Category Archives: Clean Energy

LASER: Turning the climate threat into a story of opportunity for Los Angeles

Jorge-Madrid(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

I’m an L.A. guy, so I like to think about things in epic story lines. And with today's launch of EDF and UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation new "LASER" maps (Los Angeles Solar & Efficiency Report), I think we’ve got a real blockbuster on our hands.

The LASER story opens with a team of top scientists warning us of an imminent threat – climate change – that will cause widespread disruption and human suffering if left unmitigated.

Utilizing the groundbreaking work of Dr. Alex Hall and the UCLA Institute for the Environment and Sustainability, the LASER maps illustrate what climate change is going to look like in the Los Angeles region in just a few decades.

By mid-century, the region will experience a tripling in the number of extreme heat days in the downtown and urban core, and a quadrupling in the number of extreme heat days in the valleys and at high elevations.

The plot thickens as we get a clearer sense of the communities that are most at risk – those already dealing with bad air quality, lack of adequate green space and tree canopy, poor access to public transit, and other challenges like high unemployment levels, poverty and public health hazards.LAclimate_TempRise

This is the part of the story where we could give up in the face of seemingly impossible odds…but that’s not how we roll in Los Angeles.

The LASER maps also introduce a powerful narrative about how we can fight back by  mitigating the carbon pollution
driving climate change, building community resiliency through investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and seizing opportunities for economic growth that reduce vulnerability.

Utilizing sophisticated GIS mapping tools and other data, LASER shows the tremendous environmental and economic potential for rooftop solar in Los Angeles County:

  • Nearly 29,000 local jobs in solar panel installation could be created if merely 5% of the rooftop solar energy generating potential in LA County was realized.
  • If LA rooftops were able to capture that 5% of solar capacity they would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.25 million tons, equivalent to taking 250,000 cars off the road annually.

LAclimate_JobsAnother LASER plot line involves energy efficiency, one of the cheapest ways to reduce carbon pollution and lower utility bills at the same time. The LASER maps show that:

  • Nearly 1.5 million buildings in LA County were built before energy efficiency codes went into effect, which means…
  • 80% of all buildings in LA County have elevated potential for cost-saving, energy efficiency investments.

If this were actually a Hollywood blockbuster, we would probably cut to a final, climactic showdown and a dramatic rescue from impending doom. But unlike Hollywood, there is no pre-written ending to the climate crisis.

To mitigate the worst effects of climate change, and prepare vulnerable communities for the climate impacts already on their way, we need serious investment and deployment of clean energy and low-carbon infrastructure – particularly in those communities that will be hit the hardest.LAclimate_Buildings_2

LASER provides tools that can help elected officials and advocates pinpoint the communities that are most vulnerable to climate change, identify the region’s clean energy investment potential, and then develop policies and funding mechanism to unleash it. EDF is here to help in that effort, and look forward to supporting our friends and allies in Los Angeles who are working to make the clean energy potential profiled in LASER a real-life success story.

In the end, LASER tells a tale of threat and opportunity in Los Angeles. Now it’s time to get to work to make sure this epic has a positive ending.

Also posted in Climate, Engaging Latinos, Jobs | Comments closed

Long-Term Emission Reduction Goal Starts with Post-2020 Policies

Independent experts and leaders in California agree that the state is on track to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution to 1990 levels by 2020.  That was one finding from a report released by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories (LBNL) today.  In this goal, California is somewhat like the weekend warrior, harboring dreams of running a marathon but focused on the immediate milestone just ahead – running a 5K next weekend.

Make no mistake, the Golden State has a bigger target on the horizon — reducing GHG pollution 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 – a marathon-like challenge that can seem daunting, especially to a state still in 5K mode, working to meet its more immediate 2020 goal.

Like any long-term training though, our would-be marathoner might first need to target their work outs toward running a half marathon.  Similarly, the California Air Resources Board and the Governor's Office of Planning and research have recently recommended that rather than focus on 2050, California should set a mid-term target for reducing pollution by 2030.

The LBNL report also demonstrates the wisdom of this approach.  The research looks at three policy scenarios and explores what reductions each would achieve: 1) policies California has already committed to i.e. those used to reach the 2020 target, 2) a suite of policies that reflects current proposals to strengthen existing policies and 3) strengthened scenario two policies plus likely technology upgrades like more electric vehicles and higher efficiency in cars and trucks.  The research found under the second and third scenarios, which are both considered realistic, emissions would decline by 32% or 50%, respectively, below 1990 levels by 2030. 2050 was not the focus of the study but the report did conclude that more would be needed beyond scenario three to meet the 2050 target.

