By Daniel Sperling
California is embarking on an audacious new climate plan that aims to eliminate the state’s greenhouse gas footprint by 2045, and in the process, slash emissions far beyond its borders. The blueprint calls for massive transformations in industry, energy and transportation, as well as changes in institutions and human behaviors.
These transformations won’t be easy. Two years of developing the plan have exposed myriad challenges and tensions, including environmental justice, affordability and local rule.
For example, the San Francisco Fire Commission had prohibited batteries with more than 20 kilowatt-hours of power storage in homes, severely limiting the ability to store solar electricity from rooftop solar panels for all those times when the sun isn’t shining. More broadly, local opposition to new transmission lines, large-scale solar and wind facilities, substations for truck charging, and oil refinery conversions to produce renewable diesel will slow the transition.
I had a front row seat while the plan was prepared and vetted as a longtime board member of the California Air Resources Board, the state agency that oversees air pollution and climate control. And my chief contributor to this article, Rajinder Sahota, is deputy executive officer of the board, responsible for preparing the plan and navigating political land mines.
We believe California has a chance of succeeding, and in the process, showing the way for the rest of the world. In fact, most of the needed policies are already in place.
What happens in California has global reach
What California does matters far beyond state lines.
California is close to being the world’s fourth-largest economy and has a history of adopting environmental requirements that are imitated across the United States and the world. California has the most ambitious zero-emission requirements in the world for cars, trucks and buses; the most ambitious low-carbon fuel requirements; one of the largest carbon cap-and-trade programs; and the most aggressive requirements for renewable electricity.
In the U.S., through peculiarities in national air pollution law, other states have replicated many of California’s regulations and programs so they can race ahead of national policies. States can either follow federal vehicle emissions standards or California’s stricter rules. There is no third option. An increasing 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 will likely spread and be transformative.
What’s in the California blueprint
The new Scoping Plan lays out in considerable 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 petroleum use between 2022 and 2045 and an 86% reduction in total fossil fuel use. Overall, it would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2045 relative to 1990 levels. The remaining 15% reduction would come from capturing carbon from the air and fossil fuel plants, and sequestering it below ground or in forests, vegetation and soils.
To achieve these goals, the plan calls for a 37-fold increase in on-road zero-emission vehicles, a sixfold increase in electrical appliances in residences, a fourfold increase in installed wind and solar generation capacity, and doubling total electricity generation to run it all. It also calls for ramping up hydrogen power and altering agriculture and forest management to reduce wildfires, sequester carbon dioxide and reduce fertilizer demand.
This is a massive undertaking, and it implies a massive transformation of many industries and activities.
Transportation: California’s No. 1 emitter
Transportation accounts for about half of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, including upstream oil refinery emissions. This is where the path forward is perhaps most settled.
The state has already adopted regulations requiring almost all new cars, trucks and buses to have zero emissions – new transit buses by 2029 and most truck sales and light-duty vehicle sales by 2035.
In addition, California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard requires oil companies to steadily 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 will be low-carbon biofuels.
But regulations can be modified and even rescinded if opposition swells. If battery costs do not resume their downward slide, if electric utilities and others lag in providing charging infrastructure, and if local opposition blocks new charging sites and grid upgrades, the state could be forced to slow its zero-emission vehicle requirements.
The plan also relies on changes in human behavior. For example, it calls for a 25% reduction in vehicle miles traveled in 2030 compared with 2019, which has far dimmer prospects. The only strategies likely to significantly reduce vehicle use are steep charges for road use and parking, a move few politicians or voters in the U.S. would support, and a massive increase in shared-ride automated vehicles, which are not likely to scale up for at least another 10 years. Additional charges for driving and parking raise concerns about affordability for low-income commuters.
Electricity and electrifying buildings
The key to cutting emissions in almost every sector is electricity powered by renewable energy.
Electrifying most everything means not just 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 is the single most important change for reaching net zero, since electric vehicles and appliances depend 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 adopted to replace natural gas use with heat pumps and electric appliances.
