The Revolution Will Be Solarized

04/02/2015 01:07 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2015

(image credit: livinggreenmag)

There's a clean energy revolution happening in California -- and it has the potential to topple the old polluting forces while fighting climate change with the power of the sun.

California is not only producing the most solar power in the country -- 8.5 gigawatts, enough to power 2 million homes -- it's producing more solar power than the rest of the country combined. In 2014 alone, the state more than doubled its solar power, becoming the first state to generate 5 percent of its total electricity from utility-scale solar. This record does not even count rooftop solar and distributed generation (where California also leads the country), bringing the state closer to an estimated 7 percent of its total power generation from free sunshine.

The solar industry employs more than 54,000 Californians -- nearly one third of all solar workers in the nation -- and solar jobs in the state grew by 16 percent in 2014 alone (compared with 2.2 percent overall state job growth in 2014). California solar jobs are expected to grow by another 17 percent in 2015.

California cities are the vanguard of this revolution, with Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento leading the charge. New research finds that California's cities and urban centers could generate enough solar to meet the state's power needs three to five times over, without developing a single additional acre of the state's natural areas.

This solar revolution could not come sooner for my hometown of Los Angeles. The city is in a fight to rid itself of coal power by 2025, while also battling the impacts of climate change that are stressing our energy grid and worsened by fossil fuels.

Los Angeles' historic heatwaves are expected to increase in number and frequency in the coming decades; some regions will experience triple or quadruple the number of heat days. The city broke its all-time record for energy demand last year on a particularly hot day, with nearly double the peak energy demand experienced on a typical day in the city. Pollution-free solar power can help us convert a potentially dangerous heat source into a source of cooling.

Statewide, record heatwaves will continue to drive up energy demand while the worst drought in at least 1,200 years and record-low snowpack has slashed in half the state's available hydroelectric power. To help make our energy future less vulnerable to these and other impacts of climate change, we need a clean energy revolution now more than ever.

But here's the thing about a good revolution: It can't rely on a few remarkable events; it needs a solid foundation to sustain itself, and it needs to empower people, the true lifeblood of any revolution.

Forward-thinking state policy has been a solid foundation and driving force, including the governor's recent commitment to achieving 50 percent of California's total energy from renewable sources by 2030. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has the opportunity to develop clear plans to integrate renewable energy, energy efficiency, advanced storage, and other enabling technologies that can displace dirty "peaker" power plants to balance the grid during periods of variability or when electricity demand exceeds supply.

Speaking of balancing the grid, we need to move our energy demand to align with our peak solar production (when the sun is shining brightest, roughly 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Right now, most electricity demand occurs later in the evening, when people get home from work and flip on their appliances and electronics, causing a mismatch between demand and clean energy supply. Fortunately, policies like "Time of Use" pricing and "Demand Response" -- energy management tools that incentivize customers to reduce their energy use during times of high demand -- can put the power in the hands of the people to advance the clean energy revolution and displace dirty and costly fossil fuels.

Finally, and most importantly, any worthwhile revolution needs to uplift and empower all people. Our clean energy revolution needs to be equitable, affordable, and accessible to all Californians, especially low-income people, communities of color, and communities overburdened by fossil fuel pollution. While there are still many equity questions to answer, we are making great strides forward.

Step outside into the sunshine; California's clean energy revolution is happening live!