Power FAQ

Yes, through a variety of strategies, the capacity of the electric grid will expand to meet the increased demand due to increased electrification of buildings and transportation.

First, the transition to full electrification will take place over time, allowing for the necessary grid adaptation. Modern electric technology such as electric vehicles and heat pumps are extremely efficient and use less total energy than fossil fuel systems. Nevertheless, investment in clean power generation and upgrades to modernize the electric distribution and transmission system will be required over time. This is similar to the modernization that occurred on the electric grid when air conditioning began being widely installed in the 1970’s. At that time, the successful adaptation included increasing generation, modernizing the grid, and improving the efficiency of systems. In addition, we now have the ability to install solar and storage on buildings, reducing some of the need to upgrade the electric grid itself.

Second, Peninsula Clean Energy’s rigorous electricity demand forecasts assume expected increases in electricity use due to increased EV adoption, building electrification, behind the meter resources, economic and population growth as well as other demographic considerations.

Third, Peninsula Clean Energy analyzes and plans its electricity procurement on a multi-year basis to ensure that it has procured enough supply to meet projected customer electricity use. Since our inception in 2016, 330 MW of new capacity have been added to the grid due to Peninsula Clean Energy procurement. In addition, we have executed contracts for an additional 200 MW of new generation and 100 MW / 400 MWh of new storage resources.

Lastly, it is important to note that many of the current grid challenges, such as Public Safety Power Shutoffs by PG&E and reductions in hydropower due to droughts, are driven by growing extreme weather events, a consequence of accelerating climate change. Investing now in the clean energy transition will reduce these impacts over time. Almost none of the outages Californians have experienced have been caused by being unable to supply enough energy, and instead have almost entirely been related to wildfires and storms.

Increasing the demand for electricity from electric vehicles or electric appliances will not increase emissions for several reasons.

First, California is building a huge amount of new renewable generation to meet this demand, with the California Public Utilities Commission ordering at least 15 GW of new generation and storage to come online in the next five years.  For comparison, California has a total of around 80GW of power plants. Renewable energy is the least expensive and fastest growing source of energy in California.  In addition, according to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), 4,000 MW of utility scale storage will come online in 2021, an increase of eightfold over current grid storage capacity. That rate of increase is nearly 50% greater than the annual rate needed to hit full decarbonization by 2045. (Download “2021 SB 100 Joint Agency Report, Achieving 100 Percent Clean Electricity in California: An Initial Assessment.“)

Second, electric vehicles and electric appliances are extremely efficient and use less total energy than their gas-powered counterparts. So, for example even if EVs were to be powered with electricity from gas plants, these emissions would be lower than the emissions from burning gasoline. In California, an electric vehicle charged with the average energy mix in California would result in emissions of around 2,000 pounds of CO2 annually (and less for Peninsula Clean Energy customers, since our energy mix is cleaner), while a gas-powered car would generation over 11,000 pounds of CO2 emissions).

An electric supply composed of renewable generation sources can be available at all times because of energy storage, geothermal resources, and broad geographic diversity of renewable sources.

Energy storage systems can store energy when renewable sources are generating more than our customers need (such as solar energy generation in the middle of the day) to use when renewable sources are not generating (especially in the evening and overnight). Peninsula Clean Energy is building significant amounts of energy storage for just this purpose.

In addition, we are investing in geothermal generation which produces energy around the clock. This provides a stable baseload of electricity.

Geographic diversity of renewable energy sources contributes to reliability. The California energy system spans the entire western United States, Canada and part of Mexico. This means that although it may be cloudy in northern California, it is likely to be sunny in Southern California or perhaps Utah. While it may be still in southern California, the wind will be blowing in other states, like Wyoming or New Mexico.

A recent study by the California Energy Commission found that building renewables over the next five years would result in a more reliable grid than if we built an equivalent amount of methane gas plants. This is because while solar and wind can vary with weather, we can use storage to even out this variation, but methane gas plants can break (or explode) unexpectedly at a much higher rate which can cause major problems for the grid. In fact, the outages of summer 2020 were caused in significant part from the unexpected loss of a 494 MW methane gas plant at the same time gas resources were unable to produce at full capacity because of the extreme heatwave.

Peninsula Clean Energy is working to balance all of these tools to provide 100% renewable energy by 2025.

Peninsula Clean Energy has executed two contracts for storage resources paired with solar. These two contracts will bring 408 MWh of new storage. We also have a regulatory requirement for approximately 19 MW of long duration storage (8 hours or longer), which will provide an additional 152 MWh.

