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Slashing California’s GHG emissions 80 percent with clean energy, efficient buildings and 7 million electric vehicles

Editorial note: This guest blog by Ron Nichols, President of Southern California Edison, is based on excerpts from “The Clean Power and Electrification Pathway” whitepaper the utility released on Oct. 31. As part of its research for the paper, SCE compared three possible pathways to California’s aggressive goals for greenhouse gas reductions by 2030. The option for clean energy and electrification described here emerged as potentially the most cost effective. The views expressed here are the author’s.

Climate change and air pollution pose serious threats. Climate change effects, such as sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves, are now occurring, and in California, too many communities continue to experience asthma and other air-quality-related health issues.

California is responding to these threats by committing to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, improving local air quality and supporting continued economic growth. The state set goals to reduce GHG emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030 and 80 percent from the same baseline by 2050 (Figure 1). State and local air quality plans call for substantial improvements, such as reducing smog-causing nitrogen oxides (NOx) 90 percent below 2010 levels by 2032 in the most polluted areas of the state.

These policy goals cannot be achieved by the electric sector alone, however.  They require timely, proactive decision-making by policymakers and leaders throughout the state, and meeting them will require fundamental changes to infrastructure and transportation. At the same time, these efforts can help the California economy by creating jobs.

These policy goals cannot be achieved by the electric sector alone; they require timely, proactive decision-making by policymakers and leaders throughout the state. Stakeholders must quickly align on the near-term programs and market transformation activities required to meet this ambitious schedule. A systematic approach that integrates these programs and market activities provides the best chance of achieving shared goals at the lowest cost to customers and the economy.

The electric sector has provided the majority of emissions reductions in California. (See Figure 1.) To meet the state’s 2030 GHG target, significant reductions will be required in the transportation and building sectors, which contribute close to 40 percent (not including fuel refining) and 30 percent, respectively, of California’s emissions.

Figure 1: Change in California GHG Emissions (Source: California Air Resources Board and Southern California Edison)

Southern California Edison developed the Clean Power and Electrification Pathway to 2030 as an integrated approach to achieve California’s climate and air quality goals. The plan builds on existing state programs and policies, while ensuring that an economy-wide transformation happens in an efficient and — importantly — affordable way.

The Pathway is defined by three measures. Each measure is integrated with — and depends upon — the success of the other and should be pursued in concert:

  1. Continue carbon reduction in the electric sector: Increase energy efficiency, provide 80 percent carbon-free energy through large-scale resources and distributed solar.
  2. Accelerate electrification of transportation: Place at least 7 million electric and hybrid light-duty passenger vehicles on the roads, and support a transition to zero-emission trucks and transit.
  3. Increase electrification of buildings: Electrify nearly one-third of residential and commercial space and water heaters.
Figure 2: GHG Reductions Across Sectors to Reach 2030 Goals (Source: Southern California Edison)


Continue Carbon Reductions in the Electric Sector

Electric sector measures — providing 80 percent carbon-free energy from large-scale resources, and leveraging energy efficiency and distributed solar — will lower GHG emissions from 84 to 28 million metric tons (MMT) per year (Figure 4). This represents 31 percent of the 2030 GHG reduction goal and aligns with California’s “pillars,” or goals, for carbon reduction and decades of state energy policy.

Large-scale renewable energy is likely to be the most significant and affordable means of decarbonizing the electric supply. The transmission grid can provide 80 percent carbon-free energy from wind, solar and existing large hydroelectric generators. This will require the development of up to 30 gigawatts (GW) of additional renewable capacity.

California’s electric system can incorporate a high penetration of large-scale renewable resources by having a renewables portfolio that is diverse in geography and resource availability, increasing transmission capacity, and enhancing integration across the western grid.

Even at today’s levels of renewables, relying so heavily on variable resources like wind and solar can creates the hourly, daily and seasonal energy imbalances that result in California’s infamous “duck curve” — and necessitates the quick ramp-up of other sources of energy as the sun sets.

The extremes of the duck curve can be mitigated by the addition of up to 10 additional GW of energy storage from fixed and mobile sources. Flexible electric vehicle charging could also provide beneficial load shifting — effectively a form of mobile energy storage — that could make electric fueling more affordable. Nonetheless, the magnitude of the duck curve issues is expected to increase as more renewables are added to the system, and some amount of gas-fired generation will be needed for service reliability.