The biggest and most important challenge is accelerating renewable electricity generation – mostly wind and utility-scale solar. The state has laws in place requiring electricity to be 100% zero emissions by 2045 – up from 52% in 2021.
The plan to get there includes offshore wind power, which will require new technology – floating wind turbines. The federal government in December 2022 leased the first Pacific sites for offshore wind farms, with plans to power over 1.5 million homes. However, years of technical and regulatory work are still ahead.
For solar power, the plan focuses on large solar farms, which can scale up faster and at less cost than rooftop solar. The same week the new scoping plan was announced, California’s Public Utility Commission voted to significantly scale back how much homeowners are reimbursed for solar power they send to the grid, a policy known as net metering. The Public Utility Commission argues that because of how electricity rates are set, generous rooftop solar reimbursements have primarily benefited wealthier households while imposing higher electricity bills on others. It believes this new policy will be more equitable and create a more sustainable model.
Industry and the carbon capture challenge
Industry plays a smaller role, and the policies and strategies here are less refined.
The state’s carbon cap-and-trade program, designed to ratchet down total emissions while allowing individual companies some flexibility, will tighten its emissions limits.
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 greatest controversies throughout the Scoping Plan process is its reliance on carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS. The controversy is rooted in concern that CCS allows fossil fuel facilities to continue releasing pollution while only capturing the carbon dioxide emissions. These facilities are often in or near disadvantaged communities.
California’s chances of success
Will California make it? The state has a track record of exceeding its goals, but getting to net zero by 2045 requires a sharper downward trajectory than even California has seen before, and there are still many hurdles.
Environmental justice concerns about carbon capture and new industrial facilities, coupled with NIMBYism, could block many needed investments. And the possibility of sluggish economic growth could led to spending cuts and might exacerbate concerns about economic disruption and affordability.
There are also questions about prices and geopolitics. Will the upturn in battery costs in 2022 – due to geopolitical flare-ups, a lag in expanding the supply of critical materials, and the war in Ukraine – turn out to be a hiccup or a trend? Will electric utilities move fast enough in building the infrastructure and grid capacity needed to accommodate the projected growth in zero-emission cars and trucks?
It is encouraging that the state has already created just about all the needed policy infrastructure. Additional tightening of emissions limits and targets will be needed, but the framework and policy mechanisms are largely in place.
Daniel Sperling is a distinguished Blue Planet Prize Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Founding Director at the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis. Rajinder Sahota, deputy executive officer of the California Air Resources Board, contributed to this article.
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Dennis C Rathsam says
California,s green energy, still depends on fossil fuels. Despite all the solar farms & windmills, they can not provide electric for the masses. The grid does not have the ways or means to keep the rolling blackouts from happening. These green fools have all the answers….What are we gonna do when all the batteries in these cars are shot? What do we do with all the chemical waste? You cant put the cart before the horse. And this moron, Newsome, wants to be president?
If u remove every motor car ,truck , plane ….etc right now it would only slow the temp. increase by 1/2 degree over the next 100 years. solar cycles happen over about 140000 year period we just started a warming cycle about 13000 years ago we have about 55000 more years of warming before it starts to cool again. Look it up.
I normally dont care what bad things happen to California, is so loaded up of crooked politicians and the sheeple who keep them in office, they absolutely deserve each other. Theres a mass exodus of people leaving the state to escape the rampant crime and sprawling homeless camps and ridiculously high tax rates and real estate prices (Unfortuneately they tend to relocate in nicer, well managed republican run areas and bring their snowflake views and woke joke political votes with them, destroying the once safe havens from radical Left destruction. Just look what happened to Denver for example, vote liberal, crime friendly, defund police no cash bail local politicians in and watch the tents pop up on the sidewalks, as businesses board up their windows and doors).
Problem is for stuff like this California a Bellwether state, many states will look towards what they are scheming up to fatten politicians pockets and also want to get rich themselves. How is that High Speed Rail going Cali? Billions of dollars got absorbed into democrats pockets, not a train ticket sold yet. What California Politicians decide to do is a text book example of what NOT to do here, as they brought that once utopian state to its knees, its sickening.
