I recently had the opportunity to address the Valley Industry and Commerce Association’s Business Forecast Conference to discuss the challenges we face as we continue to clean our air and address climate change. For more than 30 years, I have proudly called the San Fernando Valley my home. Spanning nearly 350 square miles, the Valley has more than 1.8 million residents and is the epicenter of the multi-billion-dollar motion picture and television production industry. As part of the greater Los Angeles region, it is also a part of the largest manufacturing region within the United States. This fact comes as a surprise to many, including policy makers and elected officials in Sacramento. But it is an important fact for all of us to know and remember.
To continue to have the Los Angeles region and California thrive, we must find a way to achieve the state’s ambitious climate goal to be carbon neutral by 2045 in a way that is affordable and continues to allow choice in energy options. And to have any meaningful impact on global greenhouse gas emissions, California – which emits less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions – needs to develop scalable solutions that can work and be adopted in other regions of the country and around the globe. A pretty big ask, for certain, but I am confident it is doable if we work together and allow for innovation.
Working together to achieve difficult environmental challenges is not new to Southern Californians. We’ve done it before. Many of us can remember the crippling smog that hung in the air over the Valley and L.A. area in the 1970s and ’80s. Politicians, regulators and business all realized it was critical to do a better job to clean the air. There were some who thought a singular “command and control” solution with no room for innovation was how to get there. But that view didn’t prevail. Instead, after much spirited debate, policymakers and businesses worked together to produce a pathway that allowed for multiple solutions and encouraged innovation.
We as Californians need to work together again – avoiding simplistic singular solutions – to reimagine how our energy infrastructure can operate as one, integrated system to achieve our greenhouse gas reduction goals. Such a path will require some to rethink their approach to electrify all end-use appliances. In homes, that would require, at a minimum, replacing any gas appliances – stoves, water heaters, space heating – with all-electric ones. It might also require re-wiring all or parts of a home. For businesses, that could mean closing up shop or relocating to another state. But singular, simple sounding solutions rarely work and certainly don’t allow for innovation – limiting our options limits our future.
At SoCalGas, we believe in a more inclusive approach – one that welcomes all ideas, considers all forms of energy, encourages innovation and understands and factors in cost and affordability. This will require us to think more broadly about renewable energy and to include renewable natural gas along with solar and wind. Renewable natural gas simply harnesses our waste streams from dairies, landfills, agriculture and wastewater to heat our homes and water.
And the nice thing about renewable natural gas as part of our energy mix is that it doesn’t require the change out of end-use appliances or infrastructure and is less expensive than an electrification pathway. It is also carbon-neutral or carbon-negative, meaning it takes out more carbon emissions from the air than it emits as an energy source.
The analysis from a recent study shows that replacing 16 to 20 percent of our traditional natural gas supply with renewable natural gas can achieve greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to converting 100 percent of buildings to electric-only energy by 2030. Using a mix of both in and out-of-state resources, renewable natural gas is up to 2 to 3 times more cost effective in reducing greenhouse gases than any electrification solution.
SoCalGas is also collaborating with other companies in the United States and other countries on other forms of energy, such as hydrogen, to further “de-carbonize” our energy streams. These ideas, along with others, will help California realize its carbon-neutral vision. Making this vision a reality will require all of us – business, non-governmental organizations, policymakers – to speak up and work together to create the policies needed for true innovation and real change.