Is our carbon-free electricity really carbon-free? | A New Shade of Green | Sherry Listgarten | Almanac Online |

Local Blogs

A New Shade of Green

By Sherry Listgarten

E-mail Sherry Listgarten

About this blog: Climate change, despite its outsized impact on the planet, is still an abstract concept to many of us. That needs to change. My hope is that readers of this blog will develop a better understanding of how our climate is evolving a...  (More)

View all posts from Sherry Listgarten

Is our carbon-free electricity really carbon-free?

Uploaded: Nov 24, 2019
One of the most important steps we can take to cut our greenhouse gas emissions is to transition to clean power. Our local power providers are moving aggressively in that direction, and in fact all three provide 100% carbon-free electricity. (Palo Alto uses the term “carbon-neutral.”) Peninsula Clean Energy in San Mateo County offers it as their ECO100 option (their default is 90%) , while the City of Palo Alto Utilities and Silicon Valley Clean Energy in much of Santa Clara County offer it as the default. (1)

But there is some confusion among residents about what it means for our electricity to be carbon-free (or carbon-neutral), so I’m going to dig into two of the main things that trip people up. The first is that our power grid is shared, so the clean power we put on the grid is not the same as what we consume. The second is that our carbon accounting is based on matching annual purchases with annual use, while an hourly accounting would be more accurate. (2) Let’s start with the first one.

When you hear the phrase “carbon-free electricity”, you may imagine that we operate our own windmills and solar plants and hydroelectric turbines 365x24x7 to power our activities. But that is not the case. We generally don’t operate our own plants -- we have agreements to purchase power from various vendors. But the bigger issue is that we don’t use the very same power that we buy. Instead, “our” power plants put clean energy onto California’s shared electric grid, as do plants operating on behalf of other providers. Then we all consume energy from the grid. The grid and the power market serve as middlemen between power production and power consumption. And that messes with our intuition about “carbon-free power”.

Think of the grid like a big puddle of water. Power providers across the state are filling that puddle with water; some are putting in cleaner water and some are contributing dirtier water. At the same time, little streams of water are running from the puddle into homes across the state. Each home is getting pretty much the same mix of water (electricity) regardless of what their utility or other power provider (3) is purchasing. In 2018, for example, homes got power that was, on average, 51% carbon-free.

I didn’t understand how this worked for a while. I thought that it didn’t matter how big my EV was or how much I drove it or how often I ran my clothes dryer because it was all running on carbon-free power. But that’s not the case. The fact is, we buy clean power but much of the electricity we use comes from gas-powered plants. (4) On the plus side, that means when we find ways to use less electricity, we can reduce our emissions even more. But some of you may feel ripped off, misled, even yearning to go back to buying dirty electricity(?!) because you aren't getting what you pay for. One Palo Alto commenter is concerned: “It is great that the grid has a cleaner mix (from our contributions). But should we (and other progressive cities) be the ones paying for it? If you were to ask residents to vote on paying for a project that benefits just Palo Altans vs. diluting the benefit across all Californians, how would the votes tally?”

Happily, that is not a relevant question since our local power providers work hard to keep our rates below those of PG&E. They buy power that is both cleaner and cheaper. In fact, low prices for renewables are one of the things that keeps Jan Pepper, CEO of Peninsula Clean Energy, so optimistic about the future of clean energy. “Prices continue to drop. We have seen that with solar, and we are starting to see it with batteries.” California’s robust economy helps ensure that as utilities buy more renewables (portfolios must be 60% renewable by 2030) and reduce use of fossil fuels (portfolios must be carbon-free by 2045), the growing demand for clean power will spur innovation and competition to keep prices low. I asked Don Bray, Director of Account Services & Community Relations for Silicon Valley Clean Energy, for his thoughts on any “secret sauce” that has allowed our utilities to provide cleaner and cheaper power. He emphasized that utilities across the country are innovating in their own ways, from Texas to the midwest to the deep south. But he did add that a concerned customer base in Santa Clara County helps to keep the pressure on. “We have a few large, sophisticated commercial customers who are committed to using the cleanest energy and continuously help to push us forward.” A large commercial base also means a smoother load curve, with more midday demand that is easier to serve with cheap solar energy. (5)

