NEWS Op Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle

Green energy is gold for Cal­i­for­nia and the US 

Daniel M Kammen

For the arti­cle pdf, click here.

I am a physi­cist, and an energy and sus­tain­abil­ity sci­ence researcher, and I live in Cal­i­for­nia because of its pen­chant for not just set­ting but actu­ally achiev­ing big goals and adopt­ing bold visions oth­ers may con­sider too ambi­tious. What Cal­i­for­nia pro­poses, we research, debate and then accom­plish. In fact, we often exceed the goals skep­tics have deemed unmeetable. This is why I believe that Cal­i­for­nia should — and ulti­mately will — pass into law the “100 Per­cent Clean Energy Act” (Sen­ate Bill 100), which would estab­lish a bold goal of 100 per­cent clean, zero-​​carbon elec­tric­ity by 2045.

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To fully appre­ci­ate the mul­ti­fac­eted ben­e­fits of SB100 for Cal­i­for­nia and the coun­try, a bit of his­tory is needed.

Thanks to a law Cal­i­for­nia passed in 2002 (the Renew­ables Port­fo­lio Stan­dard), the state has nearly tripled its use of elec­tric­ity pro­duced from renew­able resources. Today, solar, wind, bio­mass, and geot­her­mal power (the “renew­ables”) meet more than a third of the state’s elec­tric­ity demand — up from 12 per­cent in only a decade.

Just last month, the Cal­i­for­nia Air Resources Board announced that the state has met its goal of reduc­ing green­house gas emis­sions below 1990 lev­els in 2016 — a full four years ahead of its 2020 dead­line. Our sys­tem of renew­able elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion is a key dri­ver of that success.

In fact, the state Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion has esti­mated that Cal­i­for­nia will prob­a­bly meet its goal of pro­duc­ing 50 per­cent of elec­tric­ity from renew­able resources well ahead of the 2030 dead­line. Cal­i­for­nia and New York state have emerged as national lead­ers in energy effi­ciency and in set­ting and meet­ing clean energy tar­gets that together have kept util­ity rates low. Finan­cial ben­e­fits fol­low directly: The major­ity of all U.S. “clean tech” invest­ment has come through these two states.

This tran­si­tion has been a net job gen­er­a­tor: Cal­i­for­nia now has more peo­ple employed in the solar energy indus­try than in tra­di­tional util­i­ties. For 15 years, I have been track­ing job cre­ation in the clean energy sec­tor, where today we find two to four times more jobs in solar, wind, sus­tain­able bio­mass, effi­ciency and energy stor­age than in any fossil-​​fuel sec­tor. The price of wind– and solar-​​generated energy has dropped faster than expected and is cost-​​competitive or cheaper than the cost of build­ing new fossil-​​fuel-​​powered plants. The fact that the best solar and wind energy projects are actu­ally cheaper than nat­ural gas has been an enor­mous sur­prise to many not fol­low­ing the sec­tor closely.

Next up is for Cal­i­for­nia to estab­lish the bold new goal to power our state with 100 per­cent zero-​​carbon energy by 2045. SB100 would man­date that 60 per­cent of our elec­tric­ity demand be met with renew­able sources, and allows flex­i­bil­ity for how the other 40 per­cent might be met via addi­tional renew­ables, exist­ing large hydropower, or other clean energy sources — includ­ing new tech­nolo­gies. Some crit­ics note that SB100 does not explic­itly pro­hibit car­bon emis­sions if we also cap­ture the car­bon. This is less use­ful — and more expen­sive — in my analy­sis than a mix­ture of zero car­bon sources and energy stor­age, but per­mit­ting the flex­i­bil­ity is a broader, more inclu­sive man­date that does not try to pick spe­cific win­ners and losers.

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More syn­er­gies between clean energy and jobs for Cal­i­for­ni­ans exist here, too. The same wave of inno­va­tion we saw in solar energy — where Cal­i­for­nia played key research and deploy­ment roles — we now are see­ing in the energy stor­age indus­try. Cal­i­for­nia is lead­ing this charge, too, and stands to profit in rev­enue and more jobs.

Big trans­for­ma­tional goals are proven dri­vers of inno­va­tion. In 2005, the Leg­is­la­ture passed leg­is­la­tion that set a tar­get of 1 mil­lion solar rooftops by 2020. At the time, the typ­i­cal response was that it was too ambi­tious, and more details were needed. Today, Cal­i­for­nia has close to 700,000 solar rooftops, well on the way to the goal. Each rooftop saves the home­owner money, too, as solar power costs pen­cil out at under 5 cents per kilowatt-​​hour, while utility-​​generated power retails at more than four times that cost. Despite some legal and reg­u­la­tory bat­tles, res­i­den­tial rooftop solar saves util­i­ties money, too, as rooftops are gen­er­at­ing power dur­ing the day — i.e., dur­ing the time of the peak of power demand. Any extra gen­er­a­tion can be put into storage.

Since 1999 I have served as a coor­di­nat­ing lead author for the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, where sci­en­tists have rec­og­nized that clean and renew­able energy sources must become the dom­i­nant source of elec­tric­ity pow­er­ing build­ings, indus­try and trans­porta­tion if we are to avoid the worst cli­mate change effects that threaten Cal­i­for­nia. As the world’s fifth-​​largest econ­omy, Cal­i­for­nia will gain eco­nom­i­cally as we develop new tech­nolo­gies and ser­vices that oth­ers will need as they work toward global cli­mate goals. Cur­rent polit­i­cal trou­bles aside, this is where the United States must go.

As the world will see at the Global Cli­mate Action Sum­mit that Cal­i­for­nia will host Sept. 12–14 in San Fran­cisco, we have demon­strated the capac­ity and lead­er­ship needed to achieve big goals. SB100 sets a new goal for a clean, healthy and prof­itable energy sys­tem. With the global clean energy mar­ket grow­ing far faster that the fossil-​​fuel sec­tor, what Cal­i­for­nia is doing is a good busi­ness deci­sion for the state and the nation.

In The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle, August 17, 2018.  Click here for the direct link.

To access from the RAEL pub­li­ca­tions pages, click here.

To access on the Berke­ley Blog, click here.

Daniel M. Kam­men is the found­ing direc­tor of the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory and direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Envi­ron­men­tal Pub­lic Pol­icy at UC Berke­ley. Kam­men has served as the chief tech­ni­cal spe­cial­ist for renew­able energy at the World Bank, and sci­ence envoy for the U.S. State Depart­ment. Twit­ter: @dan_kammen To com­ment, sub­mit your let­ter to the edi­tor at SFChron​i​cle​.com/​l​e​t​t​ers.


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