From Llanos is vice president of energy supply and sustainability for SDG&E. She is a board member of the California Coalition for Clean Air and the California Environmental Voters Education Fund. She lives in San Diego.
A just and equitable energy transition aligned with California and local climate goals is not just about achieving a clean energy future as quickly as possible. It also requires prioritizing customers, energy affordability, and grid reliability.
This vision led San Diego Gas & Electric’s year-long study to identify an optimal path to decarbonize our economy by 2045 and meet California’s aggressive climate goals. For “The Path to Net Zero: A Decarbonization Roadmap for California,” SDG&E asked climate experts, including UC San Diego professor David Victor, to conduct a rigorous analysis of what is needed to enable the transition. towards clean energy.
The SDG&E study does more than propose the construction of new infrastructure. It takes a close look at the complex challenge of decarbonizing California’s economy by 2045 and offers a roadmap for success. There is a lot of work to do, and one thing is clear: our future depends on unprecedented collaboration.
The study highlights the role of consumers, who need to be able to access energy efficiency and conservation programs and embrace new technologies like electric vehicles, rooftop solar and battery storage. Consumer choices and behavior, such as when electric vehicles are charged, will shape infrastructure needs.
The study confirms that transforming transport and buildings to run on energy produced from renewable resources such as solar and wind power is fundamental to achieving carbon neutrality. For example, the share of residential and commercial electrified water heating must reach at least 96% within the next two decades. That’s why SDG&E supports local governments that choose to adopt policies requiring most new buildings to use electricity only. Electrification of new buildings now avoids costly renovations in the future.
Further electrification will naturally require much more electricity and a more robust grid. According to our study, power generation capacity would need to be increased to about four times that of 2020 to meet the anticipated demand from electric vehicles and buildings. As businesses and families rely more on electricity to meet their energy needs, it is imperative to build a state-of-the-art, reliable and climate-resilient grid.
The amount of renewable energy required in California to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 is staggering. Our study indicates that beginning in 2023, the average amount of solar power installed each year in the state must increase by 700% from the current rate of deployment. Likewise, battery storage, wind power and other clean technologies essential to a reliable and clean grid are also set to grow exponentially over the coming decades. We are committed to working with renewable energy developers, community choice aggregators like San Diego Community Power, and municipal partners to achieve these goals.
Our study also confirms that carbon neutrality and grid reliability cannot happen with renewables and batteries alone. Clean fuels like green hydrogen will be needed for some hard-to-electrify sectors of the economy, like heavy trucking and some industrial processes. SDG&E has launched innovative green hydrogen pilot projects to learn how to take advantage of this zero-emission technology to replace natural gas in power plants, pipelines and to fuel fleet vehicles.
The roadmap for decarbonizing the California economy informs regional strategies. In San Diego, transportation remains the biggest source of emissions, which is why putting more zero-emission cars and trucks on our roads is already a regional priority.
Transitioning existing buildings from natural gas to electricity requires similar collaboration and thoughtful planning. As the transition to electrification is a decades-long process, investing in the security of the gas system must remain a priority. We also need to make sure that the thousands of highly skilled union men and women who work on the gas network are protected. Frankly, we see huge opportunities for this essential workforce as hydrogen and other clean fuels are developed as part of an overall clean energy system.
Finally, decarbonization must be done with affordability in mind. Programs, incentives and policies – including energy rate reform to ensure the transition to clean energy is affordable – need to be developed to help 900,000 SDG&E gas customers start switching to electric appliances. We see broad alignment here with climate-focused organizations that reflexively criticize anything SDG&E offers, even when we broadly share similar climate change goals and outcomes.
We know we don’t have all the answers and we can’t do it alone. We believe we are stronger together. Our 4,600 employees, who also live and work there, stand ready to accelerate the transition to clean energy. This is an open invitation to collaborate on ideas and plans, to push to electrify buildings and transportation through alliances with local governments, customers, community organizations and workers. Only by working together can we build momentum towards decarbonizing the entire economy by 2045 – a safer, stronger and healthier future.