Palo Alto looks to get people to switch off natural gas | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto looks to get people to switch off natural gas

New programs encourage conversion to clean electricity

Palo Alto's environmentalists cheered two years ago, when the city officially declared its electric portfolio "carbon neutral."

Now comes the next challenge: How to get residents to switch off natural gas and plug into clean electricity?

The Utilities Department is exploring a slew of programs aimed at accomplishing this task: from encouraging homeowners to make their homes "all-electric" to making it easier (and in some cases, mandatory) to install electric-vehicle charging stations at apartment buildings and parking lots.

The effort, commonly known as "fuel switching," was sparked by both the city's switch to a "carbon-neutral" electricity portfolio and the City Council's appetite for new programs that take advantage of the switch.

Last December, Councilmen Marc Berman and Pat Burt and former Councilman Larry Klein co-authored a memo calling for staff to consider prospective programs that would result in switching from natural-gas devices to electrical ones.

In the memo, the three councilmen wrote that the city's "clean electricity resources prove an exceptional opportunity to be used as a clean energy foundation to reduce our other major (greenhouse gas) sources."

They noted that natural gas, while enjoying "good press," is in fact "only marginally better than coal." That's because of all the non-combusted methane gas that is released into the atmosphere during the process of extracting and delivering natural gas.

"Our carbon-neutral electricity is far better for the environment and we therefore believe that Palo Alto should take a series of steps to promote change from gas use to use of electricity," the memo stated. "Additionally, we should pursue more steps to support adoption of electric vehicles powered by clean electricity, replacing use of petroleum, or largest source of greenhouse gases."

Palo Alto has already taken several large steps to encourage the use of electric vehicles. In the last two years, the city significantly reduced the amount of time it takes to get a permit to install charging equipment. It also beefed up the building code to require all new single-family homes to include the necessary conduits to enable future installation of charging equipment.

But getting people to switch their home appliances and heating systems from gas to electricity could be a trickier proposition.

According to a report released by the Utilities Department earlier this month, the biggest barrier to the upgrade is the electric panel capacity needed to accommodate the increased load. This upgrade alone could cost between $2,500 and $5,000, according to the report. Adding the needed conduits and wires would add another $1,000 to $2,000 per appliance.

These high costs indicate to staff that it would be more cost effective to apply new programs to new construction rather than existing homes. It also means that the city would have to come up with "creative programs and initiatives" to help existing homes overcome the substantial additional upfront costs. Once in place, the electric systems are expected to reduce water-heating expenditures by $4 per month while raising the cost of space heating by $2 per month.

Upfront costs aren't the only challenges. Even if the city succeeds in converting most homes from gas to electricity, it would still face the daunting task of tackling the commercial sector.

The Utilities Department estimates that residential structures account for a little more than a third of the city's total natural-gas use, while the commercial sector accounts for about two thirds. In both the residential and commercial sectors, space and water heating make up by far the biggest share of natural-gas use, according to the department.

Space heating in the residential sector accounts for 22 percent of the city's natural-gas use, while water heating accounts for 11 percent. In the commercial sector, space and water heating account for 18 percent and 24 percent of the city's total use, respectively.

Commercial cooking, meanwhile, makes up 16 percent of total use while commercial processing accounts for another 4 percent. The recent report notes that while introducing heat-pump technologies for water and space heating is relatively less burdensome, "retrofitting existing large commercial buildings for space-heating applications is likely to be cost prohibitive." (Heat pumps transfer heat from one space to another via electricity, rather than generating heat themselves.)

"Space heating and water heating are the big dogs," the city's Chief Sustainability Officer Gil Friend told the Utilities Advisory Commission (UAC) at the commission's July 1 meeting. "Commercial cooking is next and is a little bit different of a beast to go after."

At the meeting, the commission enthusiastically endorsed staff's two-phase work plan for exploring and ultimately implementing the fuel-switching initiatives. The focus in the next year and a half will be to promote heat-pumping technologies at existing homes through education, rebates and bulk-buy programs.

The city will also be providing resources to residents who want to make their homes all-electric, including lists of qualified architects, case studies and channels for homeowners to share ideas. According to the work plan, staff will also explore new funding sources that could be used to provide financial incentives for people wishing to make their homes all-electric.