The fact that reaching our 2050 target will be challenging shouldn't come as a surprise, just like it wouldn't be a surprise to find out that a new training regimen might be needed to run a marathon.  A 2011 study, by some of the same researchers, showed that California needs significant innovation before we can reach our 2050 target.  This effort to decarbonize our state may include technologies such as cost-effective carbon capture and sequestration, almost completely electrifying our personal car fleet, and developing reliable electricity storage.  It might seem like a lot now, but just think about all of the innovations we didn't have 30 years ago (the internet comes to mind) and more importantly, what critics said about the initial 2020 goals.

Like training for any long race, new research will help us focus on the magnitude of the challenges ahead.  This push will lead California and others to focus on policies that create and encourage innovations like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard and other clean energy policies.  This task also shows the importance of setting concrete intermediate goals showing where we want to be in 15 years.  And as we approach 2030, we can anticipate that innovation and an unwavering commitment to reducing greenhouse gas pollution will bring our 2050 targets into reach and get us past the finish line.

Also posted in Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32 | Comments closed

At a Key Moment for Energy, California Should Seize Demand Response

Traditionally, if an area’s population grows — or it loses a power plant — it needs more energy. But California and some other states can approach it differently and reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Instead of asking, How can we add more energy?” the real question becomes “How can we reduce demand?”

Two words: Demand Response (DR).

DR is an incentive that has been proven to work on the East Coast and elsewhere, encouraging energy users who voluntarily participate to reduce their electricity usage temporarily when demand could outpace supply.

Recently, the California Energy Commission’s Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) Draft recognized DR as a technology with a high potential to maximize energy efficiency. This report comes at an important time for the state, when greenhouse gas emissions from large facilities have increased in California after decreasing the previous years, in large part due to the closing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) power plant.

In our recently submitted comments, EDF commended the Commission on thinking big on demand response, a cutting edge load management technology that can lower wholesale energy prices when they are highest, dramatically minimize system costs, and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

In their report the Commission also acknowledged that while DR is a great tool if used well, there still “has been little progress towards increasing the amount of DR used in the state.”  The Commission included several recommendations to bolster DR going forward, which EDF supports and will advocate for.

We also made suggestions for how the Commission could maximize the use of DR in California, including:

Time of Use (TOU) tariffs allow customers to pay prices for energy that depend on both when and how much they use. By giving customers the option to save money for reducing their energy use at peak times, older, less efficient peaker plants aren’t used as much and the overall system costs go down dramatically. If half of Southern California Edison’s ratepayers adopted its voluntary TOU program, this would replace the need for two thirds of the San Onofre generating capacity.

  • Set clear and ambitious goals for demand response in the state

The Commission should set ambitious benchmarks in regard to demand response capacity.

  • Foster consumer adoption of innovative demand response technology

Modern technology allows for automated thermostats, ‘set it and forget it’, and other options for easy to use systems that allow interested electricity customers to quickly and consistently respond and reduce energy use when demand is high and the grid is stressed. The Commission should plan to increase consumer uptake of these technologies.

  • Support new technologies and quick scaling up of pilot projects

Demand response opportunities exist on a broad scale in California.  Innovative ideas like charging electric cars when solar power is abundant to help maximize the benefits from renewables are still being developed. The Commission should encourage and support these new technologies, and look for successful pilots that are both cost-effective and fully scalable.

  • Establish effective enforcement mechanisms

By putting in place proper monitoring and enforcement mechanisms, the Commission will help ensure expected environmental benefits.

 The Commission’s IEPR is a great step forward, and comes at a key moment for managing California’s energy system. We urge the Commission to continue its work with other stakeholders to increase this momentum, and to utilize its authority – such as appliance and buildings standards and electricity forecasting – to help implement the state’s vision for demand response.

Also posted in Energy, General, Smart Grid | Comments closed

From the Pacific Coast Climate Plan, a Path Forward for the Low Carbon Fuel Standard

While several stories have been written on this week’s historic climate pact signed by California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, little has been mentioned about the path its created for low carbon fuels in Western North America.  Such a clear statement on the direction for West Coast low carbon fuels development has never been made, so it certainly deserves a deeper dive.

In Part II of the pact: “Transition the West Coast to clean modes of transportation and reduce the large share of greenhouse gas emissions from this sector” the leaders agreed to “Adopt and maintain low-carbon fuel standards in each jurisdiction. Oregon and Washington will adopt low-carbon fuels standards, and California and British Columbia will maintain their existing standards.”