Bray’s observation about midday demand brings me to the second point of confusion about our carbon-free electricity. The electricity that our utilities purchase and put on the grid is carbon-free. If we consumed our energy at the exact same time we were putting it onto the grid, we would have a pretty straight-forward claim to carbon-free electricity, even though we use a shared grid. But we consume energy from the grid at different and possibly dirtier times than we put it on the grid. You can imagine, for example, a utility purchasing midday solar but its customers consuming night-time gas-powered electricity. This utility could pencil out as carbon-neutral on paper based on an annual accounting. But in reality the utility’s customers would be responsible for a good deal of greenhouse gas emissions. (6)

You can see below how the power supply for Palo Alto matches up to demand (the black line) for a typical year and typical winter and summer days. Notice how the flexible hydropower resources are scheduled for the evening hours in summer, and for both morning and evening in winter. But even with that plus a fairly steady load, it is still difficult to meet demand on an hourly basis, particularly in fall and winter.

Palo Alto’s electric supply vs demand for a typical year and two typical seasonal days.

Below are similar graphs for Silicon Valley Clean Energy, though these are projected for the future. You can see how battery storage stretches the solar into the evening hours, and how wind and hydro complement the midday solar, but still there are difficulties meeting demand with supply, especially in the cooler months.

This mismatch of supply with demand is not scalable. If many utilities operated that way, we would quickly run out of power at certain times of the day and year. And in fact, CAISO and CPUC are predicting a shortfall of evening power for the next three years, in part because many gas-powered plants along the coast are scheduled to be shut down in that time period. (7)

Source: 2019 CAISO presentation

Power shortages are not taken lightly; our local utilities and our state want to correct this. Peninsula Clean Energy has a goal for its load to be time-coincident with supply by 2025. Silicon Valley Clean Energy is looking at the “clean net short” standard being promoted by CPUC as a better way to evaluate their emissions intensity. Using that methodology, a utility that puts more power on the grid than it consumes during a given hour gets a credit based on the emissions intensity of the extra power it added, while if its production falls short of consumption, it is “charged” based on the average grid emissions intensity for that hour. This yields a more accurate value for the emissions intensity of a utility’s portfolio, since it matches supply with demand on an hourly basis.

With lofty goals and ever stricter accounting, I heard a planner for Silicon Valley Clean Energy consider, during their recent October board meeting, that perhaps “not enough resources exist for all of us to meet our carbon-free goals”. The fact that more and more of the western states are adopting renewable and carbon-free goals makes it even harder, since it reduces the amount of clean energy available for us to import (e.g., hydropower from the northwest). But Pepper believes that resource availability in general is not a concern. “New resources are coming online all the time; there are lots of developers.” She also says that the big utilities like PG&E have contracted for large amounts of carbon-free power that they are no longer using, since they are shedding customers to smaller power providers like her own. Those extra allocations may become available for the smaller players.

Some of the strategies that our power providers are looking at to better align supply with demand include:

Geothermal energy. Geothermal energy is a baseline resource, which means that it is available year-round, 24x7. While standard geothermal plants such as the one at the nearby Geysers facility have a small amount of emissions, Silicon Valley Clean Energy is particularly interested in “binary” (closed-loop) geothermal plants that have no emissions.

Solar with storage. Both Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Peninsula Clean Energy are looking to battery storage to make solar energy available in the critical evening hours. Peninsula Clean Energy’s Pepper notes that there is a lot of innovation in storage, in terms of chemical composition, power characteristics, and sustainability. This 2019 SolarPaces article reviews a locally-developed mechanism for thermal storage that has attracted investments from the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund and more. Basically, it stores and later releases energy using a combination of hot and cold tanks operating much like a heat pump.

Demand shifting. Big and small utilities across the state, including our three local utilities, will be rolling out time-of-use rates in the next year or two to encourage customers to shift loads away from the evening hours. Peninsula Clean Energy’s Pepper hopes these rates will reinforce to customers that power is not uniformly available and clean throughout the day, that it is more expensive (and dirtier) during the peak 4-9pm hours. This level of understanding, if coupled with relevant actions, will help keep emissions down and rates low.

Out-of-state wind. Silicon Valley Clean Energy's Bray reports that local wind resources such as the one near the Altamont pass can be pretty variable, while wind power from Colorado and even Southern California can be much more reliable. So he advocates looking at power profiles throughout the year when evaluating possible resources. This 2018 press release from Silicon Valley Clean Energy has some information about New Mexico’s wind resource. Offshore wind is another promising avenue for California, though it is a ways out.

Local resources. With growing constraints on transmission and a need for more reliability, Peninsula Clean Energy’s Pepper sees local resources as particularly appealing. Local microgrids, for example, are an interesting development that Peninsula Clean Energy is supporting.