Staff also plans to explore further changes to the building code to expedite electrification for new construction and remodeling projects; consider changes to utility fees to encourage electrification; and explore opportunities to electrify existing and new city buildings.

Further into the future, the city plans to explore bulk-buying programs for electric vehicles for Palo Alto residents and consider space-heating initiatives for large commercial structures.

The utilities commission was full of praise for the suite of new initiatives, with Commissioner Judith Schwartz saying she is really excited to see the work commence on these programs. She also encouraged staff to take a closer look at the commercial sector and noted that Palo Alto, unlike most other cities, sees its population balloon in the daytime because of commuting employees. Schwartz suggested exploring things like installing solar canopies on office buildings where people are charging their cars.

Commissioner James Cook also endorsed the city's growing momentum toward fuel switching, while Commissioner Steve Eglash lauded the fact that the city is pursuing these initiatives without hiring additional staff or significantly raising costs. The existing work plan is expected to stretch for two to three years and cost about $380,000.

"If we can take on major new initiatives like sustainability across the city and not have it contribute to an ever larger and more bloated city budget, then we not only did something good for the environment but for all the citizens and businesses in the city," Eglash said.

Bruce Hodge, founder of the group Carbon-Free Palo Alto, also supported the new initiatives, though he suggested that the efforts are "somewhat timid." He urged utilities officials to introduce more programs relating to electric vehicles and to review and update the list of programs on an annual basis, if not more frequently.

"We're a little bit ahead of the curve but electrification has been presented as a solution by many different bodies," Hodge said. "I think it's a very good course and probably one of the most important issues that UAC is facing today and certainly for the next decade."

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by early adopter not now
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2015 at 8:27 am

We had solar hot water as a preheat for years before moving to PA. The problem here, aside from the cost, is space. Same with installing electric on demand water heating (with them there are other concerns).

The drought has probably helped. In our household most showers happen cold before the hot water makes it thru the pipes.

39 people like this
Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 30, 2015 at 8:27 am

If the City wants to go all electric it sure better have a more reliable electrical grid. Power outages in PA are not rare. If the power goes out in my house I can still heat water, heat space and use my stove. I can't think of a time when I've lost my natural gas supply.

37 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2015 at 8:47 am

I agree that our electric grid is not reliable. I wish the City would put as much emphasis undergrounding our power grid as it does telling us to switch to it.

On the other hand, all chefs and good cooks will tell you that gas stoves are much their preference as heat is instant, change in temps is quick and turn off is instant, all things that good cooking require. Electric stoves will not be popular for restaurants or anyone who considers themselves a chef.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 30, 2015 at 8:48 am

People in San Bruno remember losing theirs.

27 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 30, 2015 at 9:24 am

Is the city going to buy us new furnaces, water heaters and kitchen remodels when we replace our gas appliances?

Would it be too much to ask our Utility Dept. to simply provide cost-effective reliable service?

22 people like this
Posted by Tom Turner
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 30, 2015 at 10:15 am

Where does the electricity come from, heat generated by gas. Please compare the cost of switching to electricity and paying the difference between gas and electricity costs.

12 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 30, 2015 at 10:18 am

It was my understanding that the cost of creating heat was more expensive with electricity vs. gas. That is, the cost per BTU is higher. I didn't see that in the article. Anyone have any real data?

I also wonder if the overall carbon consumption of the city would be better by adding solar panels to all buildings (residential and commercial), than trying to switch everyone to all electric.

22 people like this
Posted by gassy by choice
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 30, 2015 at 10:36 am

Many years ago, one of the selling points for buying our ramshackle old (1908) house was the fabulous Wedgewood (gas) stove in the kitchen. Nearly 40 years later, the only upkeep I've done is to replace a knob once and oven door springs once, and re-chrome the griddle. We were required by the city to put in two gas furnaces when we fixed our foundation (also many years ago), and were encouraged to use gas for the water heater and dryer as well. We have upgraded our house without turning it into an ego-manse or neighborhood blight, and were feeling good about having all that work done as we coast down the senior slope. Now they want us to spend major bucks to switch fuel. Ain't happening. I agree that requiring new construction to follow the current thinking is fine, but unless wholesale slaughter of all the great old houses in Palo Alto is desired, they should be careful about pushing that onus onto existing housing stock.

