The state wants to slash greenhouse gas emissions so deeply in the coming years that oil refineries and other industries could face skyrocketing costs to comply with regulations, driving up gasoline prices until the system loses political support. If that happens, an effort touted as an international model for fighting global warming could collapse.
Not everyone agrees with Cullenward’s assessment, but it reflects how experts, officials and lawmakers are starting to reckon with the state’s steep ambitions and the understanding that its current policies may no longer be adequate.
Reaching the point where fossil fuels aren’t used to keep the lights on will require new approaches to California’s electricity grid. Renewable sources can be difficult to manage because it’s impossible to control when the sun shines or the wind blows. The challenge is finding ways to soak up electricity when there’s too much, such as charging batteries or pumping water into reservoirs, and then releasing it when needed.
Another approach involves integrating California’s grid with other states, providing a wider market for excess solar energy that’s produced here on sunny days and allowing more wind energy to flow in from turbines elsewhere in the region.
“There’s a huge amount of efficiency to be gained,” said Don Furman, who directs the Fix the Grid campaign.
The idea would require California to share control of the electricity grid with other states, which unnerves some lawmakers and advocates. Unions also fear changes that would make building energy projects more attractive outside of California.