Thursday, July 16, 2015

California 2030 Climate Goals: Renewable Energy

50% renewable energy by 2030 is another California climate goal that is reachable and replicable. The California Public Utilities Commission says the major utilities under their jurisdiction are already past 20% renewable and plan to surpass 30% renewable procurement by 2016 (report here).

Governor Jerry Brown set the 50% renewable goal for the electricity sector and getting there was the subject of a workshop held by his representatives recently. (Agenda/presenters here; available slides here)  The 50% by 2030 goal builds on the previously adopted "renewable portfolio standard" goal of 33% renewable use by 2020.

Challenges remain, including improving electricity storage, better interconnection among western electricity producers, better integration of renewables into the electric system and continuing to increase the pace of renewable deployment.

Workshop leaders included Senior Advisor to Governor Brown Cliff Rechtschaffen, California Energy Commission Chairman Robert Weisenmiller, CalISO President Stephen Berberich, PUC President Michael Picker, ARB Executive Offiser Richard Corey, PUC Commissioner Carla Peterman.

Cliff Rechtschaffen of the Governor’s Office explained that the 50% renewable electric goal is one of the “five pillars” of Governor Browns strategy to address climate change.   The other four include 50% reduction in petroleum use in vehicles (ClimateDispatch transportation workshop review here), doubling energy efficiency savings in existing buildings (ClimateDispatch efficiency workshop review here), carbon sequestration in soils and elsewhere, and reducing short-lived climate pollutants.

One of the workshop presenters, Dr. Nancy Ryan of E3 described four inter-related transitions that need to take place to meet the goals contained in the five pillars Mr. Rechtschaffen described.  The first is efficiency and conservation in energy use, transportation and urban design.  The second is fuel switching to electricity to electricity and hydrogen all sectors.  The third is decarbonizing electricity.  The fourth is decarbonizing fuels.

Source:  E3 Dr. Nancy Ryan presentation

Climate change is an issue “right now” in California, said Energy Commission Chairman Robert Weisenmiller.  “We need to move fast to reduce carbon.”  Weisenmiller pointed out that roughly 20% of California greenhouse gas emissions come from the electricity sector, with roughly half of those emissions coming from out of state facilities that provide power to California.   The amount of renewables needed will likely increase at a higher pace as the transportation sector becomes more electrified and there is greater electrification in other sectors.

California Public Utilities Commission Chairman Michael Picker stressed the importance of better interconnection and transmission capability for system reliability and to assure the access of renewables to the grid.  His comments were echoed by others.

The increased electricity demand could be especially dramatic after 2030, according to Dr. Nancy Ryan of E3.  She presented information from the “California PATHWAYS Project” completed last year by E3 for the AirResources Board, Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission, California Independent System Operator and the Governor’soffice. The study shows electricity demand relatively stable through 2030, largely due to energy efficiency offsetting any increases in demand.  However, after 2030, the demand goes up, doubling or more by 2050, especially due to the decarbonization of the transportation sector through the introduction of renewable fuels and electrification.
Dr. Ryan said California is well positioned with the currently anticipated deployment of technologies and activities to meet the 2050 California goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  However, projections made in the PATHWAYS study suggest that more steps and accelerated deployment will be needed in the next few years to achieve the 40% reduction in 2030.  These projections contributed to the more aggressive goals announced by Governor Brown in his state of the state speech in January.  The need for additive actions was discussed in this workshop and the transportation and efficiency workshops.  The PATHWAYS study showed that without some acceleration in deployment and quicker technological advances, California would be on a trajectory to achieve between a 26% and 38% reduction by 2030, short of the desired 40%.

Though more will need to be done to achieve the overall 40% reduction by 2030, Dr. Ryan said that the electricity sector can meet the 50% renewable electricity goal.  She said that grid scale renewable additions are around 2,400 MW per year and that rooftop solar will account for almost 12,000 MW by 2030.

Source:  E3 Dr. Nancy Ryan presentation

Several presenters discussed the advances that have been made for electricity storage as well as the need to greatly expand available storage using current and improving technologies.  Dr. Ryan said that “deep draw” storage is critical – i.e. storage that can hold up to 8 hours of needed energy.  An example of existing “deep draw” technology is pumped storage where water from one reservoir is pumped to a higher reservoir during low demand times and then released to produce electricity during high demand times.  Emerging battery technologies also have the potential for greater storage.