Well managed Republican areas. Please stop dreaming and face reality. Please name one area that well managed by Republicans. Please don’t name the post kkk states. Republican states are the worst.
Ray W. says
Sometimes, when I read comments similar to those posted by Dennis C. Rathsam and Californication above, I think of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy and his fictional social engineer, Harry Seldon. Selden engineered a social model that predicted the coming of a 10,000-year Dark Age. To counter that catastrophic societal collapse, Selden developed a foundation that would keep alive his socially engineered ideas that could shorten the Dark Age lifespan to 1000 years. Enter the Mule. There will always be a mule, one who will try to undermine (or improve) the best laid plans of mice and men (yes, I have not forgotten that Seldon’s second hidden foundation saves the day, but that does not negate the importance of the Mule).
Take crude oil production as an example. In 1956, M. King Hubbert, a Shell Oil geologist, coined the phrase “peak oil” to predict that American crude oil production would peak in 1970 and then rapidly decline. One can argue that King was the Harry Selden of crude oil. In 1970, American crude oil production peaked at 9.2 million barrels per day (mbpd) and began its predicted decline. Hubbert achieved mythic status in the energy industry. The decline continued through to the end of W’s administration when American crude oil production bottomed at just over 5.0 mbpd.
Enter crude oil’s Mule, known as patented fracking compounds. Fracking has been around since the ’40’s. Horizontal drilling has been around for a long time, too. But gains from fracking and horizontal drilling had long been minimal. Experiments with fracking compounds have been around for a long time, too, but no one had created that one blend necessary for a breakthrough.
About a decade ago, I watched a lengthy interview of a chemical engineer who created a breakthrough blend of fluids, sand and chemicals, unique enough to earn a patent. He had been turned down by American energy companies in his efforts to obtain funds to experiment with new fracking compounds, so he asked for and received a grant from W’s DOE to do the research. Yes, there have been plenty of fracking compound patents over the decades, but his new compound greatly increased the crude oil yield from a fracked well. As I recall, the patent issued in 2006, but it might have been 2005. With the timely speculative run-up in crude oil prices late in W’s second term to over $140 per barrel (because many believed in Hubbert’s prediction), it suddenly became economically feasible to drill for crude oil using the new fracking compound.
Fracking efforts early in Obama’s first administration became cost effective if prices remained above roughly $45 per barrel. Companies could risk taking losses if predicted prices might be kept above that amount over the lifespan of the well. Prior to drilling, companies estimate the total cost of drilling, fracking, collecting and distributing oil over the lifespan of every well. If they think they can make money, they take the risk and drill. At the time, $45 was the price point. Over the 15 years since fracking became economically feasible, technological improvements and production efficiencies lowered costs. For example, early in the fracking boom, people had to work onsite to monitor each new well. Software developments and improved sensors now allow for remote monitoring of equipment, cutting the number of operators that are paid to watch the mechanical status of individual wells. Current estimates of lifetime well costs have dropped to around $25 per barrel. Perhaps the $25 per barrel price point explains why American energy producers are making so much money today. OPEC voted in 2021 to cut production. Oil prices, long hovering in the $35 per barrel range slowly rose to over $85 per barrel. Russia decided to invade the Ukraine and corresponding sanctions cut more oil from the international marketplace. Prices spiked to record highs. American energy companies, already producing over 10 million barrels per day, saw a windfall not of their own making. In this sense, I disagree in small part with President Biden. At these levels of foreign manipulated prices, any oil company will make money. But most of the American energy companies are not really manipulating prices. Yes, refinery owners increased their crack spreads to take advantage of the hysteria and Biden was right to call them out. Yes, some American energy companies intentionally refrained from increasing production in order to profit more from what they were already producing, but many others greatly increased their production efforts. The Permian Basin has seen record levels of crude oil production in the past year, which is impressive given that crude oil has been produced there since 1917. Given the existence of a vast pipeline network and many thousands of wells in the Permian Basin, American energy producers can use those old vertical well holes to bore horizontally into the shale formation, frack the newly accessed rock and extract vast quantities of oil into the already existing pipelines to send to Houston. Why drill in Montana or New Mexico when the infrastructure already exists in Texas? Chevron is advertising its success in increasing its Permian Basin production by 15% over the last year.
