How Carla Peterman and the CPUC will Make Calif. an Energy Storage Leader 0

Carla Peterman
Carla Peterman

Energy storage has been hailed as a “holy grail” for clean energy. Through energy storage, renewable power can be tapped whenever it’s needed, not just when nature cooperates.

This means that utilities can overcome the intermittent production of renewable energy while controlling power supply and demand. And residential homeowners capturing unused electricity from rooftop solar systems for later use can enter into a new level of freedom from utility rate volatility.

Despite the promises of energy storage, adoption has been historically slow. It’s been hard for businesses and consumers to justify the premium price tag that comes with this emerging technology.

But many industry watchers say we are at a tipping point. And now is the time to integrate storage in a meaningful way into the energy mix so we can take full advantage of the increasing amount of renewable power being generated.

Helping to drive energy storage adoption on a large scale is Carla Peterman. She is one of five commissioners serving on the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

Peterman was appointed by California’s governor in December 2012 to the commission, which in part regulates privately owned electric companies. In addition to her work at the CPUC, Peterman is pursuing a doctorate in energy and resources at the University of California Berkeley.

Peterman’s previous experience includes a post at the California Energy Commission where she was lead commissioner for renewables, transportation and natural gas. She has also been a Rhodes Scholarship recipient.

Since taking a seat at CPUC’s head table she has been charged with implementing the nation’s first energy storage targets. An assembly bill, formally called AB 2514, gave the CPUC the authority to set energy storage targets for investor-owned utilities.

In October of last year, the CPUC approved a mandate requiring the state’s big three investor-owned utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — to procure a total of 1.325 gigawatts of energy storage by 2020. Of that, 200 megawatts will be carved out for customer-side storage.

At the time, the CPUC said the target was a six-fold improvement from California’s then 35 megawatts of energy storage. The commission also said it was the largest energy storage target of its kind in the world.

According to the mandate, utilities will procure energy storage through four solicitations. The first request for proposals will be issued at the end of the year.

It’s a big job to make sure all stakeholders come through with hitting the 1.325-gigawatt storage target. spoke with Peterman about the task at hand and the challenges she foresees.

SolarEnergy: Will utilities be including new residential consumer storage in their first round of energy storage solicitations slated to take place at the end of the year?

Carla Peterman: The utilities didn’t propose new programs at this time for customer side storage. They are relying on the existing Self-Generation Incentive Program, which supports storage as well as permanent load shifting programs in order for them to meet they’re customer side target this side around. Those are existing programs that provide incentives for installing storage that customers can take advantage of already.

SE: What needs to happen at a policy level to increase energy storage for residential consumers?

CP: We need to be thinking about how to align our policies that promote distributed generation with our policies to promote storage. For example, the commission this past year adopted some changes to the net metering program to allow for rooftop PV that is paired with storage to be able to qualify for net metering.

We also need to get more systems out there and learn from them. Learn what are the grid impacts, understand how customer side storage can help reduce peak demand, and how it can help with reliability. Because energy storage is in its infancy, we’re going to need to gain some operational experience with it.

SE: What will guide you as you work to assess the value of customer-side storage?

CP: In terms of AB 2514, the legislation sets out objectives for us to think about as we’re procuring storage. One is greenhouse gas reduction, another is helping to integrate renewables, and another is avoiding upgrades to the distribution system. To the extent that customer-side storage can help with those, particularly upgrades to the distribution system, there will be some value.

SE: How will the CPUC help evaluate the technology being used for energy storage?

CP: One of the things that we are collectively working on is better identifying when and how storage is needed on the system. This will help customers and suppliers of customer side storage figure out what the best products are to provide.

SE: How do you think California’s mandate will impact storage adoption across the country?

CP: I think it’s been a signal to the market that this is a product that has value. I hope that we’ll spur providers of this technology, and more choice for customers. This is all about giving customers some choices in terms of their energy procurement and management.

SE: What measures are in place to make sure California stays on track with hitting its energy storage target?

CP: We are going to do a big assessment of the program in 2016. We’ll have a chance to evaluate what we’ve been doing and whether new measures are needed. We are also coordinating with the Independent System Operator on a storage roadmap so we can identify what are the regulatory barriers to developing more storage.

SE: How do you create policy that fairly pushes the adoption of an emerging technology among diverse, at times adversarial, stakeholders?

CP: No one gets everything that they want, but ultimately I hope that we are able to address the largest concerns and the largest barriers.

My general approach is that we need to be moving forward. We need to be sending the right signals for the type of energy system we want. But we have to have enough sensibility in our approach to adapt to uncertainty, and I think that’s the challenge.

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