Real Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions and Real Renewable Generation Increases

By California Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller 

 California’s electricity sector has seen many changes in the last 15 years from decoupling electricity consumption from utility revenues to implementation of a Renewables Portfolio Standard to a multi-sector greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 1990 levels by 2020. How well are these policies contributing to the ultimate goal of greenhouse gas emissions reductions? Is the electricity sector doing its part to contribute to the emissions reductions needed?

The California Air Resources Board released the 2013 greenhouse gas emissions inventory on June 30, 2015, which showed that emissions fell by 1.5 million metric tons in 2013 compared to 2012 while the economy grew at 2.0 percent, a rate greater than the national average. Much of the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the electricity sector. In fact, the electricity sector emissions inventory, both in-state and imports, fell a total of 5 million metric tons or 5 percent of total electricity emissions over 2012. In fact the total electricity sector is already about 20 percent below the emissions level of 1990. I think the success in decarbonizing the grid can definitely be attributable to the changes in the electricity sector. These policies have enabled the increase in energy efficiency measures, driven renewable procurement and reduced the reliance on coal power.

It typically takes some period of time before markets catch up to new policies, and despite the negative prognostications of doubters, the markets have responded resoundingly. The following table shows renewable generation from 1983 to 2013.

There are two periods where generation increases are clearly visible. During the period of the 1980s when projects came online as a result of standard contracts and then roughly after 2008, when projects procured under the Renewables Portfolio Standard came online. The sharp increase in renewable energy generation after 2008 correlates well with a sharp decrease in greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the electricity sector.

From 2008 to 2013, renewable generation almost doubled, coal generation reduced by more than half, and greenhouse gas emissions reduced by a quarter.*

*Note: Total System Power should not be used to estimate compliance with the Renewable Portfolio Standard. There are far too many intricacies to the Renewable Portfolio Standard like procurement compliance buckets, historic carry-over rules, calculation of renewable generation over retail sales, etc.

Energy Commission Workshop Touts Community-Scale Renewable Energy Opportunities and Successes

Community-scale renewable energy may not be a common household phase at the moment, but it is gaining attention and will be highlighted July 29 during a public workshop at the California Energy Commission.

Community-scale energy projects use renewable energy to power relatively small areas such as college campuses, military installations, business parks or neighborhoods. They generate less than 20 megawatts, filling a growing energy niche between individual projects like rooftop solar and large projects like utility-scale power plants.

The workshop’s focus is on funding opportunities through the Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program. EPIC invests about $120 million annually in technologies that bring clean energy ideas to market to benefit the ratepayers of California’s three largest electric investor-owned utilities.

The workshop also spotlights successes and lessons learned from the more than 20 community-scale projects funded through the Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program, which ended in 2013 but serves as a model for EPIC-funded opportunities.

Participants include Energy Commission Chairman Robert B. Weisenmiller, Commissioners David Hochschild and Karen Douglas, the U.S. Department of Energy, state and local governments, academia and private industry.

The workshop is from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the Art Rosenfeld Hearing Room in the Warren-Alquist State Energy Building, 1516 Ninth Street, Sacramento. The agenda is posted on the Energy Commission’s web page, and additional information and directions for participating remotely through WebEx are in the public notice.

The Energy Commission encourages disadvantaged and underrepresented businesses and communities – including disabled veteran-, women-, LGBT- and minority-owned businesses – to participate in this and other workshops and meetings, and to engage in and benefit from the state agency’s many programs.

California roadmap paves the way for energy storage

To highlight California’s energy roadmap to the future, the Energy Commission has established an online showcase of some of the state’s energy storage technologies.

California established itself as an early advocate of energy storage technology when, in 2013, the state mandated that investor-owned utilities reach a combined target of 1,325 megawatts (MW) of energy storage to be online by 2024.

The California Independent System Operator (ISO), the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and the Energy Commission unveiled a comprehensive roadmap to assess the current market environment and regulatory policies for connecting new energy storage technology to the state’s power grid.

