Portraits of Energy Systems Report Released by California Council on Science and Technology

California's Energy Future - Portraits of Energy Systems
Jeffery Greenblatt
September 2012

What will California’s energy system look like in 2050 if the state reduces its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below the 1990 level? Research conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Jeffery Greenblatt and Jane Long, California’s Energy Future Committee Co-Chair, answers that question by presenting portraits of a state energy system that achieves these reductions through transitions to low-carbon technologies. Greenblatt is a scientist in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of Berkeley Lab.

The research is reported in the fifth in a series of reports on the state’s energy future by the California Council on Science and Technology. “California’s Energy Future: Portraits of Energy Systems for Meeting Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets” summarizes the potential of various technology strategies to meet the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals.

A combination of technological approaches offers the potential to meet the GHG reduction mandates. These include energy efficiency, electrification, low-carbon electricity (from sources such as renewables, natural gas with carbon sequestration, or nuclear power) and low-carbon fuels derived, for example, from biomass.

Through modeling and scenario building, the authors identify a mix of strategies that can reduce the state’s GHG emissions by 60 percent. They then calculate the impacts of ten additional individual strategies that could provide the extra 20 percent reduction the state needs to get to 80 percent reduction in emissions.

For example, one group of three strategies in combination could bring emissions down to the 2050 target:

  • Develop zero-emission load balancing technologies for the electricity sector; produce biomass with net-zero GHG emissions; and encourage widespread behavior change to reduce demand.

The application of additional strategies beyond these three could result in emissions below the target or even net negative emissions:

  • Produce and use hydrogen fuel wherever possible; burn domestic biomass (with CCS, carbon capture and sequestration) for electricity rather than making biofuels; and double the biomass supply.

The report also examines several other strategies. It concluded that many combinations are possible to lower emissions, but implementing these changes to the state’s energy system will be challenging for a number of reasons. One is that biomass for energy must be implemented to avoid unwanted social, economic, and environmental impacts (such as reductions in food supply). Another major challenge is that the technologies to widely enable CCS, large-scale biofuel production, and other strategies have yet to be developed and deployed.

Allan Chen