Optimized solar locations. Bray said that with solar prices “crashing”, utilities need to be careful with longer-term contracts so they don’t overpay. One optimization is to choose the location of the plant carefully, so it is situated in an area that doesn’t have an oversupply of solar power. Since power prices are location-sensitive, prices in those areas won’t drop as much.

At the end of the day, all of our local power providers are looking to diversify their portfolios with a mix of energy sources, short-term and long-term contracts, local and imported energy, and so on, to keep prices low and stay nimble as the various managing agencies (CPUC, CEC, CAISO, and CARB) continuously adjust requirements for reporting, procurement, and operations. If you are interested in learning more about portfolio planning and evaluation, they all have open discussions on these topics that you are invited to attend. You can find meeting dates and agendas, along with presentations and often notes and videos online for Palo Alto Utilities, Peninsula Clean Energy, and Silicon Valley Clean Energy.

To answer the question posed in the title -- Is our carbon-free electricity really carbon-free? -- I’d say that the answer is “not yet, but getting there”. We are learning as we go, particularly in California, but also increasingly in all regions across the US. I like to think that as customers we can do our part to support this transition by being more aware of the characteristics of the power we are using, reducing our power use (and especially our dirty power use) where we can, and supporting our utilities in their efforts to transition to clean power.

Notes and References

1. Silicon Valley Clean Energy also offers a 100% renewable option because not all carbon-free sources are considered “renewable” by the state of California. Examples of carbon-free sources that are not considered to be renewable are large hydroelectric plants and nuclear plants, because of concern about impacts on the environment.

2. A third source of confusion about "carbon-free" terminology is the concept of energy credits, which I will cover in a separate blog post.

3. I use the word “utility” colloquially but somewhat inaccurately in this blog to refer to our energy providers. Peninsula Clean Energy and Silicon Valley Clean Energy are CCAs (Community Choice Aggregation providers) rather than utilities. They operate under very different rules and often have different goals from utilities. You can read more about CCAs here or here. Another type of power provider is an ESP, or Energy Service Provider, which sometimes provide power to commercial or industrial organizations. Together these types of power providers are referred to as “Load Serving Entities” or LSE’s. To avoid too much jargon, at the cost of some inaccuracy, I use the word “utility” to refer to a power provider more generally. This is yet another indication that I am not a real journalist :)

4. You may be wondering if it ever makes sense to think of our power as being clean, given what we get from our outlets is not. I’d say in some cases, sure. For example, if you are tallying up your home’s carbon use in order to buy offsets, then it’s fine to tell the calculator that your power is carbon-free. You wouldn’t want to buy offsets for your power use since you are already purchasing clean electricity. But if you are using a carbon calculator in order to get recommendations for reducing emissions, I would use the grid mix. You reduce your emissions if you use less power!

5. Both Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Peninsula Clean Energy have about two-thirds of their load from commercial customers, while Palo Alto Utilities’ commercial load is about 80% of its total(!). Silicon Valley Clean Energy’s Bray observed that the utility’s solar power is relatively more valuable for these customers because behind-the-meter penetration (e.g., solar panels) tends to be lower for commercial customers. I asked why that is, and he wryly noted that the exceedingly high real estate prices here make it less practical to use solar panels in parking lots, since they prevent the site being used for more valuable purposes. Similarly, rooftops are often encumbered with equipment for multi-story buildings.

6. FWIW, this utility would probably go bankrupt pretty quickly. Its midday solar would not be worth much on the market, and it would be paying through the nose for evening power. Because electricity prices generally track with emissions, the need for power providers to balance their budget serves as a check on this kind of imbalance.

7. CAISO and CPUC have requested additional procurement of clean evening energy by utilities to address the shortfall, though postponing the shutdown of the gas plants is also an option they are considering.

Current Climate Data (October 2019)

October 2019 was the second warmest October on record for the globe.

Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

Comment Guidelines
I hope that your contributions will be an important part of this blog. To keep the discussion productive, please adhere to these guidelines, or your comment may be moderated:
- Avoid disrespectful, disparaging, snide, angry, or ad hominem comments.
- Stay fact-based and refer to reputable sources.
- Stay on topic.
- In general, maintain this as a welcoming space for all readers.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Midtown,
on Nov 24, 2019 at 9:29 pm

Great info; thanks once again!

Posted by Utility guy, a resident of another community,
on Nov 26, 2019 at 11:27 am

Another very informative article about the world of energy -- great work!

