Energy efficiency is just one important factor in addressing future state and local energy needs.
The necessity to review our electrical infrastructure is essential. If we don’t prepare now, we could risk energy shortages and disruptions down the road.
The main electrical grid system that serves California and brings power to our Central Coast is impressive and complex, but it faces increasing stress. The pressure grows with population and development. New technology, appliances and other devices require electricity to operate, and more vehicles are requiring electric charging. California will soon be losing Diablo Canyon’s energy input, which will add strain to the grid.
A comprehensive approach is required to solve tomorrow’s energy needs. Reducing energy use and creating additional opportunities for renewable resources, such as solar, is part of it. It also involves innovative building construction that results in zero-net energy use. Energy storage units and other technology are already being used. Municipalities can also be proactive in developing micro grids and smart technology.
The cost factor for energy use by residents, businesses and municipalities cannot be overlooked. Simply put, reducing energy use saves money. It not only saves for today, but it continues to save every time the utility bill comes due.
A good first step in reducing energy and having immediate savings is accomplished by upgrading your lighting to LEDs. Other savings can be derived from reducing the amount of heating and air conditioning and by reducing water use, which requires gas to heat.
Renewable energy production is important. Solar is becoming more practical and cost effective. Wind has been used for a long time, and there are other methods being developed. Until these alternative resources become more feasibly prevalent, fossil fuels will dominate energy production in California.
Energy storage units can be used on a small and large scale. These units store energy like a battery. They are charged during the time of day when energy is cheaper and more prevalent, and they kick in during peak hours when energy is less available and costlier.
When it comes to future building and development, California is heading toward zero-net energy use. This means buildings would mitigate energy use by innovative architecture and incorporating onsite renewables.
On the municipal side, local governments should look at the feasibility of mini-grids, grid districts and smart grids. These could be self-sustaining and can disconnect from the main grid when necessary and operate on their own. This means that should the main, centralized grid go down in an outage, the mini-grid system takes over. Also, during peak hours, energy storage kicks in and reduces pressure on the entire system.
An example of using a smart grid would be street lighting that can be selectively dimmed during certain times of the night, or turned off where there is no activity, but can be motion-sensitive. For public safety, brightness can be doubled in areas where a police or fire response is called in.
Today, local municipalities consider zoning, development and growth when preparing for the future. Comprehensive energy planning should also be a priority. It affects everyone. Every person, home, business and building uses energy. It is time to become more proactive in addressing energy use in our cities and communities.
The Santa Barbara County Energy Watch Partnership — funded by PG&E and So Cal Gas, and administered by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce — provides programs for commercial and municipal upgrades. It also assists municipalities in reaching out to spread the message to everyone that energy efficiency and sustainability are everyone’s business.
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