City banks on new technology to achieve climate goals | News

Palo Alto faces a tough road to achieving its climate change goals, but Mayor Pat Burt believes the city can still meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2030.

In an interview on Wednesday, Burt noted a number of promising trends and emerging technologies that could accelerate the city’s push toward the “80 x 30” goal established by the city council in 2016 that uses 1990 as a baseline. Although the city has reduced its emissions by only 42% when one minimizes the impact of the pandemic on traffic, Burt suggested that the rapid advances of these technologies could make the goal feasible despite years of lackluster progress.

One such area is heat pump water heaters, which city leaders see as a better environmental alternative to gas-fired heaters and a key component to achieving the 80 x 30 goal. To reach a 70% reduction by 2030, more than 75% of all water heaters will need to be converted and spaces in local single-family homes to electric heat pumps. This means that more than 11,000 gas water heaters and nearly 9,800 gas water heaters will need to be turned off.

Using electricity has always been a challenge for homeowners due to the high costs and complexity of installing new heaters. However, this could change as more manufacturers ramp up production of 120V heaters (Rheem and AO Smith are among the companies that have already begun to do so). Unlike a traditional 240-volt heater, which requires a dedicated circuit, the 120-volt heater can be plugged into a mains electrical outlet, eliminating the need for contractors and building permits.

“It’s basically extra ingredients,” Burt said. “You don’t even need an electrician to install it.”

Burt said that although heat pumps are not a huge business in the United States, manufacturing of electric heaters is accelerating here and abroad. In the end, he said, increasing volumes will reduce costs.

One company that is making strides in this field is Harvest Thermal, which has developed a “Harvest pod” that uses a single heat pump for both water and space heating. Jane Melia, the company’s CEO, worked on the Palo Alto Green Ribbon Task Force, which worked with the city to compile the first climate action plan in more than 15 years.

Electric vehicles are also playing a major role in Palo Alto’s green goals and their technology is also improving. A major new development is the two-way charger, which allows electric vehicles to act as both consumers and providers of electricity. New car models such as the Ford F-150 Lightning, Volkswagen ID.4 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 are equipped with bi-directional charging, enabling them to act as batteries that can power homes and other buildings during peak periods of electricity use.

“It would actually be a greater stability and reliability factor for the grid reducing the need to upgrade our utility system compared to home batteries and other things,” Burt said.

These technologies, as well as others that will be on the market now or will be introduced in the coming years, will be key for the city to reach the 80 x 30 goal. According to the Public Works staff, the plans the city is currently working on as part of its sustainability/climate plan update will lead , at best, to reduce the city by 70% if all programs were implemented.

“We still need to consider some of the additional reductions that may come from other technologies,” Public Works Director Brad Eaglestone said Monday night as the council discussed the city’s sustainability efforts.

Burt emphasized in the weekly interview that the “other technologies” that employees mentioned already exist, even if they haven’t yet advanced to the point where they can be widely adopted. However, this is likely to change in the next few years, as the city approaches 2030.

“Technologies are on a strong path to advancement and cost savings,” Burt said. They have walked this path and will continue to walk this path.”

City leaders have some other reason for optimism. Sustainability coordinator Kristen Long said Monday that costs for solar panels and lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles have fallen 85% since 2010, while costs for wind turbines have fallen by more than half.

Burt said these trends are also helping the city, which includes solar in its renewable energy portfolio, achieve its sustainability goals.

“One of the things that’s been happening nationally is that just a few years ago, new solar plants were in most circumstances cheaper than running a coal-fired plant,” Burt said. This is now happening to national gas stations as well.

Burt highlighted the city’s sustainability efforts in his State of the City address on Saturday, in which he promoted the emergence of efficient heat pumps and induction stoves and spoke of the importance of Palo Alto being a model for other cities across the country.

“Our impact is not just about our social responsibilities,” Burt said. “Cities like ours have huge impacts on other cities and states and in validating what they can do to move forward and provide a model. And we need to borrow from other cities that are making progress.”

The Council’s Sustainability/Climate Change Committee, made up of Council members Burt and Council members Alison Cormack and Tom Dubois, is now in the midst of preparing an action plan to reach the 80×30 goal. The plan is due to be completed by the fall of this year.

Although emerging technologies may help the city achieve its climate goals, Burt emphasized that he’s not trying to be Polyanic when it comes to getting to the 80×30, an effort that will depend on the cooperation of the broader community.

“We expect technologies to continue to advance to enable 80×30, but we still have a tough road ahead of getting to 80×30,” Burt said.

Meanwhile, city employees and members of the Sustainability Committee/Climate Action Plan are prioritizing residential electricity, a complex effort that will require persuading residents to switch their gas appliances for electrical appliances, creating ways to fund conversions and investing in upgrades to the city’s aging utility grid, which currently cannot handle the conversion. mass.

“We’re really focused very much on getting gas out of people’s homes,” Cormack said. “That’s the work we’re doing and there’s really a heavy lifting that we have to do on the utilities or infrastructure side here so we can handle it.”

The city expects to release an action plan in September to implement the required initiatives. Councilman Greer Stone said that while that timeline is reasonable, he is concerned about the potential for the city to meet the 80×30 target given the late adoption date. He wondered whether the plan should be seen as ambitious rather than realistic.

Eggleston said staff believe the goal is still achievable.

“We know it’s a heavy burden and it’s going to be difficult, but that’s why we’re putting in that effort with the teams and really trying to get on all fronts of what it looks like to be finance, engagement and technology so we have a plan that can really make that happen.”

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