September 17, 2006

Californians: Using Energy Wisely

Kevin talked about the NY Times article about California's energy usage the other day, but I think it is important to highlight some further points from it.


Click to enlarge

This graph shows the overall energy usage of Californians compared to the other states and it is clear that Californians are more frugal than citizens than other states - but not because Californians are more committed environmentalists, but because the state has worked on improving energy usage for a number of years and made it possible for Californians to conserve energy while improving the economy. Certainly, California's air is much cleaner than it was in the 1970s leading to healthier citizens. Experts believe that the energy efficiency policies have saved California $700 Billion since the 1970s. All techniques that work for Californians could work for the rest of the country, if the citizens of those states demand that their states start to promote smarter energy policies.

However, this article isn't simply about what Californians have already done, but it is also about what they are continuing to do to cut their energy use and their carbon emissions further. Like telling the power generating companies outside their borders that if they cannot meet certain standards for greenhouse emissions, then California won't buy their power. This is a major deal because so many of the newer power plants coming on board in the west are designed to create energy using pulverized coal which is much dirtier than natural gas and much, much dirtier than wind energy. If California refuses to buy this energy, then there will definitely be fewer carbon emissions from those plants and even fewer plants built.

As the article says, California is moving fast in a number of areas to get in front of the energy/global warming gases issues. Under a recently signed bill, all new homes built in California going forward can have the option of having roofs with tiles that convert sunlight into electricity. Other people are working on squeezing out more efficiency in our homes, because there is still a lot more savings that can be captured in better efficiency. In fact, almost 10% of our power used in the home is going to what Arthur Rosenfeld, a member of the California Energy Commission, calls "vampires -- things with teeth that suck power at night." What are those vampires? It's the little things - the cell phone recharger, the appliances like televisions and computers that are power off and on with remote controls, your iPod, etc. So they are coming up with new designs that only use one fifth of the energy of today's chargers.

One other area that California is taking the lead is in mandating cleaner cars by 2009 and having the same standards apply to light trucks and SUVs in 2017. However the car companies are suing California (even though they have already said they plan to meet the same guidelines for Canada), because they want to break California's ability to regulate fuel efficiency and green house emissions. This will be a battle royal pitting the car companies against the citizens of California and I hope the car companies lose. After all, what ever did happen to those beautiful electric cars and who decided they had to be destroyed?

For those of you who live outside California, one of the first things you will need to do is to decouple the profit the energy providers earn from the amount of energy used. Californian utilities get an extra percentage of every dollar Californians pay even when the energy usage goes down when they promote energy efficiency. You might wonder how could that work? Why would Californians agree to pay more for each unit of energy when they are using less? It turns out that although Californians pay more for each KW of electricity, they save so much in efficiency that they are not paying more for the services they get from electricity.

The logic was that for every dollar the consumer did not spend on energy, the utility would get real income — say 15 cents, which would exceed the profit the utility could have made on that dollar. For consumers, efficiency savings more than offset the rate increases. “Even though rates go up, bills go down,” said Mr. Harvey of the Hewlett Foundation.

Ralph Cavanagh, the co-director of the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, said: “Every other state in the country rewards utilities for selling more energy. It’s a perfectly perverse incentive.”

California is betting that energy efficiency and improved technology will continue to drive large savings into the state and also provide a strong basis to build industries around becoming more energy efficient and taking a serious step on reducing greenhouse gases. Go, California!

Posted by Mary at September 17, 2006 10:05 PM | Energy | Technorati links |

While the air may be greatly improved, it was still well-nigh unbreathable in LA the week before Labor Day. Nasty stuff -- it was yellowish as we descended into LA.

Posted by: Scorpio at September 19, 2006 07:12 PM

quite a concern

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Posted by: lexis at September 20, 2006 03:12 PM