California’s electric system cannot deal with heat waves, yet the state’s government is putting more pressure on the system by banning gasoline and diesel vehicles and natural gas furnaces and water heaters. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has set rules for phasing in mandated electric vehicle sales between 2026 and 2035 and banning the sale of all new natural gas space heaters and water heating appliances in homes by 2030. These new directions put even more pressure on the state’s electric system where the threat of rolling blackouts is increasing and will remain for years to come. California’s energy transition away from fossil fuels has complicated energy operations, as an increasing share of electricity is coming from intermittent solar and wind farms that produce power only when the sun shines or the wind blows, making the available energy supply variable and harder to manage by the system operator. Part-time (intermittent) energy is inconvenient and expensive.
Despite adding new power plants, building huge battery storage systems and restarting some shuttered fossil fuel generators over the last couple of years, California relies heavily on energy from other states that may not materialize because those states may be faced with their own heat waves or a drought reducing hydroelectric power. That was the case earlier this month, when millions of Californians received alerts urging them to reduce their energy use as the state was close to administering rolling blackouts.
President Biden’s climate agenda has similarities to California’s predicament in that he intends to rely on renewable energy, increasing the delivery of solar and wind from one area, state or region to another, using hundreds of billions of dollars from the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act and other measures. For instance, wind generation from Wyoming or solar generation from Arizona could supply power to California homes and offices once Biden spends billions more on upgrading the U.S. electric transmission system. But until a significant increase in energy generation and transmission occurs, electric grid managers must depend on and compete with neighbors for electricity that is sold in energy markets.
Further, while wind and solar power now make up 12 percent of U.S. generation, that number is far short of what is needed to replace 60 percent of electricity generated by coal and natural gas and cover the new demand from charging electric vehicles and producing power for homes that can no longer get access to natural gas. In the meantime when there is insufficient power, electricity rates soar. In California, prices almost reached $2,000 per megawatt-hour, compared with normal prices of less than $100 on September 6.
California to Ban Natural Gas in Heaters and Furnaces
California’s natural gas ban for furnaces and water heaters is part of a roadmap of commitments that the state is pursuing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The ban does not include gas stoves, although about 50 cities and towns in California, including San Francisco, have adopted regulations that ban or discourage the use of gas-fueled stoves in new buildings. California not only wants to transition from natural gas in the residential sector, but also in the generating sector where fossil fuels supply about 40 percent of the state’s power. The state has a goal to have a carbon-free electric grid by 2045.
California Electric Vehicle Mandates
California, the nation’s largest car market, is ramping up its electric vehicle sales, and phasing out the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles within the next 13 years. All new cars, trucks, and SUVs will be required to run on electricity, 32 percent of which is currently generated by natural gas, or hydrogen. The rule requires that the state reach 35 percent electric vehicle sales by 2026, 68 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2035.
California’s grid does not currently have the capability to add millions of battery electric or even fuel-cell electric vehicles. The state’s heavy reliance on solar and other renewables — upon which it intends to depend for 60 percent of its energy by 2030 — has proven destabilizing in recent years. In 2020, the state’s residents endured rolling blackouts, which made the state generate more electricity from natural gas in 2021 to avoid similar blackouts and to add expensive batteries to back-up intermittent wind and solar power. California now has one of the highest electricity prices in the nation. In June 2022, California’s residential electricity prices ranked second highest, second to Hawaii, totaling 28.98 cents per kilowatt hour—88 percent higher than the national average.
The Western States Petroleum Association indicated that the “electrification of California’s transportation sector will increase demand by around 300,000 gigawatt-hours statewide, which would be equivalent to a doubling of present electricity demand. Charging an electric vehicle is like adding one or two air conditioners to a residence in terms of its energy demand increase, and many households have multiple vehicles.
A benefit of owning an electric car is being able to conveniently recharge it at home overnight when power demand is low and electricity rates are especially cheap. But with California pushing for a huge expansion in electric vehicle sales, nighttime charging may not continue to be a bargain and could further strain the electric grid. This is especially true as California adds much more solar, which does not generate power at night.
Researchers at Stanford University estimate that the impact of increasing electric vehicle ownership in the western United States could increase power demand by as much as 25 percent by 2035 when California has banned the sale of new gasoline and diesel-powered passenger vehicles. That will increase electricity demand and prices during the nighttime charging period. The study indicates that more electric vehicle charging should occur during midday hours and ideally at work or at public stations when wind and solar power supplies are at their peak. To do that, state officials should consider utility rates that encourage day charging and incentivize investment in charging infrastructure to shift drivers to charge their vehicles at work.
Electric vehicles average $66,000–far higher than conventional autos, keeping them out of reach for most consumers. Further, there are not enough public charging infrastructure to keep tens of millions of additional electric vehicles powered up. Also, finding all the lithium and other metals needed for their batteries is a challenge and puts China, who dominates the supply chain for electric vehicle batteries and solar panels and their components in the driver seat and makes the United States dependent on a Communist country for energy. The United States is much more dependent upon China for the electric vehicle supply chain as well as renewable technologies than it was ever dependent upon the Middle East for oil.
California’s lawmakers and regulators are going whole-hog into renewable energy and electric vehicles when the state cannot even manage enough electricity for supplying power during its current heat waves. Besides phasing out gasoline and diesel vehicles, it is banning natural gas furnaces and water heaters in new homes, which will put additional strain on its electric grid. Unfortunately, President Biden has similar plans for the nation and is spending money on these same issues that will do little to change the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere, as China and India will continue using fossil fuels to provide energy for their people and for their economies. The United States can expect much higher-priced energy with less reliability.