Major Energy Issues Facing California Discussed in a New Energy Commission Report

By Commissioner Janea A. Scott 

The Energy Commission has just adopted an Integrated Energy Policy Report Update (IEPR) that outlines how the state will transform its transportation system to zero- and near-zero technologies and fuels to meet its climate and clean air goals. With nearly 120,000 plug-in electric vehicles on California’s roads, the plug-in electric vehicle market is growing steadily, and hydrogen fuel cell electric technology is also poised to become a zero-emission option across the transportation sector.

Incentives will play a key role, the report notes, in supporting and encouraging the use of the alternative fuels and vehicle technologies needed to transform California’s transportation market. Investments in a variety of highly efficient vehicle technologies are necessary for a viable transportation system that will use many types of low-carbon fuels.

The Energy Commission is exploring opportunities to leverage funding that may help to achieve deeper benefits on a faster time frame. See Chapter Two in the report. The Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program has achieved important benefits and is finding ways to measure those benefits. See Chapter Four. Join us for the journey that is blazing new ground and attracting 50 foreign delegations a year to the California Energy Commission.

School district finds energy savings through Proposition 39 funding

The Pleasant Ridge School District, located in the Sierra Foothills, was one of the first districts to take advantage of new funding to help its schools become more energy efficient. The district overhauled lighting systems and modified heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems at three of its schools. The funding for the improvements came from the voter approved Clean Energy Jobs Act (Proposition 39).

“It is important for school districts to take advantage of the opportunities the state gives us to enhance old technology and equipment,” said Superintendent Rusty Clark. “Lighting has improved leaps and bounds since the school was first built and being able to bring it up to the new standard gives us the ability to utilize funds in another way.”

Proposition 39 altered how corporations calculate their tax loads and then redirects the proceeds to energy efficiency upgrades at schools and other structures. Now, one year after the first applications were accepted by the California Energy Commission, schools have already begun seeing the benefits. The initiative passed in 2012 and the Energy Commission began drafting guidelines in 2013, but Clark said the district was already in motion. The district conducted an energy audit and found the most savings – about $30,000 a year – would come from replacing or upgrading HVAC systems and exterior lights. It submitted an energy expenditure plan in early 2014 and within one month it was reviewed and approved by Energy Commission staff.

“The process was much easier than we anticipated with a new program,” Clark said. “We were able to complete the project and started to see savings on our electric bill right away. More efficient LED lights may not be the kind of investment students see when they walk the halls, but it has already saved the district approximately $8,000 since the July 2014 completion.”

The district applied for a multiple year expenditure plan and will receive about $500,000 over the next five years. Clark said there are more energy improvements they can make to save even more. “Every dollar not being spent on energy can be used elsewhere within the district.”

Over the next five years Proposition 39 will transfer an estimated $2.5 billion in new revenues to create clean energy jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save energy and costs for schools.

To help schools through the application process, the Energy Commission developed easy-to-use energy savings calculator tools for simple energy projects and has a team of engineers and energy specialists to review and approve expenditure plans. Schools can access these online resources on our website and get advice by calling the toll-free hotline at (855) 380-8722.

Energy Innovations Small Grant Program

Providing small grants for big opportunities, the California Energy Commission along with the San Diego State University Research Foundation successfully provides opportunities for innovators in the field of energy. The Energy Innovations Small Grant Program is helpful because industry can be slow to adopt new technologies and innovators need to prove their ideas are feasible. This program has experienced success. The return on investment has been 40 to 1. Here are some of the stories.

Energy in California: 40 Years of Leadership

Forty years ago, demand for energy in California was increasing an average of 8 percent a year with experts predicting the state would need up to 90,000 MW of new capacity by the early 1990s and to build 120 power plants by 2000 if that trend continued. 

To avoid the energy and environmental crisis this scenario would lead to, the California Legislature created what is now the California Energy Commission and tasked it with helping the state use efficiency and conservation to meet growing energy demands, support cutting-edge research technologies, and develop renewable energy resources as a way to balance energy and conservation needs.

To celebrate the Energy Commission's accomplishments, here is a look back at its history and a glance forward at what is in store for the future.


California’s Top 10 Climate and Energy Stories 2014

For the second year in a row, the California Energy Commission has compiled a Top 10 list of what we consider to be the biggest climate and energy stories for California. Below is the list for 2014 in no particular order.  Happy Holidays. 

