Author Archives: Larissa Koehler

In California, Electric Vehicles are the New DeLorean in “Back to the Future”

4756808765_d63b6077d4_zAs any child of the ’80s knows, October 21, 2015 is “Back to the Future Day” – the day that the film’s protagonist, Marty McFly, travels to the future in his DeLorean. Though it would no doubt be useful to have access to flying cars (think of the traffic one could avoid), Californians are seeing increased access to something more practical: electric vehicles (EVs).

In order to meet the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals, emissions from transportation – the sector most responsible for harmful pollution – need to be addressed. Enter Governor Brown’s zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which aims to build enough infrastructure statewide to support one million clean vehicles by 2020, and put 1.5 million ZEVs on the road by 2025. With this executive order, we have a much better chance of ensuring a low-carbon future and effectively combatting climate change in California. Read More »

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Orange is the New Black, 40 is the New 30…and Energy Storage Could be the New California Power Plant

Moss_Landing_Power_Plant_p1270026If you follow pop culture, you’ve likely heard that Orange is the New Black, and 40 is the new 30. A perhaps lesser known – but equally important – new comparison that is turning heads in California is that energy storage might just be the new power plant.

This probably warrants a bit of explanation. On a power grid without storage, solar energy is generated during the day when the sun is shining its brightest, providing clean, renewable energy to homes and businesses – thus lessening the hold on the grid of dirty power plants. But what happens when this energy source goes offline? As people come home after work and turn on TVs, run dishwashers, and fire up other hungry appliances (also referred to as “peak” energy hours), the grid must rely on fossil fuel-powered electricity to ramp up production quickly.

However, when energy storage is added into this mix, a shift occurs. If there is enough renewable energy stockpiled during the sun’s most productive hours, between 11 AM and 3 PM, then the use of fossil fuels at peak times can be reduced.  In this way, new fossil fuel power plants that might be necessary to meet increased population and demand can be avoided.  And voila: energy storage is the new power plant. Read More »

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So You Want an EV? We’re Helping to Figure Out How to Make it Happen

larissa-koehlerYou may have noticed:  we’re big fans of electric vehicles (EVs) here at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Standard transportation fuels are one of the biggest sources of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, so vehicle electrification is a crucial part of our clean energy future. But getting more EVs on the road is about more than just giving customers incentives to buy these types of vehicles. We also need to deal with where and how we charge EVs.

From April 27th to May 4th, EDF was engaged in evidentiary hearings at the California Public Utilities Commission that dealt with San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) new electric vehicle pilot. Representatives from EDF, the Utility Consumers’ Advocacy Network, the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, SDG&E, Pacific Gas & Electric, ChargePoint, KnGrid, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Green Power Institute, were all putting their best foot forward at the hearings. While there were sadly no Perry Mason moments (aside from an unsilenced cell phone playing the theme song in the middle of the hearings), I did try my hand at challenging witnesses on some key points through cross-examination for the first time. More importantly, the six-day-long process allowed Jamie Fine to shine as an expert witness and raise a number of matters of high priority to EDF.  Read More »

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Hitting Those Clean Energy Notes

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San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) Photo source: Flickr/Jason Hickey

Editor's note: This post was updated April 9, 2015.

When the door to one power plant closes, a window to more clean energy solutions opens.

It may seem logical that once a power plant closes, another one needs to be built to replace it – after all, we need to make up for its potential energy generation with more natural gas or nuclear-powered energy, right? San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is certainly trying to convince Californians this is true. Trouble is, EDF and other environmental groups, along with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), aren’t buying it. And you shouldn’t either.

This story begins in 2013, when the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) permanently closed, shutting down a nuclear power plant with a capacity of 2,200 megawatts (MW) and sparking a debate about how to replace this lost power source. When first determining how to proceed in the wake of the SONGS closure, the CPUC decided SDG&E could buy between 500 to 800 megawatts (MW) of new energy resources by 2022. Further, at least 200 MW of this power had to – and all of it could – be met with preferred resources like energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy storage, and demand response (an energy conservation tool that pays people to save energy when the electric grid is stressed). Read More »

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Plugging Away – San Diego’s Plan to “Charge” Toward a Cleaner Grid

rp_Larissa-Koehler-200x300.jpgWe love electric vehicles (EVs) here in California and we want that love to spread. Why? It isn’t because of the cool factor – though, believe me, EVs like the Tesla are undoubtedly cool. Instead, it’s because these cars can offer significant benefits to the environment, electric grid, and economy.

California policymakers feel the love: in March 2012, Governor Brown signed an Executive Order that put an ambitious – and important – goal in place to provide the infrastructure for up to 1 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), which includes fuel cell powered vehicles along with plug-in hybrid and battery EVs, by 2020 and put 1.5 million ZEVs on the road by 2025.

Here are some of the potential benefits of electric vehicles:

  • Reduce harmful pollution. Because EVs don’t produce any emissions from the tailpipe when they are drawing on energy from their battery – unlike traditional gasoline-powered vehicles – they can greatly reduce the amount of harmful pollution from which California suffers. Targeting tailpipe emissions, the largest contributor to dangerous emissions, will help the state meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets and reduce harmful pollutants that are causing elevated levels of smog.
  • Integrate more renewable energy. By charging at times when renewable energy is abundant (i.e., during the day to take advantage of solar and late at night to soak up wind power), EVs can enable the grid to handle more clean energy resources while still maintaining reliability.
  • Avoid increasing use of fossil fuel resources. Because solar power becomes unavailable when the sun goes down, the grid sees a steep increase in the use of fossil fuel-powered energy before sunrise and after sunset. If EVs charge during the day and then draw upon that stored energy when renewable energy is unavailable it will reduce the need for fossil-fueled generators to provide energy during these times of the day.
  • Avoid costs to utilities and residents. Capitalizing on the ability of EVs to integrate more renewables onto the grid can offset the need for additional, expensive transmission and distribution infrastructure as energy needs increase over time. In addition, EVs present an attractive financial proposition – by reducing or eliminating the amount that drivers spend at the gas pump, those who purchase an EV can recover the upfront cost of the car in a matter of years.

Read More »

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Here Comes the Sun: How California is Bringing More Renewables to the Grid

rp_Larissa-Koehler-200x300.jpgAsk most people what the Beatles and California have in common and they might very well be at a loss. However, the answer is pretty simple: they are both unabashed trendsetters in the face of resistance – the former in their musical style and the latter in its clean energy policies.

Not content with setting a Renewable Portfolio Standard that ends at 2020, Governor Jerry Brown and state legislators are pushing for the Golden State to get 50 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2030.

To meet this ambitious target, California must build a system that is largely based on renewable electricity, like wind and solar. This is not an easy task. The primary reason? Sunshine and wind are only available at certain times of the day and can be variable during those times.

Traditionally, managers of the electricity grid have relied upon dirty “peaker” power plants – usually fossil fuel-fired and only needed a couple of days a year – to balance the grid during periods of variability or when electricity demand exceeds supply. But, in a world where 50 percent of our energy comes from renewable sources as a means to achieving a clean energy economy, we can’t rely on these dirty peaker plants to balance the variability of wind and solar.

Luckily, technology is available today that can help fill the gap of these peaker plants – and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is starting to embrace it. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Demand Response, Electricity Pricing, Energy, Energy Efficiency, General, Smart Grid| Read 2 Responses
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    How California can leverage market-based environmental policies to revitalize its economy, protect its quality of life and retain a leading edge in global innovation.

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