy storage. We can’t afford to put all our eggs precariously in a worn-out basket, especially if California is to hit its electric vehicle target by 2035, not to mention forestall greater wildfire risk. Continuing the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) beyond 2022, as well as pushing for free-market innovations like building-integrated solar cells, are critical measures to spur us onward in creating a more resilient grid; one that ensures the efficiencies and positive transformation driven by distributed generation paired with energy storage. 

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Martin is the President of GAF Energy. He began his career in alternative energy in a somewhat unorthodox place: as a decorated officer on a nuclear submarine in the U.S. Navy. He has held sales and marketing positions at various tech companies, including Cisco, Siebel, Insightful and Pure Networks. Prior to running GAF Energy, he headed SunPower’s residential North American business and global commercial business and served as President of SunPower Capital. He is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and has a BS from the University of North Carolina and an MBA from Harvard University. His favorite roof is the top of his bike helmet when he’s out on the mountain bike trails in British Columbia.

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