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Exploring Pathways Toward California’s Zero Net Energy Future

Aug 6 2018

 

Left to right: Sean Simon, Sandy Goldberg, Clifford Rechtschaffen, Sheila Gao, Amy Brodrick, Simi R. George, Yuliya Shmidt.   Ernie Melendez
 

By Sheila Gao
Ph.D. in Energy Resources Engineering, 2020
Intern at the California Public Utilities Commission

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog

This summer, I’m interning at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the regulatory agency that regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities, including electricity, natural gas, water, and telecommunication companies. I’m working in the Office of Commissioner Rechtschaffen based in San Francisco, helping the Commissioner on all aspects of his office’s work. Summer fog is very common in San Francisco. It is often cool and windy when morning and evening fog rolls into the city.

I have gained a deep understanding of the comment that the coldest winter is a summer in San Francisco. However, when temperatures rise throughout the morning, I can’t help imagining how this temperature difference could be taken advantage of to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings. As an example, at Stanford, the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building (Y2E2) has many energy-efficient and environment-friendly features, and one of those features is a “green lung” of the building – a computer monitors the temperature both inside and outside of the building and controls the windows accordingly. At night when it is cool, windows open to bring in fresh air, and around mid-morning they close. The Y2E2 building is a zero-net energy (ZNE) building with on-site renewable generation. We hope to see more net zero energy buildings in California in the future, and the state has very ambitious goals:

  • All new residential construction will be ZNE by 2020;
  • all new commercial construction will be ZNE by 2030;
  • 50% of commercial buildings will be retrofitted to ZNE by 2030;
  • 50% of new major renovations of state buildings will be ZNE by 2025.

This summer at the commission, I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to explore pathways towards those goals. The electrification of buildings could become one of those pathways.

Residential Energy End Uses in Western Pacific Region

Residential Energy End Uses in Western Pacific Region.   CPUC

Currently, space heating and water heating in buildings are still dominated by natural gas (See figure “Residential Energy End Uses in Western Pacific Region,” above). The electrification of space heating and water heating systems presents significant decarbonization and energy efficiency opportunities, especially with advances in heat pump technologies. From models discussed in the literature [1, 2], 70-100% of space heating in California buildings is estimated to be electrified by 2050. The increase in electricity demand as a result of building electrification could be partially offset by the improvement in energy efficiency, and electrification coupled with demand flexibility and optimization of time-of-use rates could future enhance the energy savings for consumers.

At the CPUC, in addition to researching on the electrification project, I am learning California’s energy policy from a vast number of different aspects, including microgrid development, self-generation incentive programs, fuel cell technology, renewable procurement status, and zero-emission vehicle deployment

At the CPUC, in addition to researching on the electrification project, I am learning California’s energy policy from a vast number of different aspects, including microgrid development, self-generation incentive programs, fuel cell technology, renewable procurement status, and zero-emission vehicle deployment. Those topics are covered in a variety of staff meetings, meetings with utilities and consumer advocates, symposiums, forums, and site-visits. I am also getting exposed to a wide range of interesting non-energy policy issues, such as the general rate cases of water utilities and backup power supplies for telecommunications systems. I really feel lucky and grateful for being able to participate in all these activities taking place at or outside the CPUC. A typical day of mine consists of the time working on the project and the time meeting and talking to people from different CPUC divisions and energy experts from various organizations.

It has been four weeks so far, and I always hope time would slow down a little bit because there is so much to learn here. I want to thank the CPUC, the Bill Lane Center, and the Precourt Institute for providing this incredible opportunity and I’m sure the rest of summer will continue to be exciting.

References:

1. Greenblatt, J., Wei, M., & McMahon, J. (2012). California’s Energy Future: Buildings & Industrial Efficiency. California Council on Science and Technology, November. http://ccst.us/publications/2012/2012bie.php. Accessed August, 16, 2013.

2. Wei, M., Nelson, J. H., Greenblatt, J. B., Mileva, A., Johnston, J., Ting, M., ... & Kammen, D. M. (2013). Deep carbon reductions in California require electrification and integration across economic sectors. Environmental Research Letters, 8(1), 014038.

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