25 people like this
Posted by water saver
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2015 at 10:49 am

another scam by the City. and whose pockets are getting filled by this "switch"?

7 people like this
Posted by Deb
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 30, 2015 at 11:04 am

The city talks about encouraging people to go all electric, but would their tier pricing stay the same? Tier pricing Is in place to encourage consumers to conserve. It is, I believe per residential unit not house size. If you use over a certain amount, you pay more for your service.

7 people like this
Posted by longtime resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2015 at 11:07 am

Why does everything have to be all or nothing? We live in an older home and have a gas stove, water heater and heating system. Wouldn't mind changing one of these at least for something electric. But everything! We turn off the gas to our heating system for the warmer months -- which comes out to about half the year. Also -- and we've been so pleased with this situation -- our water heater is VERY CLOSE to our kitchen and bathroom which means the water is hot in almost no time. Having the water heater close to where it is actually used should certainly be a consideration in any new construction and remodel. It is a great water saver!

13 people like this
Posted by Diana
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2015 at 11:21 am

We have an electric water heater and there's no way it costs more than gas! We live in a condo. There is no place to put in a car charging station. We have a duel fuel range. I waited over 20 for a gas cook top. They will have to take it away from my cold, dead fingers.

19 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 30, 2015 at 11:22 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

Personally, I prefer gas to electricity, particularly for cooking. But if you really want me to switch, try cutting the price of electricity by about 50%.

46 people like this
Posted by Diane Gregory
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2015 at 11:31 am

This makes perfect sense. America is the world's leading producer of natural gas, and the price has been dropping. And it's low polluting. So let's drop this affordable and secure form of energy and become more dependent on electricity, which will become increasingly expensive and rationed with rolling blackouts. Way to go Bert, Berman and Klein! That's the kind of logic we've come to expect from our City Council!

By the way, when I first read this story a few weeks ago in the Post, in the background I was listening to the radio and they announced a Flex Alert, where Californians were asked to cut back their electric usage because the grid had too much demand. I thought, how ironic that they're rationing electricity and the City wants us to use more electricity.

43 people like this
Posted by Mimi Wolf
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2015 at 11:45 am

Is this an issue that was high on the list in the survey of what needs fixing in Palo Alto? The traffic in Palo Alto is putting much stress on the community. Traffic and parking are complex issues that are getting worse; and we do not read enough news on how the City is planning to deal with it. Meanwhile, more development is approved (right up to the sidewalk) without considering the impact on the community.

40 people like this
Posted by PowerMax
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2015 at 11:50 am

This is but one of many problems with staying in this area. When you become uber-wealthy through stock options and grandiose tech salaries, you obviously lose touch with reality. Seriously folks...this is insanity. Many of us are struggling to get by month to month and you just keep thinking of ways to make it harder and harder.

Will Palo Alto becoming "Carbon neutral" make even the smallest iota of difference to climate change? Of course not, so its purely based on symbolic importance. What may be symbolically important to you may mean making life much more expensive for some of us who are struggling to get by.

Please take stock of what you have versus the rest of us - did buy your house before the boom? Are you paying thousands of dollars less than your neighbor for your mortgage and property tax? Did you make hundreds of thousands or millions in stock options? If so, great! Good for you! But for some of us, living here is not as easy. And, when you cry about the mobile home park, remember that they aren't the only ones struggling with high housing costs - lots of us are. And for us, that palo alto become "carbon neutral" is not a priority.

So, lets say they have a subsidy to convert to electric - where is that money coming from? I mean, its got to come from somewhere!

I think your commitment to the environment is great, but just try to keep your goals in line with what is the financial reality for the "rest of us."

26 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Jul 30, 2015 at 11:54 am

Where's the proof of sufficient "clean" electricity in evening hours when the solar runs out? Gas is a lot cleaner burning and efficient than the coal that now largely fills this gap. This article makes the City sound incredibly out of touch with everyday citizen's priorities (getting vehicle dwellers into proper houses, safety/crime reduction, traffic flow improvements, undergrounding RR tracks, reduce overcrowding & overbuilding, zoning, water storage capacity, airplane & train noise, faster & more accessible internet, etc.).

