To reach a zero emissions economy, California needs to eliminate natural gas by regionalizing the Western grid and coordinating local and state system planning.
alifornia plans to reach 60% renewables by 2030 and a zero emissions economy by 2045 as its investor-owned utilities (IOUs) face wildfires and bankruptcy, new and unproven electricity providers proliferate and customers demand a decentralized energy system. What could go wrong?
The key to success is eliminating natural gas as an electricity resource, stakeholders told Utility Dive. To do that, the state must make one fundamental change at the local level and another at the transmission system level.
Together, these changes will remake California’s power sector. And its implementation could be a national guiding force on cost-effectively transitioning from natural gas dependence.
Expanding access to low-cost renewables via “an optimized western regional grid” is key to the transmission system change, electricity system consultant Lorenzo Kristov recently wrote, but it faces political resistance. And local level change will come from coordinating state and local utility planning with broader power system planning to expand distributed energy resource (DER) access, but there is disagreement over how to do it.
These changes could lead to the unprecedented levels of renewables, demand response and energy efficiency California will need after 2030, stakeholders said. But the challenges they face may require new power sector architecture, Kristov wrote, one that uses an intermediary between the transmission system and local power providers for coordination and efficiency.
Moving away from natural gas at the system level will be easier if the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) expands its market’s reach from the Pacific to the Rockies, according to some stakeholders.
State policymakers worked aggressively from 2016 to 2018 to create a regional electricity market by eliminating barriers between CAISO and the 38 independent systems across the West. But the plan was rejected in 2018 by opponents who said it would risk California jobs and could subject the state’s climate ambitions to hostile federal regulation.
Advocates said regional cooperation would reduce electricity costs by expanding access to low cost renewables and eliminate building redundant infrastructure. Regionalization remains “critical to achieving deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” Assembly Member Chris Holden, who led the 2018 legislative effort, emailed Utility Dive after his bill’s defeat.