California’s Big Bright Renewable Future

This is the seventh in a series of opinion columns on California’s clean energy future. In this installment, Geisha Williams, president of PG&E, Electric, who will become PG&E’s CEO in March, explains how renewable energy is now a way of life in California and that PG&E is committed to ensuring that all customers have access to its benefits.

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Renewable energy is on the rise across America, and California is leading the way. The state’s bold policies have worked with astonishing speed to create new markets for large-scale solar and wind power projects and fuel the boom in demand for private rooftop solar.

Case in point: PG&E’s energy grid now supports nearly 25 percent of all private solar rooftops in the nation. In recent years, the solar rush has accelerated so swiftly that the trend line has gone vertical. What started with just 163 homes in 2000 stands at more than 275,000 today. By 2025, we expect that number to more than double again.

PG&E’s efforts have helped drive that increase. We provide solar customers with the fastest connection times in the country, help them with tips and tools, and have even offered incentives to our own employees to go solar.

In addition, we’re bringing solar to those customers who want it but are not in a position to install it. Some can’t afford the cost or lack the rooftop space; others are renters in multi-unit buildings. To help, we now offer a program called Solar Choice that allows customers to purchase up to 100 percent locally generated renewable energy.

Solving the bigger challenge of reducing carbon emissions will require more than working one rooftop or one customer at a time. We ultimately need solutions that help bring solar and other forms of clean energy to millions, leaving no one behind.

We also need to get there quickly. Hardly a week goes by when we’re not reminded that greenhouse gas emissions are already changing our climate and the clock is ticking.

This need for speed and scale is where companies such as PG&E can make a crucial difference. Achieving the steep cuts in greenhouse gases that are the hallmark of California’s forward-thinking leadership can only happen through a broader transformation of our energy infrastructure to enable an array of solutions.

To that end, we’ve made a host of smart investments in our grid that have made it more resilient, flexible and able to integrate greater supplies of renewables and other technologies, from energy storage to electric vehicles.

In 2015 alone, PG&E invested $3.5 billion in modernizations that enable greater inflows of renewable energy while ensuring that all of our customers continue to have reliable service whether or not it’s sunny. In fact, we’ve delivered the best electric reliability in our company’s history in recent years.

Using our resources and our reach, California’s energy providers have demonstrated that we can move renewable energy markets and drive down costs, while keeping the grid reliable, customer bills affordable and the economy growing.

Yet maintaining our ability to do so — much less speeding up that work as the state has directed — will require policies and regulatory approaches to keep up with forces that are changing the energy business in profound ways.

California has distinguished itself globally for its bold, visionary policies on carbon reduction and clean energy. It cannot stop now. In tandem, PG&E vows to carry on our proud tradition of building and maintaining an energy infrastructure that allows California to deliver on this vision.

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Tim Fitzpatrick is PG&E’s vice president of corporate relations and chief communications officer. Follow Tim on Twitter @PGE_Tim.

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