Is it appropriate to argue that early in the first Obama administration, Hubbert’s peak oil theory blew apart? Does this support my argument that new fracking compounds are Hubbert’s mule? After all, American crude oil production skyrocketed to just under 10 mbpd in 2014. American energy companies had as many of 2000 drilling rigs in operation at one time during the scramble for oil during Obama’s administration (at the start of the pandemic, roughly 770 rigs were operating. More recently, just over 770 rigs were operating). North Dakota production had hovered in the 100k bpd range for years; it exploded to over 1 mbpd over a five-year span. BNSF trains were running non-stop from North Dakota to Houston carrying all the newly extracted extra crude oil. The four licensed rail car manufacturers had years of back orders for new crude oil tank cars. Pipelines did not exist to transport all that newly resourced crude oil from North Dakota. An entire winter wheat crop filled silos and spilled onto the ground in North Dakota because oil companies paid BNSF extra fees to transport their oil. Farmers couldn’t compete. Then, the southern leg of the XL pipeline opened, and trains could transport the oil halfway to Nebraska, to offload it into the pipeline to finish the journey to Houston. The quicker turnaround times allowed BNSF to add grain cars to its trains to transport the wheat. Florida is flat, so Floridians are used to seeing long trains operating while they wait at crossings, but hilly and mountainous regions limit the length of trains. At that time, trains running from North Dakota to Houston were limited to 108 cars, per my youngest son, who worked as a dispatcher for BNSF. The marshalling yards were built to handle only that many cars. Yes, there are efforts to extend the length of the rail lines in the marshalling yards to handle longer trains, but these things take time. Anyone can drive west of Jacksonville on I-10 and see for themselves just how long the rail lines are in that marshalling yard.
OPEC then started a price war by upping its production. Saudi oil fields are not locked in shale rock formations; they are pooled oil reserves. Saudi companies do not need to frack to extract oil. Cost estimates for Saudi oil production hover in the $8 per barrel range, so Saudi oil companies can make money at much lower price points. Crude oil prices dropped to under $30 per barrel. American oil companies drastically reduced their drilling efforts. I bought gasoline for $1.49 per gallon during the Obama administration, but only once. It hovered significantly below $2.00 per gallon for a long time, though.
Shifting to battery technology, both Dennis C. Rathsam and Californication are basing their comments on current battery technology, using liquid-state lithium-ion batteries. Yes, there will be pollution issues, recycling issues, manufacturing issues, political issues, economic manipulations, and on and on. Yes, each commenter has valid points. But are they the Harry Selden’s among us? Is there a mule out there, on the horizon?
I have been reading about solid-state battery technology over the past few months.
There are two main goals in current solid-state battery research: Expanding storage capacity (energy density) and increasing energy discharge rates.
Lithium-ion liquid state batteries have five components. A liquid state separator, a positive ion storage medium, a negative ion storage medium, a positive terminal and a negative terminal. Solid-state batteries have three components. A storage medium and the two terminals.
Liquid-state batteries require multiple linked cells that are encased by steel and packed into a larger encased battery pack, affecting each battery’s weight and size. If the battery is defectively manufactured, damaged by a crash or other impact, or degrades over time, the battery is susceptible to overheating and fire. Solid state batteries do not require individually encased cells; they can be stacked within one enclosure. The ability to stack cells allows solid-state batteries to achieve energy density rates twice that of liquid-state batteries, with the potential of tripling the energy density over liquid-state batteries. This suggests that a liquid-state battery that can power a car 300 miles might weigh three times as much as a comparable solid-state battery. Reduced overall battery weight also increases range, so solid-state batteries of equal energy density might power cars for many more than 300 miles.
