Those attending Sustainable San Mateo County’s online Key Indicators Launch on October 6 came away with many reasons for hope. We were given the gift of a very doable list of effective actions to take in response to the climate crisis. If you did not have an opportunity to log in, we encourage you to view a recording of it here.

SSMC’s2020 Key Indicators Report focuses on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency as these apply to buildings, water use and waste management, land use and transportation, financing and community outreach.

Keynote speaker Josh Becker, public policy innovator and social entrepreneur, said it is a critical time for decarbonizing all of California. Buildings and transportation are at the heart of the issue, generating the largest shares of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In San Mateo County, buildings generate more than 30 percent of our county’s greenhouse gases while over 60 percent comes from transportation. Meanwhile, environmental justice is a significant problem because dirty air causes unfair and disproportionate suffering in disadvantaged neighborhoods within our county.

Fortunately, as Becker noted, technological solutions are coming within easy reach of San Mateo County residents. For example, 91 percent of building roofs within our county are solar viable. He said that what is called for now more than ever are individuals who can summon the personal initiative to take advantage of solar installation and other solutions offered during the webinar. Equally important are elected officials who pass strong climate response legislation and forward-thinking businesses that prioritize sustainability.

Becker said he sees many hopeful signs, such as young people all over the world calling for change, taking action and demonstrating sustainable practices to their elders. As is often the case, California is leading the way in innovative solutions, especially in San Mateo County, where many cities have adopted strong “reach” building codes for all-electric new construction. Our county is seeing growing numbers of all-electric buildings, electric retrofits and electric vehicle ownership. Meanwhile, the attitude of Americans toward climate change is rapidly evolving as people are experiencing its negative effects first-hand. Becker is confident that we will be able to tell our children and great grandchildren not what we should have done, but what we actually did to combat the climate crisis.

Becker’ call to action is to vote on November 3 and support organizations such as Sustainable San Mateo County that have helped change the conversation from one of only dire consequences to one of possibilities. He set the stage for webinar panelists who laid out other specific solutions.

David Kaneda of IDeAs Consulting and LEED Fellow, offered very practical and doable appliance and equipment installation options in the form of heat pump water heaters and induction cooktops. He said a useful strategy is to plan ahead because water heaters only last about 10 years, and property owners should be ready to replace them upon failure. Kaneda has installed induction cooking in his own home. It is cleaner and faster than natural gas, so much so that his children complain when they visit friends and relatives who still rely on natural gas for cooking!

Phillip Kobernick of Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE) suggested actions ratepayers in San Mateo can take to reduce their carbon footprint. A first step is to “opt up” to ECO100, an option that provides 100 percent renewable electricity. PCE energy choices can be found here. A second step is to apply for PCE rebates for electric vehicles, and many types of appliance.

Sylvia Lee, Technical Lead of the Climate Program at Facebook, rounded out the discussion by giving some powerful examples of what the private sector can do. Facebook, for example, has committed to be fully carbon free (net zero energy) in all its operations and all its supplier operations by 2030. The company is on track to achieve a 75 percent reduction in operational greenhouse gas emissions (compared to 2017 levels) and to use 100 percent renewable energy for all its operations. She pointed out that the world needs to be carbon free by 2050, and said her company is pleased to be ahead of that goal.

In the Q &A session at the end of the hour, all panelists agreed that the electrical grid is capable of handling the load created by vehicle charging and all-electric homes, even if existing homes were retrofitted to be all-electric. They cautioned, however, that electric utilities will need to better balance supply and demand through time of day load shifting, and installation of battery backup both at home and at the macro utility level.

By: Robert Whitehair