The relevance of this statement cannot be understated.

According to the US Energy Information Agency, the 3 western states burn a combined 23.7 billion gallons of gas and diesel every year, emitting just over 200 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.  British Columbia, for its part, releases about 15.5 million tons from burning gas and diesel in cars and trucks every year.

Furthermore, based on recent projections of alternative fuel industry growth from the California energy commission, the US Energy Information Agency, and consulting firms like Navigant, stringent Low Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS) are achievable.

For example, according to recent cutting-edge research on electric vehicle (EV) sales, California and Washington will likely lead the nation in EV sales by the year 2022 with about 813,000 and 105,000 EV’s sold respectively.  Additionally, the state of Oregon is expected to account for over 5% of all EV sales in 2022.  With policies like the LCFS, these vehicles can capitalize on the huge amount of zero carbon power (hydroelectric, wind, etc.) produced throughout the pacific northwest on a yearly basis – yielding even greater economic investments while also significantly reducing pollution that causes climate change and public health impacts.

In addition to the EV example, a set of LCFS standards across the western region can build upon the large amount of low carbon biofuels that are being produced.   By way of example, according to the US EIA, at least 14 different biodiesel production facilities with a production capacity of 183 million gallons of fuel are already located in California, Oregon and Washington, with more to come.  Furthermore, as documented by the California Energy Commissions, at least a 3-fold increase in alternative fuels production is expected by 2020, enabling the achievement of goals for “petroleum displacement, in‐stage biofuel production, and LCFS compliance.”

These alternative fuel facilities and companies mean local jobs, economic growth and reduced imports – a much different picture than the current trend of buying massive amounts of foreign crude oil and sending billions of dollars abroad.

For years, members of the oil and traditional ethanol industries have fought to undermine the LCFS in the media, the courts and at the ballot box. These groups have spared no expense to build implementation road blocks and cast doubt over the standard, hiring consulting firms that deliver highly criticized sky-is-falling cost estimates, sponsoring industry groups aimed at casting doubt over implementation readiness, and suing California in state and federal court.  With this most recent announcement, those efforts were again proven futile.

Though time will tell how Oregon and Washington will implement the LCFS portion of the recent climate pact, for now, a green light means it’s go time for low carbon fuels across the region.

Also posted in Climate, Low Carbon Fuel Standard | Comments closed

Historic Agreement Demonstrates Broad Commitment to Build Clean Energy Economy

With the stroke of a pen, North American efforts to combat climate change and promote clean energy reached a new level today.

I was lucky enough to witness the historic event, as Governor Jerry Brown joined the leaders of Oregon, Washington State and the Canadian province of British Columbia, to sign an agreement that formally aligns climate and clean energy policies in the four jurisdictions.

This signing by these “Fab Four” of the Pacific Coast Collaborative makes sense given all they have in common: they’re geographically connected, share infrastructure, and their combined regional economy accounts for a $2.8 trillion GDP, making it the world’s fifth largest economy.

Beyond the symbolic nature of today’s announcement, the event signals California’s far-reaching influence on energy and climate policy development.

Once labeled the “go it alone” state, California is now succeeding with its “lead by example” approach.

What has driven this success? Most recently, the Golden State established the world’s most comprehensive cap-and-trade program, a proven and sensible environmental and economic approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Once considered a “grand experiment,” its early success has helped to establish a strong, viable market and spur interest from around the world.

Today was no exception, as business, labor and environmental leaders from all four jurisdictions joined the signing, signifying a strong regional commitment to putting a price on carbon, using market mechanisms to spur a clean economy and reduce pollution on a regional scale.

The agreement is also further proof that strong climate and clean energy policies are tied to economic benefits, creating a large market for innovators and low-carbon businesses in the region. California is on the brink of linking its cap-and-trade program with Quebec’s; making the two states’ carbon allowances interchangeable and showing growing carbon market momentum.

Today’s event is a beacon of hope for national and global action to fight climate change.  While the four parties in this agreement are in different stages in putting a price on carbon, their combined commitment is a positive sign and further impetus for regional and international collaboration. The vision of these four leaders – along with California’s proven record of success – makes me very optimistic that we are on the right path.

Also posted in Cap and trade, Climate, Linkage, Politics | Comments closed

On-Bill Repayment & Community Solar: Clean Energy Investments Underserved Californians Can Afford

It sounds like the opening line of a joke: What can finance do to reduce inequality?

