Shifting to Renewable Energy with Hal Harvey – California China Climate Institute

What is the Zero by 2050 goal in California?

Senate Bill 100, authored by former Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, was signed into law by former Governor of California, Jerry Brown, in September 2018. The bill set a California target for 100% clean, carbon-free electricity by 2045. 

But the electricity sector represents only a portion of California’s 400+ million tons of GHG annual emissions. To get to “Net Zero,” California will need to reduce those emissions to about 86 million tons by 2050. It’s important to keep in mind that net zero is different from actual zero. The Paris Climate Agreement is one solution on how a global effort can get us to accomplish this goal. Originally, electricity only accounted for 16 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, so Zero by 2050 has come to include things like hydrofluorocarbons, soot, methane, fossil fuels, and other super pollutants.

How can we get there?

Many actions are needed. In the energy sector, moving to 100% renewables is not enough. California will also need to transition from natural gas to electricity in homes, so, for example, getting rid of natural gas hookups and replacing them with heat pumps and induction stoves can help. The electricity grid will need to be 100% renewable, along with the conversion of natural gas to electricity, which will result in significant GHG emission reductions. Much more will need to be done, though. Transportation emissions account for about 50% of California’s overall emissions, so that will be a key focus for the state to reach its net neutral goal.

Transportation Emissions and Strategies

Decarbonizing the transportation sector is an important climate change solution. If power grid infrastructure and urban planning can maintain a steady pace, transportation emissions can decline by more than half by 2050. Consumers need to be favoring electric vehicles, especially with falling prices, lower maintenance and good performance. Cars are not the only form of transportation to think about. Airplanes and ships are huge emitters, and there is a need to find alternatives.

There are policies in place to decarbonize the transportation sector. Electric Vehicles sales have a requirement to phase out sales of fossil fuel vehicles. Emissions standards, like The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards during the Obama administration, were important for these policies and requirements. Transportation Demand Management (TDM) is an urban mobility policy to shift from high emissions travel to low-emissions travel (or even zero emissions).

Further Reading:


Ethan: What are the top ways that California can shift to renewable energy more quickly and reach zero emissions by 2050? Former California Governor Jerry Brown spoke with Hal Harvey, CEO of Energy Innovation, for a California China Climate Institute discussion. Zero-emission future by 2050 represents an international science-based goal that Harvey thinks California can achieve.

Mr. Harvey: Recommendations I would offer are to reach 85% clean energy by 2030. That’s something that the public utilities commission or the legislature could make happen. The second thing I would do is prohibit natural gas hookups in new buildings in California. We can’t afford to burn fossil fuels at scale and have a clean and safe climate. With the advent of heat pumps, you don’t need natural gas; with the advent of induction stoves, you don’t need natural gas. There’s a much better way with heat pumps powered by the grid to condition our buildings. A third idea is to expand the buy clean program, which commits the state to purchase its raw materials from the cleanest 25% of product on the market. And then finally, I would say the cap and trade program in California should issue fewer permits until we are on that trajectory of zero by 2050.

Ethan: This is Ethan Elkind of Climate Break, bringing you 90 seconds of climate solutions. For further information on Harvey’s work at Energy Innovation, and for more climate solutions, go to, or wherever you get your podcast.

Shifting to Renewable Energy with Hal Harvey – California China Climate Institute