Along with transportation, transition of other high emitting sectors to renewable energy and energy efficient built systems is critical from the perspective of climate change mitigation. The graph below shows the sectors emitting the most greenhouse gases and the trend from 2010 to 2015 in San Mateo County.  Transportation and energy consistently emerge as top emitting sectors.

Source: Open SMC data. Check here for weblink.

Most of those emissions come from use of fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. In contrast, most renewable energy sources produce little to no global warming emissions. Even when including life cycle emissions of clean energy (i.e., the emissions from each stage of a technology’s life—manufacturing, installation, operation, decommissioning), the global warming emissions associated with renewable energy are minimal.[1]

Reach codes: Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE), Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE) and the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability (OOS) are joining together to reduce GHG emissions within their service territories by developing forward-thinking building and transportation electrification reach codes. Reach codes aim to update local building codes concurrently with the state-required adoption of the 2019 Standards. It may include:

  • Prescriptive Codes: Require one or more specific energy efficiency measures
  • Performance Codes: Require a building to perform more efficiently based on accepted computer modelling and allow trade-offs between energy efficiency measures.

Reach codes are established to realize the benefits of GHG free electricity by electrification of new and existing buildings and transportation vehicles. Electrification transitions buildings and vehicles away from natural gas and gasoline to clean energy provided by PCE & SVCE. A detailed timeline and implementation can be viewed here.

Improving energy efficiency: Energy efficiency entails using less energy to perform the same task and is one of the easiest and most cost-effective solutions in addressing climate change. Consumers can switch to energy-efficient light bulbs (such as LED bulbs) to reduce electricity consumption. LED lightbulbs use less than 30% of the energy that other lightbulbs use to light homes and last longer than other lightbulbs. More sophisticated solutions for reducing carbon footprints include building retrofits and smarter grids and improving energy efficiency in our built environments. These sophisticated solutions not only reduce GHG emissions, but also have the additional benefit of reducing the risks of illness. Buildings that are older, poorly insulated, or made of materials that retain heat require more energy to regulate temperature. Improving insulation and utilizing innovative building techniques, such as putting gardens or vegetation on the roofs of buildings or promoting white roofing can lead to a decrease in energy use. White roofing involves painting a roof with solar white coating that can reflect up to 90% of sunlight and thus reduce the amount of heat buildings give off.[2] Check here for more information on white roofs.

Cooler buildings are a safe place for vulnerable populations such as the elderly and infants and can also decrease the Urban Heat Island effect. This is a measurable increase in air and land surface temperature that results from replacing vegetation with concrete and asphalt or heat absorbing infrastructure things like buildings and roads.  The Heat Island effect can lead to increased summer energy use, stress on the power grid, increased pollution, and exacerbate health hazards such as asthma. The two images below show high land surface temperatures in the weeks preceding the heat waves in SMC for two consecutive years 2018 and 2019.

Above image: High Land Surface temperature July 2019

Above image: High Land Surface temperature August 2018

SMC’s pathway to clean energy transition can be accessed in the report Energy and Water Strategy 2025. That report lays out the strategy to decarbonize and shift to clean energy by leveraging passive design and smart building technologies to optimize and reduce energy use in existing buildings, promoting policy and high efficiency design approaches for zero net carbon in new construction and aligning energy demand (loads) with renewable energy generation for grid stability. The county will support rapid community shifts to generating 100% GHG-free electricity, electrifying the transportation network, and increasing electric vehicle charging infrastructure (EVCI).

Energy and water strategy report 2025 also highlights some of the main challenges to clean energy transition such as costs associated with retrofitting and upgrading existing building to increase energy efficiency, improving the building envelope, and electrifying space and water heating systems. While building codes have continued to become more stringent for new construction, existing buildings form most of the built environment, and further innovations are needed for decarbonization of existing buildings. The grid infrastructure also needs to be updated to support electrification and distributed energy resources to ensure adequate capacity for increased and distributed loads. SMC’s pathway to zero carbon and building electrification includes installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on all new non-residential buildings and pre-wiring all residential buildings for future electric water heater systems.

Currently, San Mateo County residents have the option to get their electricity provided by Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE), a community choice energy (CCE) program that generates cheaper and cleaner electricity from 100% renewable sources such as a mix of wind, hydro, and solar power. For more information on this program, please check here. PCE’s detailed strategy can be accessed here.  PCE solar customers can enroll in a special billing arrangement that allows customers with solar PV systems to get the full retail value of the electricity their system generates. The meter tracks the difference between the amount of electricity a customer’s solar panels produce and the amount of electricity the customer uses during each billing cycle. When the panels produce more electricity than the usage, the customer receives a credit on the bill. This is known as net energy metering. Click here for more information.

Another initiative is the Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC), based in southern San Mateo County. It aims to accelerate the deployment of Advanced Energy Communities (AECs) through a comprehensive and multi-pronged strategy as shown in the graphic below:

Source: Final Project Report – Peninsula Advanced Energy Community, Pg 11. Accessed here

The initiative is anticipated to save energy consumers over $25 million, generate over $100 million in regional economic output, create $35 million in local wages, and reduce GHG emissions by nearly 800 million pounds over 20 years. The PAEC’s full report and planned milestones can be accessed here.

For demand side management, Gamified Demand Response (GDR) is a method that pays users to reduce their electricity consumption during peak demand times such as summer afternoons by offering lower tariffs for non-peak time periods such as nighttime. In business-as-usual scenario, in order to meet the peak energy demand, utilities usually spin up a fast-acting power plant (such as a Peaker plant) to meet the excess demand. One company that applies GDR is OhmConnect. It sends out messages during “OhmHours” (peak demand) for its users to curb their electricity consumption. If energy consumption is less than the forecasted demand, users will be paid credits that can be cashed out.[3]

Electric vehicle charging infrastructure (EVCI): To stimulate demand for electric vehicles, it is necessary to lay out a planned infrastructure for EV charging stations that is consistent with demand projections, and also to have a source of clean energy for these stations. PAEC’s Electric Vehicle Charging infrastructure (EVCI) Master Plan recommends the Staumbaugh-Heller area of Redwood City as the primary geographic location for additional chargers, and East Palo Alto as a secondary location.

Figure: Potential EVCI sites in Redwood City. Click here for source and more details


To incentivize uptake of EVs in SMC, Peninsula Clean Energy, the California Energy Commission, and Center for Sustainable Energy are partnering to launch an incentive project in San Mateo County in 2020 to increase publicly available EV charging locations with investments potentially reaching $24 million. Using $12 million from PCE and an additional $12 million proposed by the California Energy Commission (CEC), thousands of charging stations will be installed in San Mateo County over the next four years. Read here for more details.

Integrating transportation and land use policies: Better integration of transportation and land use policies can reduce GHG emissions and improve our health at the same time.  In places with greater distances between homes, workplaces, and everyday destinations, commuters drive more and produce more automobile emissions. By developing communities where our everyday destinations—schools, places of work, medical care and shopping centres- are closer together and easily linked by accessible transit services, we can reduce the number of cars on the road.  Less driving means reduced car exhaust, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and improved air quality. In addition, the development of neighborhoods with accessible destinations close-by can lead to increased physical activity within a community, with more people choosing to walk to work or to run an errand. This can reduce motor vehicle collisions, improve air quality, and increase physical fitness that will significantly contribute to better health, adaptation and resilience building of the communities.






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