Implications and Policy Options of Californias Reliance on Natural Gas

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David Ortiz Published Abstract : California's current energy plans call for increased reliance on natural gas to meet its growing electricity demand. The California energy crisis of and has spurred strong growth in new electric generating capacity most of it fired by natural gas. As a result, consumption of natural gas for electricity generation could double between and View PDF. Save to Library.

Create Alert. Share This Paper. Figures and Tables from this paper. Figures and Tables. Citations Publications citing this paper. Accounting for fuel price risk: Using forward natural gas prices instead of gas price forecasts to compare renewable to natural gas-fired generation Mark T Bolinger , Ryan Wiser , William Golove. Easing the natural gas crisis: Reducing natural gas prices through increased deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency Ryan Wiser , Mark T Bolinger , Matt St. References Publications referenced by this paper.

Policy options recommended in recent scientific literature are aimed at multiple and concurrent objectives: 1 incentivize electric end uses in new and existing buildings, 2 ameliorate increased demand on the electric grid, 3 bolster technology and building efficiency, and 4 decarbonize the power sector.

Education and outreach will be important in the early stages of a transition, especially to builders and contractors who may not be aware of electric alternatives and tend to default to fuel-powered systems.

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Some electric-only utilities already offer incentives such as rebates for heat pump upgrades to homeowners, as well as to builders, manufacturers, and retailers to incentivize heat pump installation in new buildings. The penetration of electrified systems can also be supported by policies that encourages flexible demand, such as demand response programs and electricity rates that encourage and enable the use of electricity during off-peak times.

Electricity rate design namely time-varying pricing will be important in the immediate future since it would reward heat pump systems that currently tend to peak in demand in the mornings when electricity is often lower in cost Deason et al. As building sector electrification scales up, market design and demand response programs coupling flexible demand technologies including smart sensors with wholesale electricity markets will help to smooth peak loads, reduce renewable curtailment, and more broadly bolster the economics of electrification. Additional measures to shift demand such as thermal storage should also be implemented Ruhnau et al.


Building codes improving building efficiency should be carried out in conjunction with electrification. More efficiently designed buildings can reduce costs associated with peak demands, heat pump and other appliance capacity, and energy storage. In a model case study in Austin, Texas, researchers found that simultaneously implementing electrified heating and cooling technologies in buildings and building thermal efficiency standards resulted in cost savings of 37 percent over a scenario in which only electrification was prioritized.

This study underscores the value of multi-facet climate policy, as well as the role that state and local governments which share control over building codes can play in enacting meaningful climate policy Leibowicz et al.

Long term mitigation objectives must also be considered when designing policy, since some policies aimed at reducing emissions in the short term may end up delaying long term success. For example, policies aimed at increasing the fuel efficiency of conventional heating systems in buildings may reduce immediate emissions but will extend path dependency on fossil fuel-based technology instead of shifting to electrified end-use technologies Leibowicz et al.

Other policies, such as the accounting lifetime of new natural gas infrastructure, which often exceeds 50 years, also risk producing stranded costs if governments are serious about deep decarbonization. Policymakers should also consider equity when designing and implementing building decarbonization policies. Low- and middle-income as well as disadvantaged communities must not bear disproportionate costs and should have ample opportunity to reap the benefits of building electrification. Electrification of space heat offers significant bill savings that can help energy burdened communities Gridworks Meanwhile as the transition away from gas progresses, a smaller and smaller share of customers will be on the hook for maintaining costly gas infrastructure, increasing the cost of natural gas heating Gridworks If low-income customers are among the first to electrify, policymakers avoid adverse impacts on these communities through the transition, while making their energy more affordable.

Coordinating all these policy approaches can prove be complex, so state officials, utilities, and grid operators must all be involved in the process of aligning incentives, rate and market design, and infrastructure planning. Predicting how increasingly complex energy systems will respond to policy mechanisms will likely require more integrated energy system models able to capture residential building stock, diverse household behavior, specific demands on networks, supply options, distribution pathways, storage, energy conversion technologies, economics, and socio-technological dynamics. Curbing building sector emissions through electrification and renewable energy is a high priority outside the U.

Many of the aforementioned policy options apply to other developed countries, while developing countries require different frameworks. In the context of countries with developing economies, alternate approaches may be more appropriate.

Limiting fossil fuel production as the next big step in climate policy

The authors found that while the most expedient way to peak emissions will be to rapidly shift towards electrifying heating, cooling, and cooking while decarbonizing electricity generation, areas with less developed economies may want to focus on decarbonizing the broader grid or improving energy efficiency first. Wang et al. High-income countries may benefit from steadily shifting the building sector towards electrification plus renewable electricity through renovating existing building stock, improving building envelopes, and deploying high-efficiency technologies.

This approach may mean only small decreases in energy demand at first but by could result in steeper savings.

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In middle-income countries where more new building is expected in the coming decades, Wang et al. In low-income regions, building sector energy demand will grow rapidly in the coming years to meet even the basic needs of growing populations: cooking, lighting, and cooling especially in the tropics.

This could mean a quadrupling of electricity demand by low-income countries in the next few decades. Cooling demands are projected to increase rapidly in the coming years , and relief whether from air source or ground source heat pumps, air conditioners, or fans will rely on grids that are currently powered by fossil fuels. Mitigation strategies should therefore be aimed at meeting growing electricity demand with renewables rather than with fossil fuels.

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Biogas digesters could be an appealing substitute for traditional biomass burning, keeping energy net-zero, while reducing air pollution, and stimulating local biogas economies Wang et al. Credit: Wang et al. One high priority is technological improvement of heat pump systems in areas with colder winters. Advances have already been made so that heat pumps can work in all U. Beyond heat pumps, research should extend to other electric as well as non-electric e.

The U. Also, comprehensive simulations of zero-net building prototypes that represent building stock, distribution changes, and building energy use as a function of climate and weather data Tarroja et al. From a global perspective, the literature would benefit from global analyses of building electrification scenarios, and in particular pathways in developing countries Wang et al.