1.    Advancing ZEVs: California made headlines this year for hitting a key milestone: more than 100,000 plug-in electric vehicles have been sold in the state. But, the start of the hydrogen market—with fuel cell vehicles being introduced by Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and tens of millions of dollars in investments to fund networks of hydrogen stations—got even more coverage. This month alone, the first retail hydrogen fueling station in Northern California funded by the Energy Commission opened for business on the same day that Toyota released its Mirai, which goes on sale in California next year.

2.    Delivering results from AB 32: One of the highlights this year was the 2014-15 budget appropriation of $832 million in cap-and-trade auction proceeds to support existing and pilot programs that will reduce greenhouse gases, with a particular emphasis on assisting disadvantaged communities. Another 2014 highlight was residential Investor Owned Utility (IOU) customers receiving “climate dividends” totaling $70.  In January, California’s cap-and-trade program was linked to Quebec’s and the first joint auction was held in November, demonstrating that carbon pricing works across international borders.

3.    Addressing increase in volume of crude-by-rail: The amount of crude by rail (CBR) that came into California increased dramatically in 2013 with volumes for the first three quarters of this year up 31 percent compared to the same period in 2013. The California Energy Commission projects that CBR deliveries could increase to as much of a quarter of the state’s total imports by 2016, in comparison to 0.2 percent in 2012. The approved 2014-15 budget included money for the Oil Spill Response Program--$6.7 million for the Oil Spill Prevention and Administration Fund and 38 positions to address the increased risk of oil spills. The funding will be supported by expanding the existing 6.5 cent-per-barrel fee, currently collected at marine ports, to all crude oil sent to California refineries. The budget also allocated money for railroad safety — $1.1 million to the Public Utilities Commission Transportation Reimbursement Account and seven positions to increase inspections of railroad bridges, tanker rail cars, and railroad track related to the expected increased transport of crude oil in California.

4.    Experiencing prolonged drought and fire season: California entered its third year of a drought and saw its fire season extended to 18 months with a 26 percent increase in wildfires this year compared to 2013. The King Fire that started burning in September was the second most costly fire to fight in the state at more than $53 million. While it was debatable whether current drought conditions are a direct result of climate change, there was little debate that the drought was intensified by record-breaking temperatures that evaporated critically important snow pack and dried out vegetation. And there’s no debating that those conditions helped create a fire season this year that was dramatically worse.

5.    Using new solar energy generation to offset drought-related reductions in hydroelectricity supply: In January, the Governor declared a drought State of Emergency and cut to zero the amount of water initially allocated to the State Water Project. The amount was raised to 5 percent in April and the 2015 allocation was just set at 10 percent. While the drought reduced the supply generated by hydroelectricity, the state’s increasing supply of solar helped fill in the gap. Since December of last year, more than 1,000 megawatts of solar capacity has come online, including rooftop solar and electricity generated from utility-scale plants such as the Desert Sunlight plant in the Sonoran Desert.  

6.    Leading on Energy Storage: In September, Southern California Edison announced the largest energy storage project in North America and plans to use 250 megawatts of storage as part of its Long-Term Procurement Planning process.  Earlier in the year, EnerVault unveiled the first-of-its-kind iron-chromium megawatt-scale flow battery, helping to solidify California’s role leading the market on energy storage, which is key to enabling the increased use of renewables.

7.    Accomplishing state and federal conservation and climate goals via draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan: In September, Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Senator Barbara Boxer and others helped release the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan that was five years in the making and covers 22.5 million acres of the California desert. Written by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S Fish and Wildlife Services as well as the California Energy Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife, the plan aims to combat climate change by accelerating the building of large renewable energy projects while setting aside millions of acres for conservation.

8.   Starting Energy Imbalance Market: In November, the California Independent System Operator Corporation (ISO) and Portland-based PacifiCorp began operating the Energy Imbalance Market (EIM), which covers six states and is the first of its kind in the west. The real-time market allows grid operators to more efficiently dispatch power across a large region and will dramatically expand the market for power generated by wind and solar.

9.    Influencing What Happens Globally: In September, the Governor participated in the U.N. Climate Summit in New York City and signed a “Price on Carbon” declaration. The Governor traveled to Mexico, and signed climate and energy agreements with China and Mexico that will create jobs, drive investments and reduce emissions.  California is also working with other subnational entities to build momentum for an international climate agreement in Paris at next December’s U.N. COP21.

10.  Gaining new opportunities to demonstrate what works: The U.S. China climate agreement and Clean Power Plan will present new opportunities for California to demonstrate policies and programs that are proven to reduce carbon emissions: our historic climate law featuring a cap-and-trade program, our Renewables Portfolio Standard, our energy efficiency programs and our Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Given these two federal announcements, California is expected to play an even greater role developing policies that get adopted domestically. 

