Huge Transformation Required to Meet California Climate Goals

A new study suggests one word: Electrification

A new study suggests that massive electrification will be required to meet California's 2050 goal for greenhouse has reductions.

Chances are you’ve at least heard about California’s legal requirement to wind back greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. But the state has a longer-term goal to knock another 80% off that by 2050. Is that even possible?

A new study suggests that it is — but not without a wholesale transformation from an “oil economy” to an “electric economy.”

The study, a collaboration of economists and energy forecasters at several institutions, including Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, three fundamental resets will be required to make that goal:

• Continued advances in energy efficiency, at home and at work

• A grid powered with nearly carbon-free electricity

Massive electrification of — well, most things, including transportation

The study suggests that biofuels (principally ethanol and algae-based biodiesel) could cover the gap where it’s impractical to electrify transport, such as long-haul trucking and airline fleets.

The authors ran the numbers to see how much each measure would have to contribute, concluding that more than half the headway could come from a combination of energy efficiency gains (28%) and replacing fossil fuel power plants with renewable energy (27%). California currently requires utilities to get a third of their power from renewable sources by 2020. Most appear to be on a path to meet that goal.

Other measures would include so-called “smart growth” planning strategies, greater use of rooftop solar panels and biofuels. But 16% of the solution would require the massive conversion to electrical power of things that typically run on other fuels today; motor vehicles, public transit, industrial processes and heating of buildings.

Graph shows the roles that various measures could play in meeting California's 2050 target for greenhouse gas emissions.

The article, by James H. Williams and seven co-authors, appears at, a publication of the AAAS. Downloading the full article requires a subscription.