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Report finds California not on pace to hit 2030 climate goal despite dropping GHG emissions

In California, an increase in power sector greenhouse gas emissions, particularly from in-state generation, in recent years is offsetting progress made in the transportation sector, and threatening the state’s goals overall, according to the 15th annual California Green Innovation Index, released by the nonpartisan nonprofit Next 10 and prepared by Beacon Economics.

California has worked hard to decouple its economy from the burning of fossil fuels, resulting in some of the lowest per-capita emissions in the United States, but annual greenhouse gas jumped 3.4% in 2021, a rebound following the pandemic, according to the latest data from the California Air Resources Board (CARB). A preliminary estimate from the agency shows the state’s emissions started trending downward again in 2022, but the 2021 emissions remained 121.3 MMTCO2e above the 2030 target of nearly 260 MMTCO2e.

The increase in emissions following the pandemic makes it all the more difficult for California to meet its climate goals on time. In fact, we may be further behind than many people realize. If you look at the trajectory since 2010, California won’t meet our 2030 climate goal until 2047. We need to triple the rate of decarbonization progress each year to hit that target.

—F. Noel Perry, Founder of Next 10

Graphic

Efforts to promote renewable power as well as zero-emission buildings and vehicles will have to dramatically accelerate in order to achieve the state’s goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, according to the new report. To meet that benchmark, California would need to triple the rate of emissions cuts made since 2010—going from the actual average annual reduction of about 1.5% a year to about 4.6% a year, according to an analysis of CARB data by Beacon Economics. That percentage could be even higher as emissions data for 2023 isn’t available yet.

Emissions from the transportation sector—which accounts for nearly 40% of the state’s carbon footprint—increased by 7.4% from 2020 to 2021 following the easing of pandemic travel restrictions. But overall, greenhouse gas emissions from passenger cars, heavy-duty trucks, and other vehicles were more than 10% lower in 2021 compared to 2019. This shows the state is making considerable progress cutting its largest source of pollution. Emissions from heavy-duty vehicles have consistently decreased every year since 2018, resulting in a 14.1% reduction in 2021 compared to that year.

Zero-emission vehicle adoption is now at an all-time high in California, accounting for a quarter of new vehicle sales in 2023. New light-duty electric vehicle sales in all classes rose by 61.7% in 2022 compared to the previous year, and the state met its 2025 goal of 1.5 million ZEVs onroad two years early in April 2023. At the current trajectory (an increase in sales of 25.6% on average per year from 2018 to 2023), California is on track to meet the 2030 target of 5 million ZEVs one year ahead of schedule as well.

Buildings are slowly getting cleaner too, especially with the adoption of electric heat pumps, induction stoves, and efficiency upgrades that lower demand for fossil gas. Emissions from the commercial and residential sectors declined by roughly 4.5% and 4.4%, respectively, in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019. However, while residential emissions fell (-2.3%), commercial emissions increased from 2020 to 2021 (+3.7%), as anticipated post-pandemic.

Electricity generation experienced the largest increase in greenhouse gas emissions among all economic sectors from 2019 to 2021, jumping 3.5%. This was driven by a substantial increase in emissions from in-state power generation, which jumped 10.3% between 2019 and 2021. Despite these increases, in February 2024, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) adopted a more ambitious goal for decarbonizing the electricity sector, calling for 58% fewer emissions by 2035 compared to 2020.

Beacon Economics estimates that to achieve this target, California must reduce power sector emissions by an average of 6.3% annually between 2021 and 2035—nearly double the 3.5% annual average decrease rate observed from 2011 to 2021. Moreover, recent trends indicate an upward trajectory, with a 4.8% year-over-year increase in emissions from 2020 to 2021.

While California is moving in the right direction in many ways, renewable electricity generation must greatly increase in the coming years in order to reach the state’s goal. To meet our upcoming target of 50% of electricity from renewable sources by 2026, we need to double the speed we are adding RPS eligible renewables to our power mix, from 4.3% per year to 8.7% per year.

—Stafford Nichols, Research Manager at Beacon Economics

Additionally, new industrial-scale solar and wind projects are having a hard time connecting to the grid because many transmission lines are already at capacity or do not connect to remote renewable power installations. The typical project built in 2022 took five years from the interconnection request to commercial operation, compared to three years in 2015 and less than two years in 2008.

California has been the leader in US rooftop solar for decades, but recent changes at the CPUC related to compensation for solar generation has significantly reduced the installation of residential panels. The state has 1.8 million installations capable of generating a total of more than 15 gigawatts (GW) at peak capacity, but the utilities have seen a 66% to 83% drop in residential rooftop-solar interconnection applications in the five months after the new rules went into effect in April 2023. Comparatively, utility-scale solar capacity in California was roughly 18.2 GW at the end of 2021.

Other key findings:

  • Total GHG emissions in California increased by 3.4% from 2020 to 2021, which was still 5.7% lower than the pre-pandemic level in 2019.

  • There has been a notable decline in the consumption of non-electricity natural gas, which has decreased by 3.4% from 2016 to 2021—this decline has been largely offset by increased adoption of renewable energy.