One major apparent hurdle in solid-state battery technology is controlling the directional development of naturally occurring “dendrite” growth. If the growing dendrite penetrates the metal storage medium, the battery shorts out because the opposing terminals connect inside the battery. Early efforts to control dendrite growth used top to bottom pressure (vertical), like a kitchen press. Dendrite growth slowed but did not stop. Eventually, the battery shorts out and fails. Newer research focuses on sideways (horizontal) pressure. Dendrite growth slowed, but it also grew parallel to the storage medium, not through it. Perhaps this explains why GM recently agreed to spend billions by investing in a battery startup company, why Honda created a new solid-state battery division, why so many companies see a future in this technology.
A recent NASA article reports that newly developed storage medium materials increase energy discharge rates by a factor of 10, with the predicted future increase of a possible factor of five more.
Solid-state batteries do not catch fire. They continue to operate when damaged. They can tolerate heat at a level twice that of liquid-state batteries before failing.
The NASA study suggests that solid-state batteries, when compared to current liquid-state batteries, will be more reliable, will last longer, will weigh significantly less, will be more energy dense, and will discharge power at a faster rate. Whether they can be inexpensively built remains to be seen. A lightweight, small, energy dense, high discharge battery might provide one answer to powering aircraft by electricity. Home storage of solar panel energy might become more advantageous. Utility-grade storage capacity could become more feasible. Tractor-trailer transport more cost-efficient. The list goes on and on. Lithium recycling? Much less of an issue.
All it takes is political will. Relying on America’s current carbon-based energy companies to privately develop solid-state batteries seems Quixotic at best, though many other companies are investing in this possible future. Can it be argued that governments need to lead the way?
There will never be a shortage of Dennis C. Rathsams and Californications among us. Nor will there ever be a shortage of economists who are willing to predict the coming of another recession. Nor a politician who is willing to proclaim the demise of America as we once knew it to be, however false our memories are of those times. These reckless economists want to be able to claim that they were the first to see one coming, notwithstanding the fact that recessions are always coming, so that they can profit from their supposed ability to predict the future and then hope to profit from their perceived notoriety. These feckless politicians want to gain or hold political power. Gullible people like Dennis C. Rathsam and Californication hear the clamor and spread the word. If enough gullible people hear the spreading word, fear takes hold, spending drops and recessions occur, usually with the help of energy disruptions caused by war and profiteering, ala OPEC. The problem with the naysayers is that I have lived through nine recessions, so I already know that recessions can occur; there have been many more over the life of our nation. I suppose there will always be the possibility of recession, so long as war, profiteering, economists, politicians and naysayers exist. Fortunately, the possibility exists that there will always be mules to upend the theories of the naysayers.
Of course, I, too, make predictions, though my approach differs from that of Dennis C. Rathsam and Californication. I pose questions. I offer ideas. I suggest possibilities. I don’t predict the future. I ask what possible futures are out there. I back up my thoughts by offering thoughts proffered by others, usually our founding fathers and the intellectuals and philosophers they admired and followed. I promote a liberal-arts educational model. I believe in common sense as a process, not as a result. I oppose tyranny and would-be kings who would tell us how to think and punish us for thinking the “wrong” way. I want FlaglerLive readers to point out when I am less right than I could be or more wrong than I should be. I want other points of view.
As an aside, can it be argued that Trump is our founding fathers’ Mule? Melancton Smith, in 1788, thought such a mule was likely to exist and that the wording of the proposed Constitution might foster the rise of such a mule; he opposed ratifying the Constitution in part on that belief.
In the end, not every Mule disrupts, though many do. Each FlaglerLive reader can awaken every morning and choose to be like Dennis C. Rathsam and Californication. Or not. As my paternal grandmother used to say: “Most people are just about as happy as they want to be.” I argue that everyone can see that Dennis C. Rathsam and Californication awaken each morning and chose to be unhappy. Yes, there are problems. There are always problems. I have never awakened during my adult life without the opportunity to solve problems, even the never-ending problems. Some problems are unsolvable. I accept that, yet I will still choose the Mule of research and innovation in hopes of solving the problems.
Truly excellent commentary, as usual, Ray W.! Thanks so much!