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.

Grant turns sunlight into hot water for winery

Turning sunlight into hot water was the focus of a recent California Energy Commission grant. Now, the demonstrated system is ready for the marketplace.

It is a simple concept that has been used by homeowners to warm-up water for swimming pools. It is more complex in a commercial environment where the demand for hot water can be constant and the hot water is used for cleaning cookware, bottles and other items used in food processing.

With this grant the Gas Technology Institute and Solar Usage Now demonstrated a solar-assisted gas water heating system at Courtside Cellars, a small winery in San Miguel. The major water use was during harvest, but bottling needs were year-around. For similar food processing activity, it was determined the solar-heating system could reduce hot water costs by 40 to 80 percent, depending on the existing type of gas boiler used. The cost of the system could be recaptured in about seven years.

The industrial, agriculture and water sectors in California use 30 percent of all natural gas consumed in the state. The Energy Commission’s research and development helps reduce energy use and cost, meet environmental challenges, address future energy needs and accelerate the use of renewable resources.

Learn more about this project and other innovations in the recently released Natural Gas Research and Development 2014 Annual Report.

Air Force conducts large-scale testing of electric vehicles at Los Angeles Air Force Base

The U.S. Air Force has replaced its non-tactical vehicle fleet at Los Angeles Air Force Base with plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) as part of a test program of the vehicles’ reliability and their ability to support the electric grid.

Commissioner Scott with Maj General Robert McMurry, Vice Commander of the Space and Missile Center
The 42-vehicle fleet will be the first all plug-in fleet used by the Department of Defense. It will also be the largest vehicle-to-grid charging project in the United States. With vehicle-to-grid charging, electric vehicles are able to send electricity back to the power grid when they are not being used. The PEV fleet includes both electric and hybrid vehicles ranging from sedans to trucks and a 12-passenger van.

The project includes federal, state and private partners, including the California Energy Commission, and will test the vehicles’ capacity as a low-cost mobile power source, allowing the base to continue functioning during electrical blackouts.

Commissioner Scott looking at engine of Ford E350 hybrid electric bus 
"The Energy Commission is excited to partner with the Air Force to test these vehicle-to-grid technologies," said California Energy Commissioner Janea A. Scott. "By investing $3 million in this project, we are supporting the demonstration of the potential and value of PEVs as grid integration and energy storage resources."

Scott is the lead commissioner for Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, which is funding the demonstration. In a recent announcement the California PEV Collaborative, a public-private organization focused on accelerating the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles to meet California’s economic, energy and environmental goals, announced that Scott will become its chair in 2015-2016.

From Landfill to Solar Park

Conergy and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) dedicated a 1.5 megawatt solar installation project at Sutter’s Landing Park October 26 that will provide enough energy to deliver electricity to more than 400 average-size homes. Partial funding for the project was provided by the California Energy Commission.

The solar installation project is built atop a former landfill that was deemed un-useable. The project includes a field of solar modules, a solar panel covered carport and elevated panels that provide shade for visitors at the adjacent dog park. Mike Gravely, with the Energy Commission’s Research & Development program, participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Conergy says Sutter’s Landing’s renewable power source  will provide a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions equal to removing 350 passenger vehicles from the road for a year. Revenue from the power generated will be re-invested to fund park preservation and maintenance.

Climate Change Knows No Borders

Just as trade winds cross the Pacific Ocean, so do good ideas about combating global climate change. Come this December, California Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller will join a trade mission to China with clean energy companies from California and across the U.S. this mission is being organized by the U.S. Department of Commerce, China-U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance, China San Francisco, U.S.-China Clean Tech Center and the California-China Trade and Investment Office. It follows Governor Edmund G. Brown’s 2013 gubernatorial trade mission to China. The goal of that trip was, to gain support for addressing climate change and further encourage trade and investment opportunities in clean energy technology.

Governor Brown and Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua (left) sign climate change agreement September 2013.

Last September, Chair Weisenmiller and Matt Rodriquez, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, attended the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between California and the China National Development and Reform Commission to fight climate change through low-carbon development. This past June, they were part of a roundtable hosted by the China-U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance on the role of clean energy and energy efficiency in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and harmful air pollutants from the energy sector.

Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller (center) joins discussion at California-China Cooperation on Climate Change.

The focus of the December trade mission is to facilitate partnerships between U.S. and Chinese clean energy companies and provide guidance to American companies looking to enter or expand operations in China’s market. Given the rapid expansion of China’s energy sector; how China builds its energy future will have global economic and environmental implications. The good news -- China is prioritizing investments in clean transportation, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

California’s experience fostering a clean energy industry through landmark policies, investing in energy research and development, providing incentives for zero-emission vehicles, and developing appliance and building energy efficiency standards has established the state as a global environmental leader. These experiences can serve as a model for other jurisdictions to imitate.

In December, the U.S. delegation will visit half a dozen cities in China's Northeast region, including Beijing and Qingdao. Cities chosen have specific needs for clean energy and supportive officials who have the ability to organize meetings geared toward the U.S. delegations' interests.

For more information, click here