Posted by Robin, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Nov 26, 2019 at 12:02 pm

Thank you for explaining all of this!

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 26, 2019 at 3:47 pm

It seems to me that California is in urgent need of more pumped-storage hydro. I also think that the TVA Raccoon Mountain plant is a great example of what could work in California: Web Link

This type of facility takes a while to build, but, really, could be rather affordable, and, increases the economic value of, for example, mid-day solar. The beauty of this type of facility is that while you need access to a water supply, properly situated, you don't have to dam any more free-flowing rivers or damage fisheries. Take a look on Google Earth or maps -- the overall footprint is pretty small for the capacity.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Evergreen Park,
on Nov 26, 2019 at 4:14 pm

Excellent article. Thanks for enlightening us.

Posted by Ellen, a resident of University South,
on Nov 26, 2019 at 4:47 pm

I don't understand what the problem is with "not getting the carbon-free electricity that we are buying". We are choosing to reduce carbon emission. It doesn't matter where or what time of day that reduction happens.

But maybe all that is just a lead-in to the real story of future shortage of clean energy. Thank you for the update on that.

Posted by eileen , a resident of another community,
on Nov 26, 2019 at 8:35 pm

I learned so much from this terrific blog BUT when I read "...will be rolling out Time-of-Use Rates" I shivered. We lived through that system during some cold New England winters. Cold early suppers, pulling chairs around the fire while the kids huddled under comforters in bed since the energy consuming heat was programmed to shut off during peak hours--sounds so cosy. The difference in rates was substantial. Sunday was the only day without time-of-use rates. Trouble is, it's very hard for working people who are not home during the off peak hours to cook, do laundry, use energy consuming appliances when rates are lower. How many of us save our Sundays for that? Charging electric or plug in hybrid cars used for commuting will be a problem. Sure, time-of-use rates reduce demand when energy is less clean, but in a regressive manner. New programmed appliances can help but they are more expensive.

Perhaps the Time-of-Use Rates could be more flexible? Maybe not every day? Maybe a smaller difference in rates? Different rate schedules for different neighborhoods? It's a challenge but that's what innovative types thrive on. I think there must be a better way that does not burden those already struggling more than others more fortunate.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 11:09 am

Posted by eileen , a resident of another community,

>> I learned so much from this terrific blog BUT when I read "...will be rolling out Time-of-Use Rates" I shivered. We lived through that system during some cold New England winters. Cold early suppers, pulling chairs around the fire while the kids huddled under comforters in bed since the energy consuming heat was programmed to shut off during peak hours--sounds so cosy.

>> Sure, time-of-use rates reduce demand when energy is less clean, but in a regressive manner. New programmed appliances can help but they are more expensive.

This has been a much-debated topic for a long time. Long before renewables became big. In the past the extra charge for, e.g., 5-8PM winter, was driven by extra demand during those hours (and the higher cost of less efficient gas turbine peak generation). Now, added to that, we have the lower cost/extra supply of solar during the day. Because of the supply/demand offset, some type of storage makes sense, (e.g. pumped hydro) - which also has added cost to build, and, energy overhead to store/regenerate.

Would it help if we re-named the time-of-day rates? Let's just call the 5-8PM slot THE rate, and other slots the discounted rate, and the double discounted rate? One way or the other, the cost of storage is likely to become more visible to consumers, but, so will technologies that will help consumers manage loads and minimize costs.

e.g. Web Link

Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 1:34 pm

The thing that bugs me about this is the extent to which this is an accounting trick. Say, overall, a grid has 50% carbon free electricity and 50% fossil-fuel electricity over the course of a day. Let's also say that 50% of the people want to claim they're carbon neutral, and 50% don't care. You tell the people who care that they can have 100% carbon-free electricity ... they just need to pay a small premium for it. The other 50% don't care, so the accounting is they "get" the fossil fuel electricity, even though they are attached to the same grid. Absolutely nothing has changed - except appearances.

I don't think these efforts are completely cynical, just made to look better than they really are. They are improving the grid. But what really matters is the overall percentage of electricity using fossil fuels.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 1:36 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Good question about time-of-use rates. Rather than speculate, you can take a look at what San Diego Gas and Electric, the first big utility in CA to roll these out, is doing here. There is a risk-free option to try a plan for a year and see how it works out. There is also an opt-out. My guess is that it will make a bigger difference for people with EVs and electric heating and cooling than it will for others. Can people do with less between 4-9pm?