52 people like this
Posted by Electrical Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 30, 2015 at 12:17 pm

This proposal demonstrates the basic technological ignoramicity of this self-proclaimed intellectual capital of Silicon Valley.

Unless PAU has built dedicated transmission lines connecting our alleged clean power sources to the Colorado Ave switchyard, and totally disconnected itself from the local distribution grid, our power composition is the same mix as what is on that grid--the same power mix as Menlo Park, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, etc., etc. Palo Alto's "green energy" is an infinitesimal fraction of the power on that grid.

Ironically, most of our local power generation comes from natural gas. The laws of thermodynamics being what they are, at best only about 40% of the energy content of that gas is converted to electrical energy. The remaining 60% is wasted into the environment as waste heat. Concurrently, 60% of the carbon footpring of the burning of gas in power plants is uselessly exhausted into the environment.

Cooking and heating directly with natural gas avoids that 60% energy waste and its GHG emission. Why on earth would the leaders of this purportedly progressive town advocate gratituously increasing our carbon footprint?

30 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2015 at 12:28 pm

I can't believe these idiots on council want us to become more dependent on the electrical grid. One of the geniuses pushing this is Councilmember Marc Berman. I sure hope he doesn't get to the Legislature.

2 people like this
Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 30, 2015 at 12:40 pm

I am a gourmet home chef and cook on electric -- stovetop and oven. I got an old reliable hammer from a great-uncle that had been handed down for generations. They only had to replace the head once and the handle twice.

1 person likes this
Posted by nat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2015 at 12:41 pm

What are people to do when there is an electrical outage, particularly in a disaster when it's long lasting? Do without heat and hot water, without hot meals? At least with gas, those with gas appliances can have hot water, heat in winter, and hot meals. Those with all electrical appliances, good luck! And how is electricity generated? Commenters above say it is from gas and coal plants, not completely from hydropower.

57 people like this
Posted by The Worst Ever
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2015 at 12:43 pm

The level of stupidity of the city leaders is demonstrated by this latest foible.

18 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 30, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Alphonso is a registered user.

If most of the electricity is generated by burning natural gas then where is the benefit?

17 people like this
Posted by Kate
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2015 at 12:49 pm

I don't get it electricity is much more expensive than natural gas. And, how do they create electricity, by burning coal which pollutes. Thank goodness Marc Bermann is moving on to the State Legislature - good riddance, I will vote for him to go there.

15 people like this
Posted by Diane Gregory
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2015 at 1:09 pm

In response to Kate, I hope you were kidding when you said that you'd vote for Berman for the Legislature if that would get him off the Council. I'm not going to vote for him for Assembly or when he runs for re-election to council two years from now.

26 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 30, 2015 at 1:41 pm

This is social and environmental engineering gone too far. The CC has much more important things to worry about than this. What's next, in order to manage the electrical grid...telling people what times they can shower or eat dinner? Enough already.

27 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 30, 2015 at 1:51 pm

MOST of city "staff" - especially Utilities - do NOT live in Palo Alto. Many - maybe most live in the East Bay over the bridge - and Oakland. I'm tired of that bunch telling us what to do, how to live, what to pay. Enough already!!
Check it out!!

3 people like this
Posted by RequireSolarFirst
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 30, 2015 at 1:57 pm

Palo Alto has already taken several large steps to encourage the use of electric vehicles. In the last two years, the city significantly reduced the amount of time it takes to get a permit to install charging equipment. It also beefed up the building code to require all new single-family homes to include the necessary conduits to enable future installation of charging equipment.

Let's now require all new homes to include all the necessary conduits and supports for SOLAR PANELS.