Phil Pettingill, Regional Integration Director for the California Independent System Operator offered a series of suggestions for improving system efficiency to allow greater use of renewables.  (Cal-ISO – if you don’t know who they are, monitors and deploys electricity in real time to assure that enough electricity is purchased and available for use by the most of the California utilities)  Mr. Pettingill said there are times when renewables are producing too much electricity to be absorbed by the system given the amount of electricity coming from facilities that can’t easily reduce their output.    He offered a series of solutions, many of which were supported by other participants.  Among his suggestions:
  • Retrofit existing traditional power plants to allow them to be turned on, turned down or turned off more quickly.  Currently renewables often have to be curtailed because natural gas facilities can’t be turned down or turned off as needed.
  • Deepen regional coordination to share renewable resources.  Through better integration of power systems across the western states, it is believed that renewable energy can be more efficiently used.  For example, the peak production of solar in California may align with the peak electricity needs in Utah, while the peak wind production in another state may better align with the peak energy use in California.
  • Coordinate time of use rates with system conditions to more accurately reflect real market conditions.  Depending on the season of the year, the time of day for peak system energy use can vary by as much as 4 hours.  Assuring that time of use rates reflect seasonal and other variations may make rates more complicated, but for those who can effectively shift their use in response to pricing signals, the system benefits can be substantial.
Carl Zichella of the Natural Resources Defense Council agreed that a more coordinated regional electrical system is key to the success of renewables, especially as we move towards the 80% 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goal.  He pointed out that there are about 40 regional entities with responsibility for electricity sharing.

Mr. Pettingill of Cal-ISO gave an example of addressing the regional grid issues assuming 40% renewables in 2024.  In his example, better regional coordination in combination with other steps to eliminate renewable curtailment could reduce carbon emissions by as much as 1.5 million metric tons/year.

Source:  Cal-ISO presentation

Caroline Choi of Southern California Edison brought up the issue of distributed generation (DG) and said it should be counted towards the 50% renewables goal.  She said that her utility is getting 5,000 applications a month for rooftop solar and other DG connections and that DG will play a big role in renewable energy production in the future.  Dan Chia of Solar City said California is the only state that does not count rooftop solar towards their renewable portfolio.  Others, including Cesar Diaz of the Building and Construction Trades Council argue that the existing California policy is the right one and that rooftop solar installations should be counted in addition to, not part of, the utility renewable portfolio.

Mr. Diaz said the jobs impact of the California renewable transition has been impressive, with many quality jobs created in impoverished high-unemployment areas.  He also said that apprenticeship programs are helping thousands move into good jobs.

Source:  California Energy Commission

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is one of the most progressive utilities in the country.  According to Arlen Orchard of SMUD, the utility is experimenting with microgrids, encouraging solar installations for customers and allowing customers who are unable to install their own renewables to pay a slight surcharge to assure all of their power is coming from renewables.  He also said that SMUD 2050 goal is even more aggressive than the California goal.  SMUD plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2050.

The role of natural gas facilities is an issue.  Natural gas has been considered a fuel to help California transition to renewables.  It also helped California move more quickly out of dirtier in-state oil fired plants and imported coal fired electricity.  There is now discussion of how to move away from reliance on natural gas since natural gas is a major greenhouse contributor in the electric sector.  Laura Wisland of the Union of Concerned Scientists questioned why natural gas plants continue online in the middle of the day at times when renewables are available, and sometimes curtailed due to traditional plants being online.  She said the state needs to look carefully at the cost and value of gas plants versus storage and demand response alternatives together with renewable energy. 

About half of California GHG emissions from the electricity sector come from in-state sources and about half from out-of-state sources.  Most of the in-state GHG from the electric sector comes from natural gas facilities, as shown in the graphs below from the latest California GHG Emission Inventory:

Source: California Energy Commission

California Energy Commission Executive Director Rob Oglesby said his agency is funding a variety of research and development projects that will contribute to the renewable goals, including funding for advanced storage, demand response, better forecasting and microgrids.  PUC Commissioner Carla Peterman suggested better coordination between the PUC and Energy Commission on research needs and timing of deliverables to assure that PUC proceedings on utility actions fully benefit from Energy Commission funded research.

V. John White of the Coalition for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology said there are some high value higher cost renewables that could use more support from the state, including geothermal resources in Imperial County and methane from organic materials elsewhere in the state.  He also said more could be done to pursue large scale storage projects, including the PUC ordering utilities to evaluate storage options and report back on how they could pursue them.  He said the electric grid is key to renewable deployment and that a low carbon grid study will be coming out in early August that will detail the issue.

The commitment, creativity and resolve to meet the 2030 goal of 50% renewable energy is there in the California government, utility, business and NGO communities.  By moving noticeably closer to the goals each year, California is showing the world that decarbonization is politically, environmentally and economically viable.


  1. You show nuclear power as one of four methods to decarbonize our electricity. Then, you do not show nuclear power in the mix after 2015. Instead you rely on deep-draw storage and other options which do not exist yet. Let's not count our eggs before they hatch. Even after we develop the batteries and build the storage, we have not even started to think about recycling lithium batteries OR solar panels.

  2. the cost of renewable energy is dependent on the type of energy you want to use and on what scale. While the initial investment may be high, over the course of time this cost is recovered. solar powered phone charger