However, this is exactly the question I tried to tackle during my presentation at the Clean Power, Healthy Communities conference last week. Hosted by the Local Clean Energy Alliance, this annual conference focuses on equitable, community-based clean energy solutions for the Bay Area.

In keeping with this theme, I took the opportunity to explain how On-Bill Repayment (OBR) can increase access to energy efficiency and distributed generation installations for low and middle-income families. By overcoming cost barriers, OBR can deliver energy savings, cost savings, jobs and more comfortable and healthy homes to underserved communities. In addition to these tangible benefits, it offers residents greater control over energy generation, as well as their energy consumption.

While I was able to share EDF’s finance work with community organizers and other environmental advocates, the conference was also a chance to hear about and discuss variety of other community-based solutions. One initiative that OBR has tremendous potential to support and complement is community-owned solar. Signed into law in September, California’s Senate Bill 43 allows for shared ownership of renewable generation. This means that individuals who are unable to install solar panels at their residences can invest in an off-site solar system, and receive credit on their utility bill for their share of the power generated.

OBR could support community-owned solar by helping low-income households finance the subscription cost, also through their utility bill. This simultaneously provides convenience for customers, and increases solar providers’ confidence in low-income subscribers’ ability to repay.  Residential OBR programs would require the savings from solar generation to exceed the subscription cost, ensuring lower net utility bills for struggling consumers.

As EDF continues to develop energy financing opportunities like OBR, partnerships with local organizations and advocacy groups are essential. Moving forward in California and other states, EDF hopes to tailor OBR to complement local initiatives, like community-owner solar, to ensure that OBR deliver results for underserved communities.

So, what can finance do to reduce inequality?

Punch lines aside, it can increase access to cleaner, cheaper energy, deliver investment and jobs, and expand the opportunity to own renewable generation technology to credit-strapped communities. By working with local partners as we develop financing tools like OBR, EDF can help shift the energy economy towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

Also posted in Energy, On-Bill Repayment | Comments closed

New Report Confirms Major Progress in California's Alternative Fuels Market

After months of surveys, analysis and preparation, the California Energy Commission’s draft 2013 Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR) is out – and it shows that dramatic progress is underway in the state’s transportation fuels market.  Not only has the state made measured progress towards a more diversified fuel market through targeted investments, the growth of alternative fuels shows that policies like the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) are working and compliance is achievable.

Accounting for nearly 40 percent of total energy consumed in the state and 38 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation sector is almost universally recognized as an area where significant progress needs to be made.  As shown by the IEPR, California’s powerful response to this realization through policies like the LCFS, AB 118 investment program and AB 1493 Pavley clean vehicle standards, just to name a few, has led to significant strides in greening transportation and reducing fossil fuel use.  Notable milestones to date recognized in the IEPR include:

  • A marked increase in the use of alternative fuel sources.

A rise in the use of natural gas, biofuels, and electricity has enabled lower-carbon energy sources to rise from a barely detectable level a few years ago, to about 7 percent of total transportation fuel use today.  (Page 19)

  • Expanded funding for clean fuels and energy efficient technologies.

The Energy Commission has contributed more than $400 million across 233 projects related to alternative transportation fuels manufacturing, research and development and workforce training.  With matching private and other public sector contributions of nearly $740 million, state-led investments have resulted in a multiplicative effect (about $1.80 from private and additional public sector funding for each $1.00 invested by the Energy Commission) and significant progress towards the state’s energy and climate goals. (Page 176)

  • Substantial progress and growth in the California biodiesel industry.

The biodiesel industry has grown exponentially in the past few years, resulting in significant production of in-state volumes.  In addition, research currently underway could significantly reduce production costs – meaning even greater volumes in the near future. (Page 64) Growth and technological advancement in this sector are particularly important, given the disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas and toxic diesel particulates that come from traditional diesel trucks.

  • Dramatic improvement in vehicle efficiency.

California’s vehicle standards, which have been emulated by the federal government, have resulted in fleet wide improvements in passenger vehicle efficiency.  As a result, California is predicted to experience a 2 billion gallon decline in gasoline consumption from 14.6 billion gallons per year in 2012 to 12.7 billion gallons per year by 2022. At approximately $3 dollars per gallon of gasoline, that’s over $6 billion per year in savings for consumers. (Page 182)

  •  Expected exponential growth in electric vehicles (EV).