2 people like this
Posted by Indra
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Just wanted to debunk all the half truths and misinformation that are being spewed in the comments here. First Palo Alto does have clean carbon free electricity due to its power purchase agreements with only carbon free generation sources. It is true that Palo Alto cannot control whether a carbon free or carbonized electron will flow into its grid. However, for each carbonized electron that flows into the PA grid it is offset by a non-carbonized electron that flows into someone else's grid that Palo Alto has paid for. So Palo Alto's premise of 100% carbon neutral electricity should hold true. Even if you do not buy that consider that due to 25% renewables, hydro and nuclear, 50% of grid electricity in Bay area is carbon free now. Assuming that the rest 50% of the power comes from burning natural gas which is about 50% efficient now, the carbon footprint and energy intensity of getting heat from electricity as opposed to burning gas directly should be about similar if dumb electrical appliances are used. This is where heat pumps come into the picture. For every unit of electricity used in a heat pump 3 to 4 units of heat will be pumped into the household space or water. Thus even 95% efficient gas appliances can never compete in energy efficiency and carbon footprint with a heat pump using bay area electricity. The running costs of such appliances will also be lower over gas appliances if CPAU tiers the electricity pricing correctly. This is what the city and the utility is working on now. There is some upfront costs in switching the infrastructure. That is the only bottleneck. Also people who are worried about the weak grid, it is worthwhile to mention that neither current gas water heaters with electronic control, nor forced air gas furnaces will work without electricity. So having a gas supply only during grid failure does not help.

4 people like this
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2015 at 2:37 pm

I didn't read every comment because of being short on time. But I remember hearing for years about how much the radiant (presumably electric) heating cost in Eichlers. If the change is somehow made, wouldn't we all spend a LOT more money to stay warm in the winter?

27 people like this
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2015 at 2:39 pm

My takes on these issues is SO simple. If Berman is fer it I'm agin it.

7 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 30, 2015 at 3:05 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@ Indra - it is a shell game. You are just saying that Palo Alto pays more for "carbon neutral" electricity so others can pay less for regular electricity. It is all the same co-mingled electrons on the same wire, whether you are paying a higher rate or not. The carbon neutral electron I paid a premium for is liekly ending up in some other house in some other city.

3 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 30, 2015 at 3:38 pm

In new construction, creating an all electricity household is pretty straight-forward. My house is all-electric. Here is what I have

(1) 200A panel
(2) Heat pump water heater 50 gallon
(3) Induction cooktop
(4) I use 3 space heaters to heat my 2000 ft^2 house. My house is very well insulated and sealed.
(5) 5kw solar panels supplying about 8500 kwh annually
(6) electric condensing clothes dryer
(7) electric car

I use 6000 kwh for all energy use net. So my total usage is 14500 kwH gross after accounting from contribution from solar. Note 6000 kwh is about 1/3 of a typical energy usage of california's household of 4 in a single detached home.

Most people say gas is best for cooking. I disagree. Induction is better. We were true believers of gas cooking but having used an induction unit for several years, we will *NEVER* *NEVER* go back to gas. They are more efficient, cleaner (to the kitchen) and dramatically improve indoor quality Gas cooking is one of the largest source of bad indoor air even if you have a really powerful vent hood. And vent hood of course presents other problems.

In switzerland, induction cooking are pretty common sights in commercial, open kitchens.

2 people like this
Posted by Indra
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2015 at 3:44 pm

@ slow down. Nowhere in my post did I say Palo Alto pays more carbon neutral electricity. In fact it pays slightly less than other carbon based electricity available for purchase. Palo Alto electricity rates are among the lowest in Bay area. I know that because I am a PG&E customer.

38 people like this
Posted by Electrical Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 30, 2015 at 4:24 pm

@Slow Down

Well said. It's a shell game, of words, numbers, and accounting gimmicks.

In fact, only a fraction of Palo Alto's vaunted green power actually comes from renewable sources, many of which have supplied us for decades. The rest of it is gas, coal, and nuclear cloaked under an "offset" artifice. These numbers used to be easiky accessible on the PAU website but have become hard to find lately. Howvere, Slate Web Link managed to ferret them out:

"Combined, the hydro, wind, and biomass/biowaste account for about 60 percent of Palo Alto’s electricity use. That’s impressive but still leaves a big shortfall. In 2013, 39 percent of the town’s electricity came from a category it calls “unspecified power”—essentially electricity that Palo Alto buys in the wholesale market. These electrons most likely come from plants that burn coal or natural gas. To neutralize the environmental impact of this electricity, Palo Alto engages in a bit of financial engineering."

Read the article for the details. Have some Dramamine handy.

