California’s new climate plan could help accelerate the world’s energy transformation

The biggest and most important challenge is to accelerate the generation of renewable electricity, mainly wind and solar on a large scale.  File photo by Teun van den Dries/Shutterstock

The biggest and most important challenge is to accelerate the generation of renewable electricity, mainly wind and solar on a large scale. File photo by Teun van den Dries/Shutterstock

Jan. 27 (UPI) — California is embarking on a bold new climate plan that aims to eliminate the state’s greenhouse gas footprint by 2045 and, in the process, reduce emissions far beyond its borders. The plan calls for massive transformations in industry, energy, and transportation, as well as changes in institutions and human behavior.

These transformations will not be easy. Two years of development of the plan have exposed myriad challenges and tensions, including environmental justice, affordability, and local government.

For example, the San Francisco Fire Commission had banned batteries with more than 20 kilowatt-hours of energy storage in homes, severely limiting the ability to store solar electricity from rooftop solar panels for all times. where the sun doesn’t shine. More broadly, local opposition to new transmission lines, large-scale wind and solar installations, truck-charging substations, and conversions of oil refineries to produce renewable diesel will delay the transition.

I had a front-row seat as the plan was prepared and reviewed as a board member for California Air Resources, the state agency that oversees air pollution and climate control. And my main contributor to this article, Rajinder Sahota, is deputy chief executive of the board, responsible for preparing the plan and navigating political land mines.

We believe that California has an opportunity to succeed and, in the process, lead the way for the rest of the world. In fact, most of the necessary policies are already in place.

global reach

What California does matters far beyond state lines.

California is close to being the fourth largest economy in the world and has a history of adopting environmental requirements that are followed in the United States and the world. California has the world’s most ambitious zero-emission requirements for cars, trucks, and buses; more ambitious low carbon fuel requirements; one of the largest carbon cap and trade programs; and more aggressive requirements for renewable electricity.

In the United States, through the quirks of national air pollution law, other states have replicated many of California’s regulations and programs to get ahead of national policies. States can follow federal vehicle emissions standards or the more stringent California rules. There is no third option. A growing number of states now follow California.

So even though California contributes less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, if it sets a high bar, its many technical, institutional, and behavioral innovations are likely to be widespread and transformative.

the california plan

The new Scope Plan lays out in great detail how California intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 48% below 1990 levels by 2030 and then achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.

It calls for a 94% reduction in the use of oil between 2022 and 2045 and an 86% reduction in the total use of fossil fuels. Overall, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2045 relative to 1990 levels. The remaining 15% reduction would come from capturing carbon from the air and from fossil fuel plants and sequestering it under land or in forests, vegetation and soils.

To achieve these goals, the plan calls for a 37-fold increase in zero-emission vehicles on the road, a six-fold increase in residential appliances, a four-fold increase in installed wind and solar generation capacity, and double the total electricity generation to run everything. It also calls for increasing hydrogen energy and altering agriculture and forest management to reduce forest fires, sequester carbon dioxide and reduce demand for fertilizers.

This is a huge undertaking, and it involves a massive transformation of many industries and activities.

Transportation No. 1 issuer

Transportation accounts for about half of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, including emissions from upstream oil refineries. This is where the way forward is perhaps more resolved.

The state has adopted regulations requiring nearly all new cars, trucks and buses to be zero emissions: new transit buses by 2029 and most truck and light vehicle sales by 2035.

In addition, California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard requires oil companies to continually reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. This regulation aims to ensure that the liquid fuels needed for legacy cars and trucks still on the road after 2045 are low-carbon biofuels.

But the regulations can be changed and even rescinded if opposition grows. If battery costs don’t resume their downward trend, if utilities and others are slow to provide charging infrastructure, and if local opposition blocks new charging sites and grid upgrades, the state could be forced to lower their requirements for zero emission vehicles.

The plan is also based on changes in human behavior. For example, it calls for a 25% reduction in vehicle miles traveled in 2030 compared to 2019, which has much weaker prospects. The only strategies that are likely to significantly reduce vehicle use are high street and parking charges, a measure few politicians or voters in the United States would support, and a massive increase in automated ride-sharing vehicles, which are not likely to be extended for at least another 10 years. Additional fees for driving and parking raise affordability concerns for low-income travelers.

electricity and buildings

The key to reducing emissions in almost every sector is electricity powered by renewables.

Electrifying almost everything means not only replacing most of the state’s natural gas power plants, but also expanding total electricity production—in this case, doubling total generation and quadrupling renewable generation—in just 22 years.

That amount of expansion and investment is mind-boggling, and it’s the most important change to reaching net zero, as electric vehicles and appliances rely on the availability of renewable electricity to count as zero emissions.

Electrification of buildings is in the early stages in California, with requirements in place for new homes to have rooftop solar, and incentives and regulations have been adopted to replace the use of natural gas with heat pumps and appliances.

The biggest and most important challenge is to accelerate the generation of renewable electricity, mainly wind and solar on a large scale. The state has laws in place that require electricity to be 100% zero emissions by 2045, up from 52% in 2021.

The plan to get there includes offshore wind, which will require new technology: floating wind turbines. In December, the federal government leased the first Pacific sites for offshore wind farms, with plans to power more than 1.5 million homes. However, years of technical and regulatory work still lie ahead.

For solar, the plan focuses on large solar parks, which can scale faster and at lower cost than rooftop solar. The same week the new scoping plan was announced, the California Public Utilities Commission voted to significantly reduce the amount homeowners are reimbursed for solar power they send to the grid, a policy known as net metering. The Public Utilities Commission argues that because of the way electricity rates are set, generous rooftop solar rebates have primarily benefited wealthier households while imposing higher electricity bills on others. He believes that this new policy will be more equitable and will create a more sustainable model.

Carbon Capture Challenge

The industry plays a minor role and the policies and strategies here are less refined.

The state’s carbon cap-and-trade program, designed to reduce overall emissions while allowing individual businesses some flexibility, will adjust its emissions caps.

But while cap-and-trade has been effective to date, in part by generating billions of dollars for programs and incentives to reduce emissions, its role may change as energy efficiency improves and additional rules and regulations are put in place. to replace fossil fuels.

One of the biggest controversies throughout the Scoping Plan process is its reliance on carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS. The controversy is rooted in concerns that CCS will allow fossil fuel facilities to continue releasing pollution while only capturing carbon dioxide emissions. These facilities are often located in or near disadvantaged communities.

Opportunities for success

Will California make it? The state has a track record of exceeding its targets, but getting to net zero by 2045 requires a steeper downward trajectory than California has seen before, and there are still plenty of hurdles.

Environmental justice concerns about carbon capture and new industrial facilities, coupled with NIMBYism, could block many needed investments. And the possibility of slow economic growth could lead to spending cuts and could exacerbate concerns about economic disruption and affordability.

There are also questions about pricing and geopolitics. Will the spike in battery costs in 2022, due to geopolitical outbreaks, a delay in the expansion of supplies of critical materials, and the war in Ukraine, turn out to be a setback or a trend? Will electric utilities move fast enough in building the necessary infrastructure and grid capacity to accommodate the projected growth in zero-emission cars and trucks?

It is encouraging that the state has already created almost all the necessary political infrastructure. Emissions limits and targets will need to be further tightened, but the framework and policy mechanisms are already in place.The conversation

Rajinder Sahota, Deputy CEO of the California Air Resources Board, contributed to this article.

Daniel Sperling is Blue Planet Award Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and founding director of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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