First Northern California Retail Hydrogen Refueling Station Now Open for Business

The Sacramento area has its first retail hydrogen refueling station! Located in West Sacramento, it is the 10th retail hydrogen station in the state and one of 51 slated to open before the end of 2015.

The California Energy Commission is cofunding the station through the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. The state’s goal is to build 100 hydrogen refueling stations in convenient locations across California.

“California is committed to zero-emission vehicles and an infrastructure that will help build consumer confidence in them” said Commissioner Janea A. Scott at the station’s grand opening December 10. About 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, making our air unhealthy and contributing to climate change.

Click to view more photos.

Advancing Energy Research and Development

Two of the nation’s leading government energy research and development agencies are taking bold steps forward as their partnership enters its second year. The California Energy Commission and the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), the energy innovation branch of the U.S. Department of Energy, both provide millions of dollars in funding to innovators who are advancing science and energy technologies. Supported innovators are chosen because they have bold ideas for developing new technologies from concept to market. The two entities held their second collaboration session last week after signing a Memorandum of Understanding in 2013.


The session was led by Cheryl Martin, the deputy director of ARPA-E and Robert Weisenmiller, the chair of the Energy Commission. It focused on creating new mechanisms of collaboration between the two agencies and enhancing coordination to target promising energy technologies. “It’s critical that our two agencies work closer together to advance innovative energy technologies,” said Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller. “Achieving California’s ambitious energy and environmental goals demand it.”

The Energy Commission and ARPA-E support many innovators, but their collaboration has extended to three recent projects:

  • This month the Energy Commission provided follow-on funding ($1.5M each) for ARPA-E funded Halotechnics ($3.3M ARPA-E award) and the University of California, Los Angeles ($2.4M ARPA-E award) to advance their thermal energy storage technologies. These technologies will help reduce costs and improve the efficiency of thermal energy storage, leading to increased capacity and distribution of concentrated solar electric generation.
  • In June, the Energy Commission provided follow-on funding ($1.2M) for ARPA-E funded BlackPak Inc. to build a natural gas storage tank prototype for light-duty vehicles. The Energy Commission’s funding will enable BlackPak to create a prototype of the innovative sorbent-based natural gas tank it developed through its initial $5.4 million ARPA-E award. BlackPak is building the storage system from carbon materials that allow natural gas to be stored at a lower pressure. If successful, the storage system will reduce cost and can be added into a vehicle’s design without sacrificing passenger space.

The Energy Commission runs several energy research and development programs to advance energy efficiency, renewable energy and other energy-related subjects, including the new Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program that invests in improvements to the state’s electricity systems. The Energy Commission plans to showcase these programs to the energy research and development community at the 2015 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in February.

Look for opportunities by visiting the websites of ARPA-E and the Energy Commission.

Advancement of residential solar water heaters

About 35 percent of natural gas used in California homes is used to heat water. To reduce the use of natural gas the California Energy Commission has funded research to increase the effectiveness of residential solar water heating systems and reduce the price tag.

Researchers at the University California, Merced are developing an aluminum solar mini-channel collector that is showing promise. Now the UC Merced campus is interested in installing these collectors as it pursues the goal of zero-net-energy by 2020.

The “channels” found in mini-channel solar water heating panels have a much smaller “hydraulic diameter” (the area that water flows through in a pipe) than the copper tubes found in traditional solar water heating panels. This smaller diameter allows for a much greater number of tubes or “channels” to be fitted on to a similar sized solar panel. The increased number of channels translates to an increase in the surface area that can absorb solar energy and result in an increase in the amount of solar energy that can be absorbed by water or other fluids. Because of the significant increase in solar energy absorbed, researchers were able to use aluminum (a metal much less expensive than the copper used in traditional solar water heating panels) as the material to build the solar panels.

The price of a traditional solar water heating system is significantly more than the typical natural gas water heating system. Solar water heating can cost about $6,700 for a typical California home. Natural gas systems are typically at prices of about $1,000. Yet the operating cost of solar systems can be less than natural gas systems. It is estimated that if only 20 percent of potential solar water heating savings were realized, California homeowners would save nearly $200 million a year. Experts consider home solar water heating systems as the home feature with the highest potential to reduce the use of natural gas.

Mini-channel technology has been successfully utilized in the automotive, air conditioning, and electronics cooling industries due to improved performance and compact size compared to round-tube heat exchangers. The transition to mini-channel technology, however, has not taken place yet in the solar industry.

For more information about this project and other innovations funded by the Energy Commission please see the recently released Natural Gas Research and Development 2014 Annual Report.