Climate change is, in a sense, a massive regressive tax on everything. In an attempt to defray that, our power providers are trying to completely overhaul our energy system in a matter of 10-20 years while also keeping prices low and service reliable. That is an incredibly hard thing to do. Aligning prices with emissions and availability is imo a much-needed step in that direction.

@Anon, there are so many types of storage people are looking at these days. Making more of our hydro into "pumped hydro" is one of those things, but hydropower may not be as reliable as it has been, and it's certainly not available everywhere. I think hydrogen is a great option, but thermal storage and even storage that uses potential energy (hauling sand up mountains!) are really interesting.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 1:43 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Alan, you write: "Let's also say that 50% of the people want to claim they're carbon neutral, and 50% don't care. You tell the people who care that they can have 100% carbon-free electricity ... they just need to pay a small premium for it."

Take a guess what percentage of people in Atherton (for example) have opted into Peninsula Clean Energy's 100% carbon-free power. I can tell you, based on that, your proposal would have almost no impact on the grid mix.

Posted by eileen , a resident of another community,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 3:23 pm

Just read the link to San Diego Gas and Electric time-of-use rates. Whew! The rate difference is not nearly as Draconian as was the difference in Vermont. Now for a break on the weekend.

Posted by Alan, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 5:37 pm

Sherry - I'm not making a proposal, I'm setting up a theoretical example. My point is, if N% order carbon free power, the utility only has to guarantee N% is carbon free. I believe that's more or less how it is with these ECO100 deals from Peninsula Clean Energy. It may not force them to secure any more clean energy than they already have. I don't know what percent in Atherton cares - 5%? 10%? I'm pretty confident it's not that high.

But, whatever it is, PCE has to guarantee that percentage of their overall energy mix over all times. That better than all fossil fuel power. It may not be that much of an achievement, but it's something. Whether other regulations already forced them to purchase that percentage is another matter.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Nov 27, 2019 at 7:59 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

FWIW, my first point is really this. The utility portfolio, the power we buy, is 100% carbon-free, at least for the purposes of this post. But sometimes we consumers think that means the electricity we use is 100% carbon-free. That is not true. If you reduce your electricity use you reduce your emissions. So from my pov the model is not just an accounting difference. It is a meaningful difference with real-world consequences. Not sure if that's what you are getting at, though.

Posted by Arthur Keller, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Nov 29, 2019 at 4:01 pm

When I was a child, I had some special dollar bills. My father, may he rest in peace, did not understand the value of this currency, so he insisted I deposited them into my savings account. Years later, I withdrew the cash. I was not surprised that I got different dollar bills than I had deposited. No one would expect that the bank would hold onto those specific dollar bills to give them back to me. Rather, the bank circulates the money to others and then gives me the dollar bills that happen to be in the teller's till.

So why should we expect the electrical grid to operate differently? The City of Palo Alto Utilities deposits carbon neutral electrons on the grid and then withdraws them on the other end and delivers them to us. Just as the bank has an accounting mechanism to keep track of how much money we deposit so we can get back only so much, there is an accounting mechanism to keep track of how much carbon free electricity has been deposited, transported, and withdrawn from the grid.

The purpose of conserving electricity is different from the purpose of conserving, say, water. There is only so much water to go around. If I consume less, then more can go, for example, to the environment.

In contrast, if I use more renewable energy, more will be produced, and the volume will enable the cost to go down. The lower cost will cause renewable energy to displace more fossil fuels, especially coal (yeah, I know almost no coal in the California grid, but the displacement occurs outside California too).

It's like giving rebates to purchase battery-electric or plug-in vehicles. Increasing the volume lowers the price and helps to reach the day that plug-in vehicles will be cheaper than comparable gasoline-powered ones.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Nov 29, 2019 at 6:24 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Arthur. Yes, when you are in a district (like ours) that purchases clean electricity, each time you conserve electricity, you actually make the grid slightly dirtier, because a small amount of clean energy will no longer be on it.

So in one sense by conserving electricity you are reducing emissions (you are no longer consuming that dirty power on the grid), but in another sense you are not (because you have made the overall grid dirtier). Lots of conserving would mean gas plants get turned down. (Perhaps clean plants would turn down as well, but that seems less likely.) Lots of new (clean) load would mean more clean plants get brought online.

You can imagine that on this basis, people would strongly discourage people in our area from conserving electricity. Use incandescents! Load up that midday AC! It means more clean energy on the grid and boosts demand for clean energy in general.

