Whereas research reports by the world’s most eminent climatologists seem almost daily to bring foreboding climate news, renewable energy proponents who met at UC Berkeley in mid-April were decidedly upbeat about clean energy prospects.
The expert gathering, “Pathways to 100% Renewable Energy,” was all about getting to 100 percent renewable, affordable, and reliable electricity for all.
Convened by the Renewables 100 Policy Institute of Santa Monica, the day-and-a-half-long plenary was part strategy session, part victory lap, and part mustering evidence that speedily attaining 100 percent renewable power is feasible and practical.
Ken Alex, the governor’s senior policy advisor, began the meeting on a somber note by telling the audience that we will likely lose the late-summer Arctic sea ice cover by 2050.
Loss of the ice darkens the surface of the Arctic, increasing the absorption of heat and amplifying global heating. New unpublished research, Alex said, indicates that Arctic sea ice loss will have a substantially more powerful heating effect on the Earth than generally realized.
Supporters of clean energy were nonetheless buoyed by the rapid technological progress and steep price drops in renewable energy and electric vehicles. Both utility-scale wind and solar power have now become cheaper than coal and some natural gas power plants. More new wind and solar utility generation is now being built in the U.S. than fossil-fueled plants.
In a keynote to the gathering, California State Sen. Kevin de Léon, until recently the Senate President pro tempore, shared his reasons for optimism about the transition to renewable energy.
Because the state’s environmental and energy policies have turned environmental challenges into economic opportunities, he said, Californians now enjoy cleaner air, healthier water, and billions of dollars in savings on energy bills, keeping “Californians’ energy spending among the lowest in the nation.”
Image right: California State Sen. Kevin de Léon. Credit: Renewables 100 Policy Institute
Since the state’s cap-and-trade carbon bill, AB 32 passed in 2006, de Léon noted, the state’s per capita GDP “has grown by nearly twice the national average—and we’ve easily outpaced the nation in job creation.”
De Léon singled out the state’s decades long record of passing the nation’s toughest vehicle emission standards, coastal protections, and energy efficiency standards, along with some of the country’s most ambitious clean energy goals.
At the forefront of these efforts, de Léon last year introduced Senate Bill 100 which would require California to get 100 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2045. SB 100 is currently in the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee awaiting a vote.
“All the evidence suggests 100 percent clean energy is within reach,” de Léon declared.
Whereas California is currently committed under SB 350 (also by de Léon) to getting 50 percent of its power from renewables by 2030, SB 100 would raise the 2030 requirement to 60 percent. It would, however, count existing hydropower toward the 100 percent goal. Since the state’s power mix was 15 percent hydro in 2016, by 2030 the state could already be getting at least 75 percent of its power from renewable and zero-carbon sources.
In addition, if carbon capture and sequestration could be done “in a way that is affordable and truly clean,” de Léon said, “that would count under this bill.”
Under Senate Bill 350, California in 2015 raised its 2030 renewable electricity goal to 50 percent. The state’s prior goal had been 33 percent renewables by 2020. California’s major utilities are already close to or above 40 percent renewable power and will soon be at 50 percent.
The bill also calls for a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency in existing buildings and seeks to accelerate the electrification of the state’s transportation sector.
Representative Chris Lee of Hawaii told the conference that Hawaii, now at 30 percent renewable power, has committed to 100 percent renewables and to phase out fossil fuel power in ground transportation by 2045.
Lee said that while the state is committed to 100 percent renewables by 2045, it will achieve it by 2040—and at a savings of $5 billion, which is 8 percent of Hawaii’s GDP.
“Saving the climate is to preserve our way of life,” he stated. “It is for our survival..These problems are soluble,” he added. “Having the vision of getting to 100 percent renewable energy is what we need.”
Like Hawaii, San Francisco has committed to getting 100 percent of its power from renewables by 2045. More than 50 other U.S. cities are also committed to 100 percent renewable power.
Much to the delight of renewable energy advocates, since electric vehicles can be powered by clean electricity, Gov. Brown on January 26, 2018 issued an executive order raising the state’s 2030 target from 1.5 million zero emission vehicles to 5 million. The order will also boost the supply of charging and refueling stations for zero-emission vehicles, and it calls for the investment of $1.25 billion in cap-and-trade auction revenues in combatting carbon pollution from cars and trucks.
Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco told conferees, “If you want clean air, you absolutely have to have clean cars.” According to the Governor’s Office, fifty percent of California’s greenhouse gases currently come from the transportation sector along with 80 percent of its smog-forming gases. Ting is sponsoring a bill in the Assembly to ban internal combustion engines in California by 2040.
China, France, the U.K., India, and Norway have announced similar or earlier deadlines for phasing out internal combustion engines.
California already has almost 400,000 electric vehicles, and many jurisdictions are converting diesel bus lines to electric buses. Ryan Popple, president and CEO of electric bus company Proterra, told the conference that business is booming and the technology is improving rapidly, with battery electric buses now capable of eliminating their fossil-fueled competitors.
Electric buses produced by 2020 will have a 225-mile range, he said, while most transit bus routes require less than 130 miles of travel per day. With electric drivelines now already cheaper than diesels, diesel and compressed natural gas bus market shares “are going to go to zero,” he predicted.
De Léon’s closing remarks were an outspoken rebuke to President Trump.
“If the President really wants to put people to work and make America the world’s energy super power, he should follow our lead…We didn’t grow into the world’s sixth largest economy and the epicenter of innovation by embracing ‘alternative facts,’ or pseudo-scientific nonsense.”
Lead image: Wind turbines in California. Credit: Pixabay.