How to Reduce California’s Greenhouse Gases by 80%

by Emil Morhardt

According to the latest runs of a complex computer energy model (CA-TIMES) coming out of the University of California at Davis (Yang et al. 2015), the energy scene across California may be quite different by 2050. The model is not designed to predict what will happen, but instead to examine the economic and policy implications of just about every possible major perturbation of energy generation and use in the state to get us to the current policy goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels. What results is a series of least-cost scenarios to get to various policy-driven energy endpoints. The bottom line is that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced enough to meet the 80% goal at low to moderate costs, but not without major investments in wind and solar power generation, production of synthetic fuels directly from biomass using the Fischer–Tropsch synfuel pyrolysis process (more about that in upcoming posts), and hydrogen production and distribution infrastructure to power fuel cells.

In the business-as-usual scenario natural gas continues to produce more than half of the electricity and solar power is unimportant, but in the GHG-reduction scenario, solar and wind each account for about a third of electricity production with natural gas and hydro each making up about 10%, presumably for meeting peak demand. The business as usual scenario still has us using oil and natural gas for 93% of our overall energy use in 2050, but the GHG scenario gets it down to less than 50% through a combination of solar, wind, and biomass. Between now and 2050 the GHG-reduction model shows us going through a series of vehicular transitions from the currently dominant gasoline internal combustion engines with some gasoline-hybrid vehicles, to plug-in hybrids, all electric vehicles, and finally primarily to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles using hydrogen from biological sources. Meeting the goal also requires the electrification of everything possible.

The model makes no assumptions about the availability of carbon sequestration technology as a mitigation for GHG releases but the authors note that it could be highly effective at a relatively low cost. They also note that policies for improving energy-use efficiency across all sectors should be seriously considered by the state.

Yang, C., Yeh, S., Zakerinia, S., Ramea, K., McCollum, D., 2015. Achieving California’s 80% greenhouse gas reduction target in 2050: Technology, policy and scenario analysis using CA-TIMES energy economic systems model. Energy Policy 77, 118-130.


1 thought on “How to Reduce California’s Greenhouse Gases by 80%

  1. From David McCollum:
    Many thanks for your interest in our work. Your blog post accurately and succinctly captures the main points of our paper. Hope this helps the research to reach a wider audience. Thanks for doing this kind of thing, not just for us but for other researchers as well.


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