Building toward Decarbonization

January 28, 2021
Ted Lamm, Ethan Elkind

California’s drive toward statewide carbon neutrality by 2045 relies on two related transitions: completely decarbonizing the state’s electrical grid; and shifting as many energy sources and fuels to electricity as possible. Transitioning buildings from natural gas to electricity–their heating and cooling systems, water heaters, and cooking equipment–is among the state’s highest priorities for the coming decade. 

But the transition also presents significant regulatory, economic, and infrastructure challenges, from high retrofit costs to utility regulations that may inhibit removal of gas service. These challenges could substantially hinder progress throughout the state, particularly in communities with limited capital to finance projects, high proportions of renters, and older construction. 

To identify solutions to these challenges and the high-priority communities in which state leaders should target policy and investment support, the Emmett Institute and Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment convened a group of building decarbonization experts in September 2020. Our new report, Building toward Decarbonization, highlights a set of criteria for high-priority communities including those with the least financial resources and the most to gain from improved air quality; those currently investing in new building construction; those with existing gas infrastructure already in need of replacement; those with an expressed willingness to transition; and those rebuilding from recent wildfires.

 High-priority policy solutions to accelerate the transition in these communities and throughout the state include:

  • Setting a clear timeline for the long-term phaseout of natural gas to provide certainty for utilities, employees, and investors.
  • Clarifying electric and utilities’ legal “obligation to serve” to ensure that electrical service can be substituted for gas service.
  • Communicating the air quality benefits and performance qualities of electric stoves, hot water heaters, and other equipment to build public support for the transition.

Download the report.

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