But it is easy for me to lean on the side of conserving instead. That is partly because our load and supply are not aligned. So we do reduce emissions more by conserving than by adding load. But I also think it is faster to reduce emissions by conserving than by adding clean power. And at the end of the day, with so much electrification, there is no shortage of new load being added to the grid. Demand will be there.

But that's just my 2c, I don't have a real analysis.

Thanks for the great comment.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Nov 30, 2019 at 4:53 pm

I think almost everyone who reads this -gets- this point, but, for the few who don't-- (virtually? I guess nothing like this is ever 100.0000%), virtually no one thinks that "green" electrons can flow into an electric grid and flow out somewhere else in the grid. With AC electricity, individual electrons move millimeters to kilometers depending on voltage and etc., but, always in a closed system, with transformers at the boundaries. At the transformers, the energy is transmitted via alternating magnetic fields. I think "everyone" understands that.

Some people have made an issue of that, and have said that because some power somewhere in the grid might actually have come from coal-fired plants, and, lots of it comes from gas-fired plants, that we might as well not be part of the renewable-electricity process. All of these arguments are based on various straw men.

Let's start with the goal: in the end, we want 0% of electric power generation anywhere in the world to be done via GHG-emissions. If we achieve a state where 0% of electric power is releasing greenhouse gases, then we will be happy with that. To get there, we have to start phasing in renewable power. From start to finish, some of the power will be non-renewable. Doesn't matter. Just keep phasing out coal plants, baseline gas thermoelectric, and finally gas-turbine peaking units, and eventually it will be 100% renewable and 0% GHG-producing.

Another straw man is an assumption that people are seeking ideological/religious purity-- the idea that you all are sinners, but, I'm 100% renewable. I don't know anyone who actually is seeking such ideological purity, but, I have met people who are pragmatically seeking such purity-- because they want to demonstrate to others that major steps can succeed without all of us freezing in the dark. e.g. Electric cars can not only work, but, they can be cool and actually have faster acceleration than their fossil-fuel-consuming counterparts. Houses can be zero net energy. And so on. The point isn't "purity", the point is that it all can actually work, and in some cases be better, more convenient, or even, (dangerously?) faster.

So, I would like to just put all those strawman arguments to bed. Let's focus on, for example, what the most cost effective way to provide energy storage is for the electric grid. (Personally, I think hydro-based storage is underrated and should be used much more in California, but, perhaps I am wrong about that?)

Posted by Tom, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Dec 1, 2019 at 11:14 am

I like to take the simple view of breaking the issue into two simple parts.
1) Procurement policies ( like Palo Alto's carbon neutral electric procurement policy, or SVCE's 100% carbon free procurement policy mean that over the course of a year they will buy the amount of carbon free electric energy that equals their sales volume of carbon free electric energy as stated by their policy. So if I add an electric car, they will have more sales and they will do more renewables purchases causing more renewables plants to be built. Notice how my capital equipment choice impacts the amount of renewables that get built. If I buy a heat pump water heater, about two more panels will get built and deployed by PCE (my electric portfolio manager ) to meet match my annual electric energy needs.
2) Operational personal choices (like mine about when to run my laundry, dishwasher, electric bike charger, heat pump water heater, etc ) are decisions I have control of and I can make. Being a good "gridizen" I tend to run my appliances in the sunny hours to help support higher solar deployment without storage. We still have some electric loads in the dark and those may be met with fossil plants that saved fossil fuel earlier in the day when extra solar was meeting more needs than its subscribers had at those sunny hours. As someone else mentioned, I'm not looking for purity. I'm looking for pragmatic progress and quickly. Soon, more storage will be available from two way EV charging and some utility scale projects that will further reduce the need for operating peakers on most nights.
For now, I focus on moving away from using leaky produced methane in buildings and onto efficient electric heat pumps that create more opportunity for renewable electric development, more opportunity for thermal storage and more opportunity for either electric storage or regional energy exchange.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Almanac Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Backhaus in Burlingame finally opens for the holiday rush
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,806 views

Burning just one "old style" light bulb can cost $150 or more per year
By Sherry Listgarten | 11 comments | 2,567 views

Fun Things to Do Around the Bay This Holiday – Peninsula Edition
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,400 views

My Holiday Wish List for Menlo Park
By Dana Hendrickson | 1 comment | 2,280 views

Banning the public from PA City Hall
By Diana Diamond | 25 comments | 1,910 views


Support local families in need

Your contribution to the Holiday Fund will go directly to nonprofits supporting local families and children in need. Last year, Almanac readers and foundations contributed over $300,000.