Through policies like the $2,500 California Vehicle Rebate Project and the Governor’s 1.5 million EV by 2025 goal, the growth of EV deployment in California is unprecedented.  As a result, the Energy Commission expects exponential growth in the development and use of electric passenger vehicles in the coming years.  (Page 193) Since electric vehicles offer a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline or diesel‐fueled vehicles, particularly if renewables are the electricity source, this will mean substantial carbon savings in the near future.

Notable in this study is that everything points to these trends continuing in the coming years.  As the report states, “existing government incentives and regulations combined with alternative fuel price advantages, expected economy of sale vehicle manufacturing, and technology advances could lead to at least a three-fold increase in alternative fuel growth by 2020.”  (Page 190)

Increasing diversification of the California fuel mix aligns with forecasts conducted by EDF earlier this year.  If these trends continue, the Energy Commission predicts that “California will achieve goals for petroleum displacement, in‐stage biofuel production, and LCFS compliance.”

Achieving full compliance of LCFS and other clean fuels policies is imperative for California to reach greenhouse gas reductions goals.  Though the state has made a tremendous amount of progress to date, it needs to continue to spur advanced technologies and adequately address challenges related to alternative fuel growth. The IEPR shows that California is on track to doing this and continued implementation of existing policies is key to lasting success.

 

Also posted in Energy, Low Carbon Fuel Standard | Comments closed

Environment: California didn't do so badly this year

(This post was written for and first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News)

By Lauren Faber and Ann Notthoff 

Despite some particularly unexplainable losses if you care about protecting the environment, the California Legislature made progress in 2013. The range of bills on the governor's desk awaiting his signature confirms that California remains the stalwart energy and climate leader in the country.

This legislative session was a turning point: More than half of the members of the Assembly were freshmen, Democrats enjoyed a two-thirds supermajority in both houses and the state budget swung back into the black. This new era has ushered in fresh opportunities for clean energy investment, sustainable transportation and consumer protections from dirty, expensive energy production and consumption.

While "A Bad Year in Sacramento for Environmental Measures" (San Jose Mercury News Page 1A, Sept. 15) identified missed environmental opportunities, there were significant achievements this year along with efforts that will be taken up in January during the second half of the two-year legislative season.

Newly passed legislation, AB 217 (Bradford), will expand renewable energy, extending the state's low-income solar programs to ensure the benefits of solar reach all Californians. Further, a "Green Tariff" program was created through SB 43 (Wolk) to allow customers of the state's largest utilities to purchase up to 100 percent renewable electricity. These efforts wean the state off dirty fossil fuels, benefiting public health, and give customers choices.

The state also doubled down on its commitment to sustainable transportation with the passing of AB 8 (Perea), an expansive effort to strengthen California's alternative fuel and clean vehicles programs; SB 811 (Lara), a bill to protect disadvantaged communities and mitigate the impact of the Highway 710 expansion; and SB 359 (Corbett), which helps clean the air by providing incentives to drive plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.

In addition, California became the first state to adopt a major consumer protection bill aimed directly at deterring gas price manipulation and establishing recommendations for combating volatile gas prices with SB 448 (Leno). This oversight creates a more transparent market that helps alternative, lower-carbon fuels thrive and reduces emissions from transportation, the sector contributing most to climate change in California.

Big oil spent a lot of money in Sacramento this year but still lost some fights and may be left feeling it needs to review its playbook. The Legislature passed a suite of bills to regulate the oil industry. In addition to SB 448, lawmakers moved legislation to ensure a skilled workforce is processing oil at our refineries in SB 54 (Hancock), and make sure taxpayers aren't left holding the bag for oil and gas drilling accidents with SB 665 (Wolk).

All told, key legislation passed in 2013 will account for nearly $1.3 billion of clean energy investment over the next five years, with an additional $3 billion mandated by voters and the Public Utilities Commission.

However, policies are only as good as the leader who signs them into law.

Gov. Jerry Brown has made climate change a focal point of his administration. We are counting on him to uphold that commitment and make these new bills the law of the land. Doing so will continue California's legacy of innovative policies that move our environment and economy forward and improve public health.

While we have a long way to go, most newly elected members are off to a positive start, standing up for consumers, health and the environment — a powerful message coming from a Legislature that will define the next generation of California's environmental leadership.

Lauren Faber is the West Coast political director for the Environmental Defense Fun, and Ann Notthoff is the California advocacy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Also posted in Climate, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Politics | Comments closed

Setting the PACE on Clean Energy Finance

I spend most of my time working to establish On-Bill Repayment programs that allow property owners to use their utility bill to repay loans for cost-saving energy efficiency or renewable energy upgrades.  Many of my colleagues work on a similar program known as Property Assessed Clean Energy (“PACE”), which uses the property tax bill for repayment.  Since both utility and property tax bills are usually paid, both PACE and OBR are expected to lower the cost and increase the availability of financing for clean energy projects.

