How California is leading the way on clean energy

27 Mar 2019

At our recent TRANSFORM conference, we sat down with California Clean Energy Commission's Gabriel Taylor to talk about how the state is overcoming roadblocks set by federal policy on climate change.

California is a world leader when it comes to transitioning to a zero carbon economy – is this due to government leadership or grassroots movements?

Absolutely both. California has benefitted from grassroots environmental support for well over a century. Environmental awareness expanded significantly in the middle of the last century due to air and water quality issues exacerbated by California’s unique topography. This resulted in state agencies tasked with protecting and managing virtually all aspects of the environment. These agencies continue to receive strong support from voters and elected officials.

What are some of the biggest challenges California is facing as it transitions?

California has a population of nearly 40 million, and is both the fifth largest economy and one of the most economically and ethnically diverse states on the planet. One of the biggest challenges is to ensure that all Californians benefit from climate adaptation programs and funding. Recent legislation has required that investments in climate action directly improve the public health, quality of life, and economic opportunity in our most environmentally and economically disadvantaged communities. California has also invested significantly in research to identify these communities and target investments in the most effective way.

And in what ways is it leading in areas such as renewable energy, affordable energy and sustainable buildings?

Over the past few decades, California has set several ambitious renewable energy generation goals. Last year, California set a new goal of both 60 percent renewables by 2030 and 100 percent zero emissions energy by 2045, after successfully reaching its 2020 goal of 33 percent renewable energy over a year ahead of schedule. The California Energy Commission is responsible for energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, which have saved residents hundreds of billions of dollars since the 1970s. The most recent update to these building standards included a cost effective requirement for solar on all new homes.

Are you coming up against any roadblocks as a result of policy at a federal level?

Federal preemption of appliance standards is and will remain a significant barrier to California since federal law prevents the state from setting its own standards for most residential and commercial space and water heating appliances. Otherwise, while there certainly been recent roadblocks, California residents and policy makers have been more driven to action on climate issues than hindered by the federal government over the past couple of years. The lack of sensible and economic climate policy at the federal level forced California into a leadership position, and we are more engaged than ever.

Are you aware of any similarities between the US and Australian energy markets?

Both California and Australia have enormous investments in high voltage transmission systems. Because of this, the transition to a renewable, distributed, and demand-optimised future will be costly. There are clearly opportunities to learn from each other as we explore the technology and regulatory options, and I am eager to learn from colleagues in Australia and build bridges for collaboration.

How can we work together to ensure the transition to renewable energy?

California is focusing enormous economic and human resources on the transition to a clean energy economy, but our state emits only 1 per cent of global climate pollutants. While California is especially vulnerable to climate change, we cannot address it alone. I hope the Australian market will be interested in working with California on climate, environmental, and energy issues.