Energy storage technology is being hailed globally as the game-changer toward reliably managing low-carbon, greener electricity grids. California, a national leader in advancing energy storage, envisioned this technology as a critical component in reducing global warming, improving air quality and promoting energy independence.

The Energy Commission has supported several pilot projects, and these public-private partnerships are working toward successful commercialization of energy storage. Our Energy Storage Showcase highlights a variety of technologies operating throughout California today. We welcome you to take the tour.

Geothermal Grant Program Recognized

The California Energy Commission’s Geothermal Grant and Loan Program has been recognized for its significant contributions to advancing geothermal technology, spurring economic development and protecting the environment.

Commissioner David Hochschild was on hand to receive the Honors Award from the Geothermal Energy Association this week.

The Geothermal Energy Association said the Energy Commission’s geothermal program is “an outstanding example of a state program that advances environmental quality and economic growth through a sustained effort.”

The Energy Commission’s geothermal program was created by legislation and has been operating since 1981. Since its inception the program has awarded close to $74 million to co-fund more than 180 geothermal projects.

The Geothermal Energy Association is a trade association comprised of companies that support the expanded use of geothermal energy.

Recently Approved Water Appliance Standards to Save Billions of Gallons of Water

Due to the severity of California's drought, the state's experts have been managing water resources to deal with the effects of the drought and prepare for the next one. As part of the solution, the California Energy Commission approved standards for water appliances which will save more than 10 billion gallons of water in the first year. Over time, the water savings is estimated to reach 105 billion gallons per year - a savings of more than three times the annual amount of water used by the City of San Francisco.

The energy efficiency and water standards require toilets, urinals, and kitchen and bathroom faucets to consume less water thereby using less energy while performing the same function. Click here for more details.

California Gets Ready for Hydrogen Fueled Cars

California is building a network of hydrogen refueling stations with funding by the California Energy Commission to support the growing number of zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cell cars hitting the marketplace. The cars have a similar driving range as cars that run on petroleum, but don’t pollute.

The Energy Commission has provided funding for 49 hydrogen refueling stations and hopes to open 46 stations by the end of 2015. The first station opened in September 2014 in West Sacramento and the second station opened in March this year in Diamond Bar.

The Energy Commission supports hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles as one of several alternative and renewable fueled vehicles, including plug in electric cars, which will help California cut its petroleum use in half by 2030 and help achieve the state’s clean air and climate goals. Hear more in this video shot at the opening of the Diamond Bar station:

Water Saving Projects Get a Boost from California Energy Commission

With California in the midst of an extended drought, finding resourceful ways to conserve water is a priority. One of the best ways to save water is to reuse it, and the California Energy Commission recently invested in innovative technologies that treat industrial wastewater for reuse.

In May, grants were awarded to:
  • Porifera Inc., of Hayward – $3.2 million to demonstrate its proprietary filtration process that purifies industrial wastewater so it can be reused onsite and $2.4 million to demonstrate its proprietary filtration process used in the food and beverage industry to make juice concentrates and purify wastewater for reuse onsite.
  • Kennedy/Jenks Consultants of Rancho Cordova – $3.4 million to demonstrate a filtration technology that significantly increases organic material removal at wastewater treatment plants, thereby reducing the amount of energy required for secondary treatments.
  • UC Riverside – $3 million to demonstrate an energy management system that reduces the cost to treat wastewater. Another way to save water is to not use any at all. CO2Nexus received a $900,000 grant to demonstrate its system that uses liquid carbon dioxide instead of water to clean military uniforms and field gear such as Kevlar-ballistic vests, flame resistant garments, sleeping bags and tents. The three-year demonstration will be held at Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme.

This is the second waterless CO2Nexus project the Energy Commission has invested in. The company received $400,000 in 2010 to demonstrate the first ever commercial use of liquid carbon dioxide to clean garments used in high-tech cleanrooms at an Aramark Uniform Services clean laundry facility in Los Angeles.

The grants lay a foundation for the Water Energy Technology (WET) program — one of the four Energy Commission responsibilities in Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s April 1 drought-related Executive Order. The WET program will launch this summer and provide funds for cutting-edge technologies that:
  • Display significant water savings, energy savings and greenhouse gas emission reductions.
  • Demonstrate actual operation beyond the research and development stage.
  • Document readiness for rapid, large-scale deployment in California.
The program is being implemented jointly by the Energy Commission, along with the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board.

