What’s Current? Issue #12 – Future Cities, CAL ISO, Nuclear Power, Plan for Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Energy. Water. Housing. In that order, California’s legislative priority should be to create abundance, and not to merely manage scarcity. Each of these essentials is a prerequisite for the next. With abundant energy, there is no constraint on our ability to heat, treat, recycle, or desalinate water, or pump it anywhere it’s needed. With abundant energy and water — there’s already plenty of land, and plenty of lumber — it’s a lot easier to build millions of new homes and solve California’s housing shortage forever.

In all these areas, there is tremendous potential. How can California’s exceptional capacity for innovation and passion for global leadership in sustainability be channeled into policies that create a trailblazing example, delivering abundance that is affordable and practical enough for other states and nations around the world to enthusiastically follow? We search for those ideas and report them here. Be sure to check back issues of our newsletter at AbundanceCA.com.

How a New City Can Change How California Envisions its Future, Part One & Part Two

For the last several years, an investment group based in Silicon Valley has been quietly buying up rural land in Solano County. Now that they’ve accumulated 55,000 acres (that would form a square 9.3 miles on a side), they’ve stated their intentions. They would like to build a new city from scratch, home to tens of thousands of people. This is a fascinating opportunity. With billions and billions of dollars to spend, and careers spent in the epicenter of technology futurism, these are not ordinary developers. How this city may take shape will help answer a nagging question: Is technology-driven sustainability moving us toward utopia or dystopia? Expect closed loop, cradle to cradle waste, energy, and water management. Expect a smart city, with air mobility and ubiquitous electrification. Who knows what else? Robo-cops? AI public servants? California needs housing. Let them build. Let’s see what they come up with.

California Energy Code Now Required for Embodied Carbon Reduction

Here is another example of “anything goes if you say it’s to reduce greenhouse gas.” Let’s be clear: Every carbon accountant that goes to work to comply with this new regulation is one less skilled worker operating heavy equipment to actually build something useful. The potential for this new law to morph into a CEQA monster should be obvious. Currently applying only to large commercial buildings and schools, expect this to add millions to their cost. Excerpt: “complete a life cycle assessment to demonstrate 10 percent lower embodied carbon than a calculated baseline.” That’s as subjective as it is remuneratively complex. Here’s another, “provide environmental product declarations (EPDs) for steel, glass, mineral wool, and concrete that are on average lower than the standard global warming potential for those materials.” This new code is a perfect example of why everything costs 2X to 5X more to build in California than anywhere else in the world.

California ISO: “Today’s Outlook” Report

If you want to know where California’s electricity is coming from day-to-day, this report from California’s Independent System Operator (CAISO) is a must. Set up to manage the flow of electricity on California’s power grid, CAISO also posts live reports on supply and demand, updated every five minutes. These reports offer useful insights. At night, this time of year, around 5 gigawatts has to be imported from out-of-state suppliers. During hours of peak sunlight, about a gigawatt of surplus solar electricity is exported to other states. The rest of California’s daily renewable surplus is now absorbed by storage assets, with battery farms now capable of absorbing around 2-3 gigawatts during the fall season hours of peak sunlight. Peak demand this time of year comes around 7 p.m. at 28 gigawatts. During the hot days of July, demand topped out around 42 gigawatts. Peak solar output in full sun, about 15 gigawatts. There’s much more. Explore.

The Bay-Delta Ecosystem is Collapsing. California Just Unveiled Rival Rescue Plans

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta bears no relation to the swamp that existed in California’s distant past. Starting nearly two centuries ago, it has been channelized and transformed. Salt water intrusion, mostly due to land subsidence thanks to groundwater pumping for Delta agriculture, is a reality that cannot be stopped because we can’t elevate the land. Nor can we restore wetlands on the farmland inside the levees – over a century of agriculture has left that soil with residues that should never be introduced into the Delta ecology. The story of California’s very own bayou over at least the past 50 years is mostly one of an even bigger ecosystem collapse averted, and gradual improvement. Investing in the capacity to safely divert millions of acre feet into massive storage aquifers during deluges like we had last winter is the win-win solution. In early 2023, over 25 million acre feet flowed through the Delta, more than twice what was necessary for ecosystem health. That water should be in storage, and building the capacity to do that in the future should be part of any rescue plan for the Delta.

Russia and China Dominating the Race for Nuclear Electricity Generation

Much has been made of China’s construction of coal fired power plants. But China is pursuing an all-of-the-above approach to energy development, hence they are, along with Russia, leading the world in construction of nuclear power plants. Together, China and Russia account for 70 percent of new nuclear plants. It is unrealistic to expect nuclear power companies to champion more in-state production of oil and gas, or upgrades to California’s fleet of natural gas power plants to make them the most advanced in the world. Nor is it realistic for oil and gas producers to champion more nuclear power. Doing this would be against their business interests. But that’s what we need. Politicians, more so than business executives, have an obligation to promote a diverse assortment of competing modes of power production because only through this competition can consumers be assured of affordable prices.