California 2050: From Endless Summer to Endless Energy
Californians are often the butt of many a joke, mostly based around a certain stereotype.
We’re often thought of as (a) blonde-haired beach bums, (b) friends with someone famous, or (c) involved with some kind of tech startup. While these paint a picture of a California familiar to many, we residents recognize the state for the vast, diverse economic and cultural juggernaut that it is—and I say that with absolutely no bias, living in San Diego.
California is much more than my city’s sunny shores, Hollywood Boulevard, and Silicon Valley.
We’re by no means all “hippies” as some would say, though we definitely take pride in our green initiatives and stand at the forefront as a global leader in renewable energy.
No matter how vehemently I can spout my pro-California rhetoric, a new report out from Stanford University has even me approaching our renewable energy future with more caution.
Authored by a group of researchers from various institutions and published in the journal ‘Energy,’ the report outlines the feasibility for California to become 100 percent run by renewable energy sources by 2050.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not), it is not only possible, but the state will benefit immensely from an effort to do so.
“For All Purposes”
The first important aspect of the report is its all-inclusiveness. It outlines the replacement and upgrading of California’s all-purpose energy infrastructure: electricity, transportation, heating/
cooling, and industry. These would all be powered by what the report labels WWS—or wind, water, and sunlight.
This is similar to the plan for New York on which this feasibility report is based. However, California and New York are very different beasts.
“The estimates of energy demand and potential supply are developed specifically for California,” the report reads, “which has a higher population, faster population growth, greater total energy use, and larger transportation share of total energy, but lower energy-use per capita, than does New York.”
The proposal for New York also sets a deadline of 2030, as opposed to 2050. The takeaway remains, though: this is a big, encompassing idea that will shape the future of energy as a whole. The report specifically states this goal will be achieved once fossil fuels, biofuels, and nuclear power are no longer in use.
While the changes will be massive, there are several things to remember. This report does not eliminate carbon emissions, but rather “provides the largest possible reductions in air pollution, water pollution, and global-warming impacts.”
Also, this plan is not necessarily the most optimized. The report makes it clear that optimization was not the initial goal, but rather a feasibility report that it can, in fact, be done. It does, however, draw from previous optimization studies based on contemporary California energy demand.
No Reason Not To
Perhaps the most striking thing about the report is the impact it will have on the state. Of course, moving to 100 percent renewable energy will have an expensive ticket to entry with an estimated 1.1 trillion dollars in installation costs.
The report believes, however, that the benefits gained from this would equal, if not exceed, this cost. As it is, the numbers discusses in the report are staggering and are worth getting excited over.
The first thing that has people talking is the jobs the transition will reportedly create, some 220,000. This number is impressive, especially since it only accounts for renewable energy job growth. Other jobs that spring up because of residual effects don’t appear to be factored in and those could be numerous as well.
Also, the plan would reduce roughly 12,500 air-pollution premature mortalities per years, avoid $103 billion per year in health costs, and reduce California’s global climate cost by $48 billion per year.
Trevor Nielsen, writing for the Huffington Post, thinks implementing this plan is a no-brainer.
“To recap, that is more jobs, more money, fewer deaths, cheaper energy and less of it used,” he writes. “For the public the benefit is obvious: electricity will be cheaper, the air will be cleaner, and fewer people will die as a result.”
Nielsen also issues several calls to action for those in power to help make this plan a reality.
“For policy-makers the message is clear: stop paying attention to silly efforts aimed at slowing the adoption of renewables funded by those who will lose money if renewables are adopted,” he implores. “For investors the opportunity is enormous: massive amounts of capital will be needed for this transformation to occur.”
In terms of his second point, some are already taking notice.
More than One Kind of Green
Nielsen points to Warren Buffet as a prime example of an investor who knows a good opportunity when he sees one. He’s recently committed $15 billion to renewable energy investments, and Bloomberg reported that he told his deputy, Greg Abel, “There’s another $15 billion ready to go, as far as I’m concerned.”
Many feel Buffett is a savvy investor who anticipates trends and doubling down on renewable energy is certainly a sign he believes that it’s the inevitable future.
While California has potentially the best shot of meeting its 2050 goal, other countries have made similar initiatives top priorities
While Australia is looking to scale back its renewable energy efforts, the state of New South Wales aims to be the country’s “answer to California.”
“We are making NSW number one in energy and environmental policy,” Environment Minister Rob Stokes said.
“India also has an initiative similar to California’s, also with a target date of 2050. While the 100% Renewable Scenario as developed in this study, can at best be seen as a theoretical possibility within the modeling timeframe,” The Energy Report, India’s Director General R. K. Pachauri writes in the report’s foreword, “it helps to visualize the implications of moving towards a high renewable scenario, and makes clear the extent and nature of challenges associated with a move in this direction.”
The reports hopes to provide a framework for policy makers and investors to see the potential in a 100 percent renewable energy future for India, similar to the report issued by Stanford.
More countries and companies are jumping on board, as it seems more likely that this future will be an inevitable one.
“Renewable energy is going to power California,” Nielsen bluntly states. “This is great news for the public. It should be a high priority for elected officials, and it's an enormous opportunity for smart investors looking for returns.”
UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC
The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.
While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.
"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."
The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.
- Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
- Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
- Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
- Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
- Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.
In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies.
Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”
Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society.
Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."
Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).
Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.