Peninsula Clean Energy is planning to procure additional storage resources to fulfill our 24/7 goal.

Generally, Peninsula Clean Energy aims to store solar generation above what is needed, but if that is not possible, the California Independent System Operator can either export it to users outside of California or potentially order solar generators to curtail their generation to keep the grid as a whole in balance. Currently, this will occur in part because nuclear and methane gas generators have to keep producing during the day to be ready for the evening and overnight use because these generators are not flexible enough to be able to simply start up in the afternoon and ramp up quickly enough to meet demand during the evening.

Peninsula Clean Energy procures power supplies from renewable and GHG-free sources in an amount equivalent to the annual demand in our service area. This includes generation facilities that are dedicated to Peninsula Clean Energy. The electricity sources include solar, wind, hydro, biomass and soon geothermal (which can have nominal GHG emissions). The generation from these resources is put onto the California grid. The total amount of energy we buy equals the amount our customers consume, but at any given time, our generators may produce more than our customers consume, which provides other users with excess energy. The supply consumed at a given time by any given customer may not be the “specific electrons” from Peninsula Clean Energy sources however the total energy provided by Peninsula Clean Energy to the grid is from renewable or GHG-free sources and is fully attributed to Peninsula Clean Energy for our service territory. The accounting methods utilized are strictly regulated across the entire state grid so attributed emissions are consistent with the purchases of every utility and “load serving” agency and there is no “double-counting” of this energy. 

Peninsula Clean Energy has a goal to procure power that is renewable on a fully “time-coincident” basis through strategies including increased renewables, addition of storage, and “grid aware” demand systems. Peninsula Clean Energy just announced two major storage enabled renewable procurements (Arica announcement, Chaparral announcement). It is expected that all utilities and load serving agencies will move to full time-coincident procurement over time to ultimately eliminate the need for any fossil fuel generation sources across the entire California grid.

Peninsula Clean Energy procures power supplies from wind and solar sources in an amount equivalent to the demand by ECO100 customers in our service area. This includes generation facilities that are dedicated to Peninsula Clean Energy. The generation from these resources is put onto the California grid. The supply consumed at a given time by any given ECO100 customer may not be the “specific electrons” from Peninsula Clean Energy sources.

Peninsula Clean Energy has a goal to procure power that is renewable on a fully “time-coincident” basis through strategies including increased renewables, addition of storage, and “grid aware” demand systems. Peninsula Clean Energy just announced two major storage enabled renewable procurements (Arica announcement, Chaparral announcement). It is expected that all utilities and load serving agencies will move to full time-coincident procurement over time to ultimately eliminate the need for any fossil fuel generation sources across the entire California grid. 

The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is scheduled to shut down starting in 2024. In 2018, California state regulators approved the request to shut down both reactors at that plant when their operating licenses expire in 2024 and 2025. Continued operation of that plant was deemed not cost-effective due to investments required for seismic safety upgrades. This does mean that load-serving entities must replace the 2,204 MW capacity provided by that plant.

New nuclear power plants are far more expensive than solar, wind and energy storage resources, and they take decades to site, license, secure permits and to build. It is very challenging to include nuclear power in a grid that relies heavily on renewable energy. Because nuclear power is very slow to respond to demand changes, this can result in shutting down solar plants during the day so that nuclear plants do not overpower the grid.

For many homes, installing solar panels and batteries can be an excellent way to address power outages and save money. But depending on the specific situation – shading, roof condition, and other factors – currently a diesel generator may be more affordable up front, but more costly over time due to fuel costs. While diesel and methane gas generators do produce pollution that affects air quality and climate, their infrequent use to address power outages has negligible climate change impact. Burning methane gas for home water and space heating has a far greater pollution and climate impact.

At the local level, we are partnering with our member communities to provide resiliency to critical facilities and community centers.  We are actively helping people be energy self-sufficient in their homes.  We have partnered with solar installers to provide incentives to add home battery storage for homeowners.  And we are working with partners to pilot options to utilize your electric car as a backup for your home. 

Most new methane gas appliances such as water heaters, space heaters, and clothes dryers require electricity to operate – for ignition, blowers and operating the tumblers, respectively. Some gas stoves can be started with a match or lighter. Some older water heaters which use pilot lights do not use electric igniters and may continue to operate in a power outage.

In a power outage due to extreme heat, methane gas systems can offer some added resilience.  However, the methane gas distribution system is more vulnerable in other respects. In the event of an earthquake or fire the gas distribution system is more prone to longer duration outages because it is more difficult to repair gas distribution pipes and related systems.

