100% Clean Energy for California: What SB 100 Means for Distributed Solar

Blog Main

When Governor Brown signed SB 100 back in September 2018, California became the second state after Hawaii to formally codify its commitment to 100% clean or renewable energy. In addition to setting a target that all retail electricity must come from clean energy (or carbon-free) sources by 2045, SB 100 also accelerated the state’s transition to renewable energy by amending its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) targets.

V3 SB Infographic 20191022

To help us figure out where solar, specifically distributed solar, fits into California’s new 100% clean energy commitment, Aurora Solar convened Bernadette Del Chiaro, Executive Director of the California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA) and Ken Rider, Chief of Staff to Chair Hochschild and Senior Electrical Engineer at the California Energy Commission (CEC) for a live public webinar discussion.

We covered a lot of ground, including projected market size, a needed workforce, SB 100 planning, storage, NEM, decarbonization, wildfires, and current unknowns. You can tune into our one-hour discussion here or continue reading for the key takeaways.

It’s 100% Clean Energy, Not 100% Renewable Energy

Solar and other renewable energy sources have a clear role in SB 100 through 2030. Beyond that, it’s unclear. Notice that the first two targets are for renewable energy, and the last one is 100% clean energy. So what does clean energy or carbon-free sources mean for SB 100? That is yet to be determined. Oil, coal, and natural gas are excluded, but everything else is fair game right now, including large hydro and nuclear.

RPS are targets for electricity retail sellers such as publicly- and investor-owned utilities, community choice aggregators, and electric service providers to meet. Which means, SB 100 doesn’t directly apply to distributed solar. As Bernadette aptly stated, “distributed solar does not yet have a grand policy mandate or target,” but distributed solar does play a major role in a number of other ways—more on this later.

Overarching Strategy Is a Push Towards Electrification

The planning process for SB 100 started last month with public scoping workshops scheduled across the state. CEC, along with other state agencies, is tasked with planning and charting the state’s pathway for 100% clean energy. Among other items, CEC is responsible for putting together a report by the end of 2020 examining different scenarios for the state to reach its goals with affordability and reliability in mind. CEC will also be determining which energy resources can be included in the remaining 40% to get to 100%.

Ken encouraged solar and storage professionals to attend the SB 100 technical workshops, and make sure their industry and its benefits are characterized accurately.

There are still a lot of unknowns, but the overarching strategy is a push towards electrification of all things—specifically buildings and transportation. Key policies will include electric vehicles, fuel switching from gas to electric, building decarbonization, vehicle-to-grid integration, energy storage, offshore wind, and supporting the growth of established renewable energy technologies.

Ken shared that over the last ten years, California’s electricity demand has been mostly flat. With this major shift towards electrification, it will significantly increase demand—by as much as 50%. This could mean more demand for distributed solar and solar in general, and it also presents business opportunities for solar and storage professionals.

Help Your Customers Get the Most out of Their PV System

Both Bernadette and Ken suggested there’s a big business opportunity for solar and storage professionals. With a shift towards electrification, there’s going to be a market and a needed workforce to retrofit millions of homes from gas to electricity. Incentive programs are in the works to help consumers fuel switch. You can help your customers get the most out of their rooftop solar by planning holistically and viewing their PV system as one component of a larger system. Think about what’s under the roof. What other services can you provide to make the property as energy efficient as possible? Have they already fuel switched from gas to electric? What about storage or EV charging infrastructure?

Tip: Solar professionals may want to look into diversifying what they offer or partnering with other businesses to do it.  For example, if you’re a solar installer that does not offer storage as a service, consider partnering with a local business to offer them together as a package.

Where Does Distributed Solar Fit In?

Although solar’s role in meeting California’s clean energy targets after 2030 is still being defined and SB 100 doesn’t specifically carve out a space for distributed solar, both Bernadette and Ken agreed that distributed solar is a vital tool in the toolbox for California’s overall goal of deep decarbonization and grid stabilization (when paired with storage).

Ken mentioned that he has yet to come across a study that definitively says centralized solar (without distributed) will result in a cheaper grid, and suggests instead of reacting to a possibly phantom big cost shift, to take time to properly analyze this. Distributed solar brings a host of benefits that we must take into account when making economic arguments for or against.

What Does Distributed Solar Need in Order to Keep the Market Growing

Bernadette pointed out that in the absence of a clear policy direction, the growth of distributed solar will be market driven. We need to be very careful not to disrupt the economics of distributed generation and storage for consumers.

Bernadette highlighted a few conditions she sees as necessary to keep the market growing and for distributed solar to be able to continue helping the state meet its various goals:

  1. Net energy metering (NEM) and billing structures must remain intact. Many of our publicly owned utilities have started unravel net metering, including some of our most progressive utilities.
  2. Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) cannot drop to zero after 2021. Bernadette proposes that instead of waiting to see what happens at the federal level and trying to minimize the damage, California should plan for how to make up for the loss of ITC and promote distributed generation and enhance the economics for consumers.
  3. California’s solar mandate for new homes needs to stay strong, and we need to make sure utilities are not taking advantage of loopholes.
  4. Keep reducing soft costs and fight against cost increases.
  5. Energy storage is one of the foundations for continued growth of solar. We have to get this market off the ground, and to do this, we need a guaranteed market so that manufacturers and consumers alike can get the confidence it needs to invest in this technology. The same way we created a market for solar PV with the California Solar Initiative, we need to also do it for energy storage.

About 34% of California’s electricity in 2018 came from renewables sources, and CALSSA is expecting to see continued market growth in distributed generation. How much growth beyond 2030 will be largely determined by the goals and policies we set.

California met its goal of “one million solar roofs” earlier this year, why not aim for five million next?


Please note that the views explored from this webinar are those of the panelists, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Aurora Solar.