  • Natural gas non-electricity consumption in California was still 24.4% higher than electricity consumption in 2021 and fossil fuels make up the majority of energy consumed in California, accounting for 69.2%.

  • California’s cement plants account for two percent of total statewide carbon emissions and almost 10 percent of industrial emissions.

  • Although California’s cement plants are marginally more emissions-efficient on a perton basis than the average American plant, they emit more CO2e per ton of cement than plants in the rest of the world. For example, they emit about 33% more than plants in China and India. Rapid adoption of alternate processes and technologies to make the manufacturing of cement less carbon-intensive could reduce emissions from cement in California by up to 24% by 2035 compared to business-as-usual.

Comments

Davemart

https://news.mit.edu/2024/cutting-carbon-emissions-us-power-grid-0311

'In another analysis, Gençer and Farnsworth took a closer look at California. In California, about 10 percent of total demand is now met with nuclear power. Yet current power plants are scheduled for retirement very soon, and a 1976 law forbids the construction of new nuclear plants. (The state recently extended the lifetime of one nuclear plant to prevent the grid from becoming unstable.) “California is very motivated to decarbonize their grid,” says Farnsworth. “So how difficult will that be without nuclear power?”

To find out, the researchers performed a series of analyses to investigate the challenge of decarbonizing in California with nuclear power versus without it. At 200 grams of CO2 per kWh — about a 50 percent reduction — the optimized mix and cost look the same with and without nuclear. Nuclear doesn’t appear due to its high cost. At 100 grams of CO2 per kWh — about a 75 percent reduction — nuclear does appear in the cost-optimized system, reducing the total system capacity while having little impact on the cost.

But at 50 grams of CO2 per kWh, the ban on nuclear makes a significant difference. “Without nuclear, there’s about a 45 percent increase in total system size, which is really quite substantial,” says Farnsworth. “It’s a vastly different system, and it’s more expensive.” Indeed, the cost of electricity would increase by 7 percent.

Going one step further, the researchers performed an analysis to determine the most decarbonized system possible in California. Without nuclear, the state could reach 40 grams of CO2 per kWh. “But when you allow for nuclear, you can get all the way down to 16 grams of CO2 per kWh,” says Farnsworth. “We found that California needs nuclear more than any other region due to its poor wind resources.”'

A kind of quasi religious opposition to nuclear over the last several decades has not only assisted and enabled the fossil fuel industry to churn out GHG regardless, when series production of nuclear as in France was perfectly practical, but it looks as though it will now likely make much more difficult to fully transition.

Davemart

Daimler reckon it is cheaper, at least in Europe, to build out hydrogen infrastructure for heavy trucking in combination with expanding the electric grid rather than just trying to expand the grid on its own:

https://www.hydrogeninsight.com/transport/cheapest-way-to-decarbonise-heavy-vehicles-is-to-invest-in-both-hydrogen-and-electric-infrastructure-daimler/2-1-1613442

' “Because while the initial cost of electric infrastructure is fairly low — you basically need to install chargers and connect them to the existing grid — the cost of upgrading the power grid is fairly high. In contrast, as demand and utilization increase, hydrogen infrastructure decreases in relative cost.”

This would appear to track with independent academic modelling published last year, which suggests that investing in H2 infrastructure and expanding the grid in tandem would save €72bn ($78.4m) a year, while only focusing on the grid would reduce system costs by €46-61bn.

The Daimler head of truck technology also noted that both charging and refuelling infrastructure is woefully insufficient for the scale of decarbonising Europe’s heavy vehicles.'

SJC

California can store the CO2 and NOx from power plants in empty oil wells in the Bakersfield Elk Hills area, that would be THE quickest most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions this decade.

Davemart

Hi SLC

Here is a report on sequestering in that area:

https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2024-01-14/can-pumping-co2-into-oil-fields-help-stop-global-warming

We have similar possibilities here in the UK in old coal mines.

Neither are without potential issues:

' Perhaps the most notable incident occurred in Satartia, Miss., in 2020 when a CO2 pipeline ruptured following heavy rains. The leak led to the hospitalization of 45 people and the evacuation of 200 residents.'

But both may also be a very substantial way of containing emissions

Davemart

I'd also add that although I have been a supporter of nuclear more or less all my long life, and dislike at least the irrational end of opposition to it, with for instance nuclear power plants in Germany closed on the off chance that they might be hit by a tsunami on the Rhine, I think that California can do better than the report I have linked without nuclear.

That is mainly due to what can and can't be reasonably included in a substantial report.

They can only really assess relatively established technologies, with a limit to projections.

Random internet users such as myself have no such limitation.

I reckon that we can deal with the main barrier to better utilisation of renewables in areas such as California, as we can do daily storage to spread solar at far lower cost than present methods, which is transformative.

If not up to the standards needed for inclusion in an academic report, my remarks are not without foundation, just a couple of years early.

Energy Dome have demonstrated compressed CO2 storage, and are currently building a full size 20MW/200MW facility, which should come in at perhaps half the cost of battery storage, which is really only for up to 4 hours, not overnight, and is made from industry standard components with high round trip efficiency.