Last week, I was invited to attend a meeting of the leading PACE program administrators, property owners and other market participants in the country — and was pleasantly surprised to learn how much progress is being made.

Connecticut launched their program in January and is expected to close $20 million of PACE transactions for commercial properties by year end.  The Toledo, Ohio area expects to have executed $18 million of commercial transactions by the end of 2013.  Sonoma County, with a population of less than 500,000, has already completed $64 million of financings for residential and commercial properties.  In late 2012, CaliforniaFIRST launched a PACE program for commercial properties that has already received 130 applications.

We also heard from the head of Keep PACE in Texas who recently sponsored legislation to enable PACE in the state.  PACE, like OBR, uses private funding to allow property owners to voluntarily retrofit their properties.  This makes the program popular with many conservatives and the legislation was able to pass with a unanimous vote from the Texas House of Representatives in May.

Historically, most of the PACE transactions have gone toward financing energy efficiency improvements.  As I wrote in May, Connecticut has set up their PACE program to include financing solar projects as well – using financing structures (leases and power purchase agreements) that tend to provide the lowest-cost solutions for building owners.  Last week, I learned that CaliforniaFIRST and other California-based PACE programs may now be able to offer the same solution for commercial property owners across the state.  This could dramatically increase the availability of financing for solar projects in commercial properties.

Most solar deals are financed over 20 years.  For properties with good credit, this works well as solar photovoltaic (PV) panels have a long lifespan and solar generation can be predicted accurately.  Most government buildings tend to have good credit and can usually finance solar with no money down.  Unfortunately, unless a commercial property is owned or leased by a highly-rated company, the property does not normally qualify for financing.

PACE programs can put an obligation onto the property tax bill that survives all changes in ownership and allows most properties to qualify for credit.  I am hopeful that PACE will be a game changer for solar installations for commercial properties in California. Ultimately, these improvements will save property owners money by reducing their energy consumption, put Californians to work and lower harmful pollution in the process.

Also posted in Energy Efficiency, On-Bill Repayment, Smart Grid | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Keeping it Clean: California Should Use Clean Resources to Integrate Renewables

As the 8th largest economy in the world, California remains a global leader in clean tech investment, innovation and adoption of landmark climate and energy policies. What defines our success?  Our ability to try things first, set the bar high, and get policies right.

California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a perfect example of that bold, pioneering spirit. Passed in 2011, the RPS required that 33% of electricity come from renewables by 2020 – a lofty benchmark, even by California’s standards. Along with self-generation and solar rooftop programs, California is successfully adding solar, wind, and other distributed generation to its resource portfolio.

In fact, renewables are successfully becoming a large part of daytime energy production, the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO) – the organization in charge of balancing the statewide grid – is concerned over how to make up for that energy when the sun goes down while evening energy demand spikes.  The question is: How can the CAISO reliably integrate renewables?

The CAISO is currently figuring out how to address this need for “flexible” power and will have a draft decision out on October 2nd.  Just like people prefer to take routes they know well when they drive, the CAISO is most comfortable with what they know: familiar fossil fuels. Using clean resources and demand response instead is new territory for them that will require careful orienteering.

Yet getting comfortable with the new, cleaner terrain means a less polluting, less expensive, more resilient energy future.  California passed the RPS to reduce fossil fuel consumption — and the pollution that comes with it.  If fossil fuels become the main method by which renewables are integrated, they could eliminate the emissions benefits of renewables entirely, while consumers may pay more than necessary to integrate renewable energy.

There are clean options that have been proven to work in grid operations, such as demand response – the voluntary reduction of electricity use by customers who are paid to do so when called upon.  By reducing demand at key times, demand response lowers the need for electricity production and saves money in the process. (This is an area where California can learn from East Coast states that are robustly using demand response in their electricity markets.)

EDF has actively engaged CAISO on the need for “flexible” power, and knows they are working hard to figure out how to use demand response and other clean options to integrate renewables. We have also asked CAISO to utilize existing, clean resources and to revisit this framework every few years to make sure it is as clean as it can be – all to make sure that California has time to get it right.

Leading the way isn’t always easy, but if successful, California and CAISO will show they can utilize proven resources like demand response to keep California’s energy policies clean and cost-effective, while readying the grid for high levels of renewable resources.

Also posted in Smart Grid | Comments closed