Out West student blog

Stepping Stones to a Clean and Sustainable Future

The California Public Utilities Commission. (Photo credit: Amy Brodrick)

By Sheila Gao
Ph.D. in Energy Resources Engineering, 2020
Intern at the California Public Utilities Commission

When we talk about California’s ambitious renewable energy and green house gas emission goals, people are usually curious to know how those goals can be realized and what actions the state is taking to achieve sustainability, reliability, safety, and customer-centricity at the same time.

At the CPUC, due to the broadness of energy topics that are covered in our daily work, it is easier to get a larger picture of the energy evolution we are going through and the interconnection between different energy programs and policies.

This summer in the Office of Commissioner Rechtschaffen at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), I have been exploring the answer to that question. What I learned is that there is no single solution and we need a series of stepping stones to pave our path.

Before I started the internship, I had already heard of terms such as microgrid, electrification, energy storage, distributed energy resources, etc., but in my brain those terms were fragmented, and I used to consider them separately. At the CPUC, however, due to the broadness of energy topics that are covered in our daily work, it is easier to get a larger picture of the energy evolution we are going through and gain a deeper understanding of the interconnection between different energy programs and policies.

For instance, distributed energy resources and energy storage are important components of microgrids and can help ensuring reliability in the case of electrification. Microgrids help improving grid resiliency, and electrification coupled with distributed renewable generation further decarbonizes the grid.

Distributed Energy Resources in California. (Credit: California Distributed Generation Statistics)


By doing research on those different topics and thinking about the pathway to our clean and sustainable future from various perspectives, I now comprehend that the state agencies are working together to collecting the stepping stones to pave the way for people in California – the Self-Generation Incentive Program, the Net Energy Metering Program, the California Solar Initiative, and numerous other programs and initiatives. Each program is acting like a stepping stone, and I’m so proud to be part of the efforts in exploring and laying out those stepping stones!

Throughout the summer, besides researching sustainable energy topics, I also worked on some more practical issues related with the CPUC’s day-to-day work, ranging from utility rate cases, to rail transit safety concerns, by participating in the monthly commission meeting.

I had the opportunity to help reviewing some agenda items and learn about the decision-making process. All agenda items are closely related with our daily lives. Reviewing each item and focusing on the details helped me fathom the impacts of our work and the responsibilities of a public servant, which is a truly unique and unforgettable experience.

In the future, I hope to continue my career in the clean and sustainable energy field, and the internship at the CPUC this summer is definitely a huge step towards my goal of contributing to accelerated integration of renewable energy. To sum up, the past two months have been a wonderful mix of excitement, learning and fun, and I want to thank everyone in Commissioner Rechtschaffen’s team for being great teachers and friends.

Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

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