Sacramento leads by example on cleaner energy with help from electrification

Good news for California’s clean energy fans. Last week the Board of Directors of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) approved an aggressive new plan that will help push California’s capitol city and its surrounding area closer to meeting, and beating, the state’s deep carbon reduction goals. Once implemented, SMUD will help create a cleaner energy and transportation system for the region.

The importance of SMUDs proposed investment shouldn’t be understated, nor should its impact. Between now and 2040, the utility plans to invest nearly $7 billion toward projects that generate renewable energy and help switch consumers’ energy use away from fossil fuels like natural gas and gasoline. This powerful commitment goes above and beyond the greenhouse gas reforms required by the state, and will enable the region to be net zero for climate pollution in a little more than 20 years.

A move towards electrification

Sacramento’s commitment to cut climate pollution from its energy system is certainly worth celebrating, and it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate how the transition toward electrification can help rethink energy use in other parts of the state and country as well. In recent years new technologies have entered the market that make it cheaper and more efficient for consumers to do things like replace gas-powered water and space heaters with heating technology that can run on wind and solar power. Under new California laws like AB 3232 (Friedman) the California Energy Commission (CEC) and is now examining the potential to reduce climate pollution from residences and commercial buildings through strategies like electrification – meaning SMUD’s going to be helping Sacramento, and California, learn while it is also leading by example.

Why is SMUD going big on shifting local consumers to electricity? Electrification initiatives like this are critical to helping communities decrease their demand for fossil fuels in everyday life – in both buildings where we work and live and in the transportation choices we make. And, based on scenarios run by the CEC, they are an integral part of meeting deep carbon reduction goals between now and 2050.

Through electrification, utilities like SMUD can not only bring more renewable-powered heating technologies to the consumers, they can cut local greenhouse gases and improve air quality. The SMUD plan, for example, helps reduce a projected 65% of local GHG emissions. When evaluated in the context of natural gas’ linkage to emissions of methane due to gas system malfunctions and leaks, (methane is a potent greenhouse gas responsible for about 25 percent of current global warming), actions like SMUD’s become even more urgent because they integrate solutions that decrease overall use of gas.

Finding value in energy data

Adoption of SMUD’s newest investment plan is a smart move at the right time. Electric-powered technologies have never been more affordable, and the Big Data movement has paved the way for smart appliances and vehicles that can communicate directly with the energy grid – essentially allowing users to capitalize their energy usage at times when it is at its cheapest and cleanest. Therefore, this tech is critical not only for keeping electricity rates low and helping integrate more renewable energy into the grid, but also for curbing emissions associated with electric generation and use at the same time. SMUD has a major opportunity to capitalize on this trend by making energy data more transparent and available in order to help customers keep their rates low.

This investment by Sacramento’s public utility, SMUD, reflects a growing consensus among the public and the science community that we need to do more to minimize the climate impacts of our energy and transportation systems. All utilities will be exploring options to meet California’s ambitious and necessary climate goals, and as a result they should be looking to examples of visionary companies making sound investment choices. SMUD’s plan certainly fits that bill and presents another milestone for California on its march toward carbon neutrality.

 

Sacramento leads by example on cleaner energy with help from electrification, by Lauren Navarro, Environmental Defense Fund, October 25, 2018.

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