For areas with abundant sunshine and no serious space constraints, such as California, this is likely in my view to be an excellent option.

If you have a look at the report I have linked above, 24/7 storage of solar would be transformative.

We can arrive at a proper assessment with enough certainty for inclusion in academic forecasts within 2 or 3 years.

SJC

The only nuclear I support is fast reactors use up long-term radioactive waste, that's very expensive very long term in the shorter term to make the most benefit in the most cost-effective way in storing emissions from power plants absolutely.

Roger Brown

Davemart references the Farnsworth and Gençer report which emphasizes California's need for nuclear power:

"As the model plays out, under the moderate cap — 50 grams of CO2 per kWh — most regions bring in nuclear power. California and the Southeast — regions with low wind capacity factors — rely on nuclear the most."

California has abundant solar resources. The only reason they would need wind is to balance out seasonal variations in solar energy. In many regions it is windier in the winter than in the summer so that wind can be used for the purpose of seasonal balancing. In California currently existing wind resources actually producer higher output in the summer than in the winter and thus do nothing to help the issue of seasonal balance of energy supply. Seasonal energy storage is a very difficult economic challenge. Current battery technology would be absurdly expensive for this purpose. Hydrogen would probably be cheaper than batteries but still quite expensive. One possibility that I have thought about is storage as low grade heat for space and water heating in some kind of earth storage. Electrical resistance heaters are dirt cheap compared to electrolyzers. The long term equilibrium costs of earth storage are probably pretty reasonable. However, the up front cost of installing this kind of capacity in already built up urban areas would be expensive. We would probably have to sacrifice consumer goods for a period of time in order to be able to afford such an infrastructure build out. The summer time electrical over capacity which we would be using to fill our heat storage system would then increase the winter time electrical capacity.

SJC

California has wind resources, maybe not as much as Texas or other places but they do okay. They have Altamonte Pass, the Tehachapes, several places that are known
to have really good wind corridors.

Davemart

Hi Roger.

I try to not get into the head of 'arguing the case' for whatever, and consequently denigrating other options.

My view is that we have been fortunate enough to have a number of options which ain't hugely polluting fossil fuels becoming more and more economic, and we should not necessarily throw away any of them based on their competition with each other.

The really expensive option is to pump out CHG into the atmosphere, which for decades have been falsely declared as the 'cheap' option, as the costs are externalised.

Coming back more directly to the point, diversity of resources is in itself a benefit, and the cost is moderated if it is a relatively small part of overall production, whilst enhancing flexibility.

For instance in the event of major volcanic eruptions, solar is going to take a substantial hit.

Nuclear are 10% or so of the mix would provide a considerable emergency cushion.

Recent events with covid and the war in Ukraine have disrupted supply chains, and shown up the limits of the cheap internationalist solution.

Natural systems don't just optimise supposed 'efficiency' but also consider resilience.

That aside, storage of renewables as hydrogen, or perhaps its derivatives such as ammonia or methane, are expensive, compared to what?

The cost efficiency measures are typically given as unit costs, with units of equal value.

Bunging hydrogen, for instance, into abandoned oil wells or other geological formations may on that sort of analysis sound expensive, but would only need to occur for a relatively small proportion of output to cover when there was a cold, still snap with low wind, in winter when there is not much sun.

In Europe, this is known as 'dunkelflaute'
Here is an analysis of the implications for renewables in that region:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/355173603_A_Brief_Climatology_of_Dunkelflaute_Events_over_and_Surrounding_the_North_and_Baltic_Sea_Areas

It should be noted that for most of the world where most people live, and will do increasingly in the future, this is hardly relevant, as they are nearer the equator and variation is much less significant.

Such variation is however relevant to the US and some other regions and even more to for Europe, which is a northerly outlier.

But even there 'too expensive' storage solutions are declared such by not noting that they are needed for only a fairly small proportion of output.

Overall systemic costs are manageable.

Hydrogen, ammonia et al can do the job just fine at affordable cost.

Roger Brown

Hi Dave,

You wrote "I try to not get into the head of 'arguing the case' for whatever, and consequently denigrating other options."

I do not think that I was attempting to denigrate any option. The fact that battery technologies that require thousands of cycles to obtain reasonable costs are not a good option for seasonal energy storage is pretty obvious. And I did say specifically say "current" battery technology. I have read proposals that a flow battery in which power and storage capacity can be varied independently could be a long term storage option if cheap enough electrolytes are found. Vanadium batteries are not good candidates for this option since Vanadium is quite expensive. However research is going forward trying to develop really cheap organic electrolytes.

My intention was not to categorically reject hydrogen as a storage option, but rather to suggest another which I had not heard anybody else propose. I am aware that this option has its own weaknesses and I am not suggesting that it offers a miracle solution to the problem of long term energy storage.

Davemart

Hi Roger.

My comment was not meant as a critique of your own, which is as usual measured and reasonable.

I was rather seeking to put into context, my own often repeated support of nuclear and hydrogen here.

If something better comes up, I am all ears!

But by and large, I like a diversity of options and resources rather than going all in on one.

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