Reducing or avoiding carbon in the electric sector also requires advances to integrate the clean energy resources that customers are adopting. These resources on the distribution grid are expected to include increased energy efficiency (consistent with California Senate Bill 350’s mandate to double energy efficiency), rooftop and community solar, and electric vehicles. Modernizing the distribution grid with available and evolving technologies will allow these distributed energy resources to be better integrated and optimized. It will also improve system reliability and safety, and support the desires of those customers who opt to participate in the clean energy future by making their own energy choices.


Accelerate Electrification of the Transportation Sector

The GHG reduction potential of the Clean Power and Electrification Pathway hinges on aggressive electrification of light-duty vehicles; the passenger cars, SUVs and pickup trucks that currently contribute one-quarter of California’s GHG emissions. The Pathway calls for at least 24 percent of these vehicles — 7 million — to be electrified by 2030. EVs charging from an increasingly clean electric grid can help reduce transportation sector GHG emissions from 169 to 111 MMT/year, one-third of the 2030 goal. Reduced gasoline demand will also provide the benefit of reducing industrial emissions from refineries.

Electrification of the transportation sector will greatly improve local air quality — an urgent community need across California and particularly in Southern California. Many communities are situated near heavily traveled freight corridors, where the concentration of air pollutants often exceeds health-based standards.

Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles contribute to GHG emissions and are the largest mobile source of smog-forming emissions across the state. The Pathway calls for electrifying 15 percent of medium-duty and 6 percent of heavy-duty vehicles in the state by 2030, supporting needed GHG reductions and improvements in air quality. This will help California position itself for the 2050 GHG goal — the elimination of virtually all vehicle emissions from fossil fuels.

While these vehicle growth targets are ambitious, they are not far outside forecasts of rapid growth in the EV market. Expanding transportation electrification will require sustainable policies, continued price incentives, and collaboration between vehicle manufacturers, charging companies, policymakers and electric utilities on issues such as charging standards and consumer awareness.

In order to support at least 7 million electric cars by 2030, California will need to have over one million away-from-home charging ports. The state’s investor-owned and public utilities have initiated charging infrastructure pilots, but funding will be needed to enable utilities and charging companies to rapidly deploy more infrastructure and chargers.

For medium- and heavy-duty vehicle in urban areas with lower daily mileage, such as buses, delivery vehicles and intermodal freight trucks, electrification is already being deployed and can significantly reduce GHG emissions and improve air quality. Larger plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid electric trucks are in development and will play a greater role in achieving California’s 2050 climate and air quality goals. Early deployments must coincide with the development of adequate charging infrastructure to support this critical clean-transportation opportunity.


Increase Electrification of Buildings

Space and water heating currently contributes more than two-thirds of total residential and commercial building GHG emissions. Electrifying nearly one-third of residential and commercial space and water heaters, in addition to increased energy efficiency and strong building codes and standards, could reduce GHG emissions from this sector from 49 to 37 MMT/year, or 7 percent of the 2030 goal.

Expanding electrification of residential and commercial buildings will require new policies and support. Collaboration between manufacturers, repair service providers and policymakers is needed to raise awareness and increase availability of clean, efficient options for electric space and water heating in new building construction and retrofits. Using clean, carbon-free electricity for space and water heating creates new opportunities to for lower carbon emissions from buildings.

Current building codes and standards are based on the 20th-century framework of power generation supply dominated by fossil fuels. Updated codes and standards can advance the use of clean electric appliances in new buildings, and incentives can encourage adoption of clean technologies through appliance replacement.


Meeting an Urgent Challenge

It will be a major undertaking for California to meet its GHG goal in just 12 years. It is similarly difficult to meet state air quality targets. Comprehensive policy will be required to guide this broad decarbonization and electrification of the economy. Everyone who lives, works, drives or invests in California is a stakeholder in this effort. The results will be a new energy paradigm to address the enormous challenge of global climate change through the reduction of GHG emissions, improved air quality and human health — providing access to clean energy for all consumers.

SCE’s Clean Power and Electrification Pathway white paper is available online here.