This past summer California experienced extreme heat due to the climate crisis, exacerbating and challenging the electric grid to maintain reliable electric service. The result of raging wildfires and prolonged heat waves combined with other grid planning factors led to power outages and rotating blackouts that had not occurred since the 2001 energy crisis. Severe weather conditions, like the summer heat wave, create new challenges in keeping the lights on, exacerbating grid weaknesses, and disproportionately putting vulnerable communities at risk.
In response to the climate crisis which is impacting California at a pace ahead of scientific models, Governor Gavin Newsom has announced his commitment to explore accelerating the state’s decarbonization goals, including the goal of a clean energy grid by 2045. At a press conference in fire-stricken Butte County, Newsom stated, “I think 2045 is too late” to get to a clean energy grid.
These distressing conditions can serve as a catalyst to develop an electric system that can better withstand the consequences of climate change, while accelerating our move to clean energy as well as transportation electrification. As such, the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) supports the Governor’s commitment to accelerate the transition to a clean energy grid that was established by groundbreaking legislation in SB 100 and his recent Executive Order to accelerate the deployment of electric transportation.
These market signals from California policy makers, along with a Biden Administration that is supportive of an ambitious and equitable clean energy revolution, call for innovation from our state’s entrepreneurs. At LACI, we are demonstrating how these clean technologies will enable this improved, resilient grid through startups, partnerships, and pilots.
Exactly one month before California experienced its first of two rotating blackouts, LACI launched a small-scale electric vehicle (EV) community car-share pilot that is illustrating resiliency on the electric grid. LACI, in partnership with community partner Pacoima Beautiful, Envoy – a LACI startup – and Nissan deployed EVs to a community center in the San Fernando Gardens housing development, while keeping the needs of the community front and center. At the core, the pilot provides affordable and accessible clean transportation options, which are critical to the low-income community that is also burdened by poor air quality and can lack access to transportation.
To ensure resiliency, we incorporated an off-grid, solar-powered electric vehicle supply equipment with battery backup that can serve as an emergency source of power for portable devices in the event of a power outage. As the public and private sectors work together to create a clean, reliable electricity grid, we need to think creatively about how we can incorporate these types of solutions across every neighborhood.
Along with off-grid and local clean energy solutions, a modern, reliable grid will also need to solve for utility scale technologies. California has done an incredible job of accelerating the adoption of solar energy with approximately 28,000 megawatts installed since 2005. As Governor Newsom moves to accelerate solar and clean energy ahead of 2045, the fast deployment of various forms of storage is necessary. Alumina Energy, another LACI startup, provides distributed and utility energy storage solutions that turn renewables into 24-hour dispatchable resources that are cost-competitive or lower than fossil fuels. Alumina’s technology is a packed bed thermal energy storage that has a 30+ years life cycle – making it cost-effective and a long-term solution. This type of distributed and utility-scale technology becomes even more critical when we think about the diverse set of solutions we’ll need to properly respond to the disruptive and different types of extreme weather events.
(Pictured: the launch of Pacoima Electro-Share with
Pacoima Beautiful and Envoy in the early summer of 2020)
Lastly, when we think of grid resiliency, we also need to consider the energy-transportation nexus. California is a leader when it comes to clean transportation. The state has a goal for there to be 5 million EVs on California roads by 2030 and recently, the Governor signed an executive order to phase out the sale of new gas-powered passenger cars and trucks by 2035 and a transition to 100% zero-emission heavy duty short-haul drayage trucks by 2035 and other heavy-duty vehicles by 2045.
LACI and the Transportation Electrification Partnership (TEP) are working towards a target of 30% of all passenger cars in LA County to be electric by the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games. As we work with our partners to advance progress towards these goals, we are supporting the discovery of new technologies that are needed to enable greater use of EVs and the efficient dispatch of energy, as needed, to support the grid. AMPLY Power and NeoCharge are two LACI startups that demonstrate this insight. AMPLY Power offers customized charging solutions to commercial fleet operators that optimize grid conditions to maximize savings. NeoCharge optimizes EV charging solutions in a manner that makes charging more cost-competitive for apartments and condos, while also supporting the needs of the grid. Additional work is needed to ensure these types of vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-building technologies are incentivized to come online to support grid resiliency.
As California establishes new climate goals, we need to keep in mind that we need to move aggressively and inclusively to meet the needs of a clean and reliable energy grid. These recent heat waves, combined with massive wildfires throughout the state, demonstrate that we need to act now. LACI will continue to drive forth solutions and innovations with the public and private sectors to ensure an equitable, clean, and reliable energy future.