In the long run as solar plus battery system costs continue to decline, these systems provide greater resilience by enabling power generation at any location, including portable and rapidly deployable systems.

The shift towards Time-of Use (TOU) pricing throughout California is the part of a statewide effort to both align energy prices with the cost to serve and encourage more renewable energy use. By charging more for electricity when demand is high, customers are encouraged to shift energy use to times of the day when demand is lower and energy is therefore less expensive. These less expensive times of day also happen to be when there is an abundance of clean energy available. When we all take actions to manage and reduce our usage during times when demand for electricity is highest, we can support our state’s use of clean energy and create a healthier environment for all Californians.

Modern electric systems are extremely efficient and use less total energy than gas systems. As one example heat pumps are about four times more efficient than gas systems. The cost to operate modern electric home appliances is about the same as gas, sometimes better. And with smart appliances that control when electricity is used or when those appliances are paired with solar panels, electric appliances cost less to operate.

Looking ahead, the state expects that the cost of gas will rise faster than the cost of electricity, so moving to electric appliances makes sense to avoid those costs. In addition, making the move from combusting methane gas in our homes results in safer and healthier indoor air quality.

In many situations, no additional upgrades are required of the distribution grid for electrification. Depending on the building size and the amount of power required for appliances and EV charging some upgrades may be required. PG&E already has incorporated grid modernization into its plans to account for upgrade needs associated with electrification and typically these result in no added costs for residents.

Two types of power losses are tracked in California, transmission losses and distribution losses. Transmission losses generally refer to losses that occur on higher voltage transmission lines that move power larger distances. Distribution losses generally refer to losses that occur on lower voltage distribution lines that move power more locally in your community. The California electric grid operator, CAISO, has data on transmission losses on its database website, OASIS. On average for California since 1/1/2020, the transmission losses have been about 2%, and have varied from a minimum of 1% to a maximum of 4%.

Although the distribution system is owned and operated by PG&E, as the local power provider, we at Peninsula Clean Energy are able to track the distribution losses. In Peninsula Clean Energy’s service area, distribution losses have averaged about 6.5% since 1/1/2020, and have varied from a minimum of 6% to a maximum of 9%.

The total power losses between Peninsula Clean Energy’s power sources and its customers (combined transmission and distribution losses) have averaged about 8.5% since 1/1/2020 and have varied from a minimum of 7% to a maximum of 12%. 

Peninsula Clean Energy is a not-for-profit, community-led agency, chosen by its member communities (all jurisdictions in San Mateo County and the City of Los Banos) to be the default electricity provider. Our unpaid board of directors is composed of elected officials from each member community. Our mission is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by expanding access to sustainable and affordable energy solutions. We provide clean electricity at lower cost than PG&E and reinvest earnings in community programs. Since our inception in 2016, we have saved ratepayers over $72 million through reduced electricity costs and our board has committed more than $27 million to community energy programs. Neither the members of our Board of Directors nor our staff stand to gain financially if we sell more electricity.

In 2021, Peninsula Clean Energy expects to procure about 3,500 GWh for San Mateo County customers.

Clearly manufacturing and transportation of solar panels and related equipment generate emissions today. In accordance with international standards, emissions from the manufacturing process are attributed to the location where the process takes place. This is consistent for both fossil fuels and renewables. To properly compare full lifecycle GHG impacts, fossil fuel impacts would count not only the fuel burned (what is counted typically for electricity generation) but also all the emissions from drilling, including fugitive emissions at the well-head, transportation, refining and other activities, through the entire life of the alternative (solar, wind, etc.) There are a number of studies that address these considerations and indicate unambiguously that renewables such as solar generate very substantially lower emissions compared to fossil fuel alternatives on a full lifecycle basis (ex: linklink). As the grid becomes cleaner, industrial processes and transportation also become cleaner by using clean energy.

Research indicates that methane gas is a major fire risk in the event of earthquake. The link between earthquakes and natural gas triggered fires is documented in the State’s 2002 study:

Download Improving Natural Gas Safety in Earthquakes.pdf

Natural gas use in the home is linked with asthma and other health risks:

Electric vehicles (EVs) are a convenient, affordable, and clean alternative to gas vehicles. According to Consumer Reports, drivers of EVs save an average of $6,000-10,000 on fuel and maintenance costs over the vehicle’s lifetime. EVs do not emit smelly exhaust fumes, use carcinogenic fuel, and they dramatically reduce air pollution.