NREL’s Dr. Jaquelin Cochrane presenting to the 100% Renewable advisory group
Back in 2017, concerned about climate change, the city council asked the LADWP to figure out how to get to 100% renewable energy someday, and LADWP turned to the National Renewable Energy Lab to study the problem.
In the meantime, however, the price of renewable energy continued its plunge, concern about climate change intensified, the state passed SB100… and the Mayor released LA’s 2019 sustainability plan with more ambitious targets. He also decided to use renewable energy when refurbishing three obsolete local power plants. And those changes meant that both NREL and LADWP had to scramble to beef up their study to handle the new situation.
So last week, after almost two years of study, the LADWP convened its “100% Renewable Advisory Group” (a diverse group of community stakeholders, including this reporter) to hear an update.
According to the presenters from both DWP and the NREL, the goal of the “LA100” study is simply to identify a range of options that would get us to 100% renewable energy, not to recommend any one option. (A second project (“Clean Grid LA”) is starting to gather the study results, and over the next year and a half, with input from the city council, mayor, and ratepayers, will turn the options into an actual plan with a construction start date. As part of that, LADWP issued a “Request for Information” back in April for enough renewable energy resources to replace the retiring coastal generators; no word yet on what companies responded, but at least one company takes the idea seriously.)
As Dr. Jaquelin Cochrane of NREL explained, the city asked NREL to figure out ways LADWP could achieve 100% renewable energy, and to examine the likely effects on local jobs, power bills, air quality, health, and environmental justice. She also pointed out that this effort is unique in three ways:
1) LADWP is a very independent power system; it has to supply all its own power, every moment of every day. (Most cities that “go 100% renewable” don’t have to worry about details like that.)
2) LA’s trying to go above and beyond the state’s mandate in SB100 and actually get rid of all carbon emissions from electric generation — even from obscure sources like transmission losses.
3) LA’s trying to identify, in advance, the technical and economic paths that can reach the final goal of 100% renewable electricity. Past studies, she said, have gone to 30%, 40%, 80%… but that last 10-20% is new — nobody has ever done this kind of analysis before at this scale.
Eric Wilson of NREL also provided a preview of the firepower NREL brings to the problem. For example, an NREL supercomputer runs simulations using a fine-grained model of Los Angeles’ two million buildings. This includes not the usual dozen or hundred kinds of buildings, but 75,000 unique building types, each calibrated to match the actual energy behavior of the structures. This helps the agency answer very specific questions like, “How aggressively do we have to bring buildings up to code to achieve the Mayor’s goal of a 44% reduction in energy consumption per square foot by 2050?” (Hint: very.)
The audience at the presentation had plenty of questions, and was not shy about providing feedback. For instance, one audience member mentioned how climate change is increasing the need for air conditioning, and asked the NREL representatives whether they were taking that into account. When the presenters answered “no,” and explained several times that they didn’t have to do this because they are looking at data from past years, the audience’s reaction was probably audible three blocks away. The NREL representatives heard this loud and clear, however, and promised to better incorporate climate change’s impact into the study. (In their defense, they’re studying some scenarios which rely much more heavily on electricity than other kinds of fuels would include more air conditioning anyway, as the result of a switching away from gas furnaces to heat pumps…so their results might not change much in the final analysis, aside from possibly giving the city another reason to encourage electrification.)
At the presentation, I was was seated between a passionate environmentalist on the left, and a passionate libertarian economic conservative on the right, both personal acquaintances. Both seemed unhappy that the LA100 study’s eight scenarios (see handout below) did not include their own preferred scenarios. But the eight scenarios do range from “SB100” (which does little more than the law requires) to several that are ambitious and difficult, and the NREL representatives emphasized that scenarios could be tweaked somewhat later if needed. Also, more broadly, this effort only covers a part of the economy — as one attendee pointed out, we’re still running diesel freight trains and trucks through the middle of town. But that’s another story.
The Advisory Group will meet again in three months to hear another update, and three months after that to finally view some initial study results. In the meantime, the important point is that the city is trying to reduce air pollution and climate change without the lights going out or power bills going up (or not much more than they would have, anyway). Each of those are hard, and together they’re quite a challenge. And unless citizens stay informed and take part in the discussion, they might be surprised later when final plans are announced or construction starts. So please stay tuned! We’ll try to keep you in the loop.
For more details, here are the presentation slides:
- CleanGridLA – LADWP’s CSO Nancy Sutley (slides)
- LA100 – update by NREL’s Jaquelin Cochrane (slides)
- LA100 – long-term scenarios by NREL’s Dan Steinberg (slides)
- LA100 – Bottom-up building modeling by NREL’s Eric Wilson (slides)
- LADWP’s CFO, Ann Santilli (slides)
and images of two key handouts:
LA 100 study timeline (compare to original timeline from last year’s presentation)