California is not participating in the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference – at least not independently – but that won’t stop the state from setting an example. On April 29, California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order to establish a statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Governor Brown hasn’t exactly upped the ante, but he’s attempted to provide regulatory clarity and urgency as the state moves toward its 80 percent reduction target by 2050. The medium-term objective matches a similar goal set by the European Union last October, but west of the Atlantic, California stands alone in its ambition.
Ranked globally, California has the world’s eighth largest economy and is a top-20 GHG emitter. Overall, the state is responsible for about one percent of the world’s annual CO2 emissions. In the next 15 years, California’s population is expected to increase 14 percent.
To date, the state’s efforts have been relatively successful. Non-hydro renewable electric generation now accounts for more than 20 percent of the state’s needs. Since 2007, total CO2 emissions have fallen more than 12 percent – bolstered by a 17 percent decline in the transportation sector. Still, gains in the commercial, industrial, and residential sectors have been less than spectacular. Moreover, recent progress in the electric power sector has taken a step backward as nuclear (closure) and hydro (drought) generation have dropped approximately 50 and 40 percent respectively since 2011.
Back in January, during his most recent inaugural address, Governor Brown announced plans to increase renewable electric generation to 50 percent; reduce petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent; and double the energy savings from existing buildings by 2030. According to a new study by electric consultancy E3, the state will need that, and likely more, to achieve its goals.
To realize GHG emission reductions of even 26-38 percent by 2030 – still shy of Brown’s latest target – E3 suggests the following rapid low-carbon economy transition: 50-60 percent of electricity sales are supplied from renewable sources; 50 percent of natural gas demand is met with biogas; 6-7 million zero-emission and plug-in-hybrid vehicles on the road (California recently passed the 100,000 mark); an increase in the use of biofuels to four billion gallons of renewable diesel and gasoline; a doubling of residential and industrial energy efficiency; and a significant reduction in methane and F-gases. To reach the 40 percent target, technology commercialization and deployment – and lifestyle changes for that matter – will simply have to occur faster.
The good news is the fix is relatively cheap. Assuming GHG reductions of 33 percent, E3 estimates the direct cost to the average household to be $8 per month. A larger electric bill, car payments, and vehicle electricity or other zero-emission fuel charges offset annual savings in gasoline/diesel and natural gas costs. If commercial and industrial costs are passed on to the consumer, the household cost impact jumps to $14 per month.
Taking it a step further, Stanford’s Mark Jacobson believes California can replace 80-85 percent of its existing conventional energy generation with renewable sources by 2030, and virtually eliminate its GHG emissions by 2050. Jacobson estimates the cost of such an undertaking to be $1.1 trillion. Though, factoring in air pollution health costs, jobs growth, and other climate externalities, the recovery period is a speedy seven years.
Ambitious? Yes. Possible? Definitely. Probable? Perhaps too soon to say, though with a shade of doubt. The state’s ongoing drought and rapid population growth present more than a handful of challenges. Improvements across all sectors will have to move at a pace heretofore unseen. With that said, there’s certainly no harm in trying.
First published at Oilprice.com