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California aims for doubling energy efficiency despite demand pressures

The California Energy Commission adopted an energy policy report calling for a doubling of energy efficiency by 2030, while baseline forecasts show continued increases in overall statewide electricity consumption unless countermeasures succeed.

The commission on Feb. 21 adopted both the "2017 Integrated Energy Policy Report" and "California Energy Demand 2018-2030 Revised Forecast," which the commission said supports the analysis and recommendations of the policy report.

Senate Bill 350, enacted into law in 2015, directs the commission to establish annual targets for statewide energy efficiency savings and demand reduction to achieve a statewide cumulative doubling of energy efficiency savings in electricity and natural gas end uses by 2030.

However, the commission's baseline demand forecast is for statewide electric consumption to increase from an annual total of 284,060 GWh in 2016 to 326,026 GWh in 2030 in a low energy demand case and to 354,209 GWh in 2030 in a high case. The low case would occur at an average annual growth rate of 0.99% and the high case would be reached at an annual rate of 1.59%.

The high energy demand case incorporates relatively high economic and demographic growth and climate change impacts, and relatively low electricity rates and customer self-generation. The low energy demand case reverses those scenarios.

However, these baseline forecasts do not take into account additional achievable energy efficiency savings and customer-sited photovoltaic adoptions that could result in 30,000 GWh to 54,000 GWh of additional efficiency and energy savings by 2030 if customers generate more of their own power, according to a presentation at the Feb. 21 commission meeting. The so-called "managed forecast" is for a much flatter growth in energy demand.

"The baseline forecast is what we expect the overall demand for energy would be taking into account only energy efficiency savings that are committed through existing programs and expected behind-the-meter [photovoltaic] generation," commission spokeswoman Sandy Louey said. "The managed forecast then further subtracts what anticipated additional savings are possible with future efficiency programs and additional [photovoltaic] that could come through future building codes and standards."

The energy policy report said critical action is needed to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions because Californians are already facing impacts of climate change, including large wildfires, more frequent heat waves and drought. The state set a greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 with the passage of in S.B. 32 in 2016.

To meet the goal, the state must continue to cut per capita energy use through more energy-efficient buildings and appliances, reduced distributed energy equipment costs and many other efforts discussed in the energy policy report.

Yet, in addition to a growing population and economy, pressures for increased electricity demand are also due in part to the state's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the use of fossil fuels. This includes efforts to electrify transportation, especially with a goal of putting 4.2 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030.

Also, while the vast majority of buildings in California use natural gas for water and space heating, substituting electricity for natural gas heating will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and offer increased efficiency, the energy policy report said. Heating accounted for almost 50% of natural gas demand in the residential and commercial sectors in 2016.

The forecast for growth in end-user natural gas consumption is flatter than for electricity consumption. That forecast is for the annual total of 12,751 million therms consumed in 2016 in California to increase to 13,207 million therms in 2030 in the low demand case and to 14,190 million therms in 2030 in the high case. The low case would be reached at a 0.25% annual average growth rate and the high case would occur at a 0.77% annual rate.

The policy report devotes an entire chapter to discussion of expansion and innovation in use of renewable gas from landfills, dairy farms and other organic waste sources to suppress the need for gas produced from wells.