As climate-related disruptions grow more frequent and severe, we urgently need effective local strategies to achieve decarbonization, resilience, social equity and security. The common basis for all these goals is to create local electric systems — carbon-free, safe, resilient and accessible to all — in every community throughout California. This requires a new state-led, state-funded program to empower all local governments statewide to plan and implement such systems. 

Advanced Community Energy (ACE) is an initiative to establish, through legislation, a program to provide funding, technical expertise, best practices and local capacity building for all cities and counties to plan and implement local ACE systems, starting with community microgrids. Under the state program, ACE planning will involve collaboration between local government agencies, local residents and stakeholders, especially vulnerable households and disadvantaged neighborhoods, electric distribution utilities, and clean energy developers and technology companies. 

Community Microgrid Schematic

ACE plans will be designed to address three inter-related objectives: (1) address local priorities and needs, such as maintaining electric service when utility service is unavailable, or creating local jobs and economic benefits, or retrofitting buildings for efficiency and decarbonization, or enhancing local mobility services; (2) supporting statewide goals for decarbonization, social and environmental equity and resilience, and (3) improving the operation and reducing the costs of California’s power grid by flattening net load profiles at the circuit level, offsetting the need for grid infrastructure investment, and providing grid services to both the distribution system and the wholesale power market.  

Wildfires and other disruptive events always have local impacts, so resilience strategies must be locally based. Greenhouse gas emissions are driven by local patterns of fossil-fuel use, which cities and counties can address through housing densification, transit-oriented development, land use and zoning, building codes and carbon-free mobility services. At the same time, not all cities and counties in California have the resources and expertise to develop high-quality ACE plans without substantial state support. We therefore need legislation to establish the ACE program so as to reach and empower all cities and counties in California in a “bottom-up-meets-top-down” strategy for achieving our decarbonization, equity and resilience goals. 

The ACE initiative is proposing new legislation for the 2020 legislative session to include the following elements: 

  • Create a state-managed and state-funded program of support for local governments to develop and implement local ACE plans. A statewide program is needed to ensure that all cities and counties in the state have the financial and technical resources and guidance to conduct collaborative, participatory ACE planning processes that will effectively address the three inter-related objectives stated above. In addition to funding support, a statewide ACE program would provide technical expertise and best practices, such as designs for critical-facility microgrids, building efficiency and decarbonization retrofit strategies, carbon-free local mobility services, a clearinghouse for best practices in local government energy planning and a library of case studies. For related comments recently filed at the CEC by the Center for Climate Protection, click here.
  • Increase state funding to support critical-facility microgrid projects, starting with high fire risk areas and eventually covering all of California. Eventually all California communities may be subject to severe climate-related disruptions, so a statewide “resilient communities” goal would focus on identifying critical facilities in all cities and counties — such as water supply, wastewater treatment, first responders and community care centers for displaced persons — and equipping them with carbon-free energy resources and energy storage to maintain electric service when disruptions occur.  This will build upon existing CPUC proceedings, including a recent decision to establish a self-generation incentive program equity resiliency budget and the upcoming SB 1339 proceeding to facilitate the commercialization of microgrids.
  • Direct the CPUC to develop regulatory rules for its jurisdictional electric distribution utilities to collaborate with cities and counties in their service areas on ACE planning. It is essential that local ACE systems address decarbonization, equity and resilience be designed so as to improve the reliable operation of California’s electric grid while minimizing operational impacts and needs for new grid infrastructure investment. To this end the IOU distribution utilities must be fully engaged collaborators and provide the information needed for effective ACE planning. This would be a new role for the IOUs, however, so the ACE legislation would direct the CPUC to develop the regulatory framework governing this role and its associated responsibilities and incentives. 

In the coming months the Center for Climate Protection will be developing additional details of the ACE initiative in collaboration with California stakeholders interested in pursuing the ideas described above. If you would like to discuss this initiative with members of the ACE team please contact Kurt Johnson (see below). If you would like to be added to our mailing list to receive future updates, click here.

Kurt Johnson

Explaining ACE

Advanced Community Energy: Building a Clean and Resilient GridKurt Johnson, Center for Climate Protection, September 16, 2019

ACE Comments to the California Energy Commission August 22, 2019

ACE Overview Slide Deck, August 15, 2019

ACE Comments to the California Public Utilities Commission July 22, 2019

Center for Climate Protection Webinar on ACE  July 17, 2019

California Fire Threat Map (Source: California Public Utilities Commission)

Related Articles

Greater wildfire risks prompt growth of electrical ‘microgrids’ to rely less on PG&E, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, September 14, 2019

A plan to unlock local clean energy for a climate resilient California grid, Susannah Churchill, Vote Solar, August 27, 2019

Let’s reduce wholesale market costs by tapping the full potential of DERs,  Chris Rauscher, Sunrun, August 27, 2019

In the new normal of wildfires, California must build a reliable energy system  Tim Edwards, Cal Fire Fighters, August 13, 2019

The road to reinvention  Anne Pramaggiore, Exelon Utilities,  May/June 2019

The Bottom-Up (R)Evolution of the Electric Power System, Lorenzo Kristov, IEEE Power & Energy Magazine, March-April 2019

Don’t let PG&E’s perfectly good bankruptcy go to waste Lorenzo Kristov and Mark Ferron, March 12, 2019

Clean energy technologies threaten to overwhelm the grid. Here’s how it can adapt. The centralized, top-down power grid is outdated. Time for a bottom-up redesign. David Roberts,, December 27, 2018

Comments to the CPUC on Customer Choice and Resilient Communities, Lorenzo Kristov, November 28, 2017