To learn about all the actions the state has taken to manage our water system and cope with the impacts of the drought, visit Drought.CA.Gov. To learn more about how you can conserve water, visit

Mexico and California: A Shared Border and Clean Energy Future

By Robert B. Weisenmiller (First published at the World Economic Forum)

California is known for many things: its natural beauty, Hollywood, Route 66 and the most famous bridge in the world. It is also known for making history.

When Jerry Brown was sworn in as governor last January, he made history. It was not only his fourth term, he made history by proposing three ambitious climate and clean energy goals to be accomplished by 2030:
  1. Increase from one-third to 50 percent electricity derived from renewable sources;
  2. Reduce today's petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent; and 
  3. Double the efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner.
Given that the state is also getting recognized for its historic drought which climate change is contributing to, achieving these goals is critical. It will require greenhouse gas emissions reductions from sectors that are the largest polluting sources: transportation accounting for nearly 40 percent, buildings generate 11 percent, and in-state electricity generation is less than 10 percent.

California GHG Inventory for 2012 — by Economic Sector (Air Resources Board)
California is hitting near-term goals and reaping economic benefits from doing so. Yet because the world’s eighth largest economy is only responsible for one percent of total global emissions, it is looking beyond its borders to fight global warming.

Governor Brown said it best while addressing the United Nations Climate Summit last September: "I believe that from the bottom up, we can make real impact and we need to join together. We’re signing MOUs with Quebec and British Columbia, with Mexico, with states in China and wherever we can find partners, because we know we have to do it all."

Consider: Quebec and Ontario Canada now participate in California’s historic cap-and-trade market. British Columbia belongs to the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. Continuing efforts to spur further reductions, economic growth and development with Mexico, Governor Brown led a delegation of state officials (I participated as his energy expert), private-sector businesses and nongovernmental organizations last July.

During that trade and economic development mission, California and Mexico signed four MOUs. Three support leveraging shared resources (electricity grid, generation infrastructure and industry relationships) and advancing environmental protections and economic growth that will add to an existing trade in bilateral goods totaling more than $60 billion in 2013.

The climate and energy agreements are significant. When the climate MOU was signed, Mexico's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Undersecretary Rodolfo Lacy noted that, "Mexico and California have a long and rich history of environmental cooperation, and recognize each other as strategic partners in coping with climate change challenges and protecting and preserving our natural resources. The agreement signed today will take our joint work to a whole new level of cooperation, which will reflect in tangible and concrete results that will inure to our mutual benefit.”

That agreement calls for enhanced cooperation through aligning greenhouse gas reduction programs and strategies, collaborating on fire emergency response along the border, improving air quality by reducing pollution and expanding markets for clean energy technologies. The energy MOU enables the joint promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energy and collaboration on low-carbon energy, clean technologies, biofuels and energy efficiency as a way to enhance reliability and affordability of energy supplies.

These subnational actions precede this December’s United Nations conference in Paris where more than 190 countries will be working to strike a new international climate agreement that aims to keep global warming below 2°C. In fact, Mexico and the United States are two countries that are joining forces on climate and clean energy issues and were among the first countries to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) plans to the United Nations in advance of the Paris talks. Mexico plans to cap emissions by 2026 and reduce them by 22 percent by 2030.The U.S. committed to cut emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025.

Addressing one of the greatest threats facing humanity is critical to limiting the environmental, economic and societal costs of a changing climate evidenced through record-breaking temperatures, more frequent extreme weather events, and historic droughts such as the one now plaguing California.

California has long been a test bed for smart environmental policies and, while the state has been an environmental leader for years, the work needed to accomplish our shared goals is just getting started. By joining with Mexico and other countries committing to ambitious reduction targets and finding ways to collaborate that benefit our economies, societies and protect an environment shared by all will help us win this fight. (Word count: 768)

Robert B. Weisenmiller is Chair of the California Energy Commission.