California has adopted the most ambitious climate goals in the nation, if not globally, requiring, most notably, that the state achieve carbon neutrality economy-wide by 2045. Because compliance is decades away, the actual mechanisms to achieve these long-term goals have not been specified in detail.
Until now. Scholars at the Stanford Center for Carbon Storage and Stanford Carbon Removal Initiative recently released a landmark study providing an independent assessment of decarbonization options and alternatives. They built a detailed bottom-up quantitative assessment of the magnitudes and costs of decarbonization of many of the elements of the California energy system.
Among the key findings:
- There is no single technology or resource that would allow California to reach net-zero emissions by 2045. A combination of efficiency improvements, renewable electricity generation, carbon capture and storage (CCS), electrification of energy services including transportation and heating, biofuels, hydrogen, low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants and carbon dioxide removal (CDR) will be needed to meet the goal.
- This study suggests that 250–450 gigawatts of capacity additions will be required to power California’s decarbonized future. The scale of this buildout cannot be understated, equating to 3 to 6 times California’s current grid capacity and 8 to 15 times the amount of capacity California has added since 2000.
- Without an expandable, 100% carbon free, dispatchable power source, reaching 100% emission-free electricity generation will be quite difficult, requiring large amounts of solar and battery storage to maintain reliability during periods of limited renewables.
- Use of a small amount of natural gas with CCS combined with a clean generation constraint of 99% would produce emission reductions comparable to a 100% carbon-free grid at lower cost. Existing hydropower plays a significant role in limiting overbuilding, despite accounting for a relatively small share of electric output.
- Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an effective and relatively affordable option for the industrial sector.
- Reaching net-zero will be difficult to impossible without significant carbon dioxide removal (CDR) or the development of new technologies that can replace the need for CDR. Research and development is needed to reduce the cost of direct air capture (DAC).
- Meeting California’s emission goals will require a massive amount of infrastructure buildout — electricity generators, transmission and distribution (T&D), battery electric vehicle (BEV) charging, CDR, CCS, building upgrades and more — in a short amount of time. It is critical that the state find ways to eliminate red tape, streamline permitting activities and foster cooperation between public and private entities.
The scholars identified high priority research-and-development opportunities that could lead to reduced costs for key technologies, including carbon direct capture, hydrogen fuel switching and battery costs.
They also identified policy opportunities such as permit streamlining for grid infrastructure, encouraging more rapid deployment of home electric appliances and adjusting the 100% decarbonized grid target to utilize dispatchable natural gas generation paired with carbon capture, along with hydropower.
The California Chamber of Commerce was an industry sponsor of the study, along with other industry and trade associations and labor unions.
Contact: Loren Kaye