Marin Independent Journal
Wildfires have become a familiar threat for Marin County. Both city officials and local utility companies are trying to avoid a recurrence of the devastating past few years.
Public safety power shutoff events were put into place to prevent the electric utility infrastructure from starting wildfires but left thousands of Marin residents without power. It seems we are set to experience more PSPS emergencies this year. Unfortunately, much of the momentum to deploy solutions that offset the shuttoffs, such as the installation of backup energy storage systems, have been derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
So, what can homeowners do to protect themselves and be fully resilient this fire season? Think about the best ways to generate energy and store it, then find a combination that makes the best sense for you. For minor, occasional outages, small storage systems would suffice. But for prolonged outages, you need a way to refill the batteries.
Renewable energy from solar is incredibly reliable and, in many cases, cheaper than utility power. Adding solar and storage creates a system that, if sized appropriately, could power your basic needs indefinitely.
Marin County has been an active proponent of solar energy for years, spearheaded by MCE (formerly known as Marin Clean Energy) installing 31 megawatts of solar power. Marin County was even the first in the state to enroll its entire county into Marin Clean Energy’s program. But solar panels are not enough on their own to power a home. Solar panels only produce energy when the sun is shining and won’t work when the grid is down.
Energy storage systems, which is a sophisticated battery, store excess solar energy generated on your roof during the day and allow you to use it when the sun is unavailable or when the grid is down.
We call this grid independence.
Historically, the high cost of home batteries deterred homeowners from purchasing, but battery prices have dropped by roughly 80% over the past five years. Marin County residents are further incentivized through property assessed clean energy programs (PACE), which offers financing on home energy systems. Although budgets for initiatives like PACE and investment tax credits are available, they won’t last for much longer. Systems purchased and installed in 2020 are receiving the maximum credit available, but these credits will decline next year.
These incentives are a timely resource in the face of shelter-in-place mandates and PSPS but require us to use them to truly realize the benefits of battery storage and grid independence, or they may disappear.