Bottom line: 2/5 of our "green" power is really brown/black power, masked from view by some adroit "financial engineering."

Then that 3/5 green fraction gets massively diluted in the grid power sea, so almost none of the electrons at our meters are actually colored green.

6 people like this
Posted by Debbie Mytels
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2015 at 4:42 pm

Thank you, Indra, for trying to educate people about the clean electricity that Palo Altans now benefit from. In fact, the whole state (and world) benefits from every clean electron being produced -- and we need to get busy figuring out how to stop burning fossil fuels like natural gas in as many situations as possible.
Having read this whole thread, it's clear that our City Utilities and our City Council are moving in the right direction -- and the only thing they need to do differently is figure out how to effectively communicate with people to explain what CPAU is doing and WHY.
It appears that the readers above don't realize that we have clean electricity in Palo Alto. We buy 100% of our electricity from hydro power, wind power, solar or other non-fossil fuel methods. Now the Utilities are beginning to take the nest steps by studying how to move us away from other ways we are burning natural gas. This fuel switching is something we here in Palo Alto, as responsible citizens of this Earth, all need to do.
Or do the readers above prefer to have more drought, more wildfires, and increased sea level rise ? How 'bout those rising flood insurance fees we have to pay? Wake up, people -- the era of burning fossil fuels has got to end!

12 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2015 at 4:53 pm

> the era of burning fossil fuels has got to end!

Fossil fuels power the planet, and the world's economies. To end fossil fuels today is a call to take the world back into the stone age!

36 people like this
Posted by Keep the Promise
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 30, 2015 at 5:21 pm

When we moved here twenty years ago. The city promised that within six years all of the power lines all over the city would be underground.

As far as anyone can tell, the project was never started.

Another promise broken, just one more deception by PAUD.

3 people like this
Posted by Stepheny McGraw
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 30, 2015 at 5:38 pm

What is powering that electric power? Aside from they initial thousands for conversion from gas to electricity, what is the cost of converting to a less efficient form of heating as shown in the monthly bill?

City Council, this reminds me of the ban on plastic bags at stores. Now all of us must buy and use single use bags for trash and now for compost. Saving the environment??? At least the manufacturers of plastic bags are smiling.

Only if the City in its paternal wisdom and generosity wants to provide me with entirely free electricity to heat my house -- and pay the thousands it would cost to convert -- would I consider switching from clean, American natural gas. Electricity is a far less efficient, form of heating -- and more costly.

"It is true that Palo Alto cannot control whether a carbon free or carbonized electron will flow into its grid." Indra said. So, we subsidize green sources, out there somewhere, in the belief that it will "offset" whatever harm our own electricity use causes.

Sounds like bait and switch to me.

5 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 30, 2015 at 6:28 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

This kind of behavior is why so many people refer to the LEFT COAST or " The Land of Fruits, nuts and Flakes " when taking about California.

I have training in alternative energy sources and figuring costs for each and a possible ROI for each.

Coal, CNG or even nukes: These systems never produce more than a 40% efficiency when generating electric energy; I call them " Tea Kettle " plants because they all heat water to turn turbines.

The BEST EFFICIENCY of a PV installation is ~20% with a full SUN. Unless you can talk DARPA into giving everyone the special PV cells designed for the military, that PV efficiency will not change.
PVs are a demanding system: they can be visually polluting, be a PITA to clean and the storage batteries have to be changed out every 4 years. You also must install special equipment to be legal. Personally, I wouldn't mine frying a Perennial Gouger & Extortion Tech, but most people must add a switchover box to not energize broken power lines.

If you really want to go " off the grid ", Microhydro is your best bet. 5 to 20 KWH for output from a formerly free running stream on your property, Provided YOU GET GOVERNMENT APPROVAL FOR YOUR NEW POND.

Some people I have spoken to in Colorado have given up on their solar water heating systems. 1 hailstorm can cost $20,000 damage to that system. The regular Maintenance of the cells is hard work.
Getting SUNS can be a problem if you have neighbors that keep tall trees on their property.

Gourmand chefs ALWAYS use gas for cooking, rural farmers get 500 gallon propane tanks for winter cooking and heating. At certain times, you even get a discount if you can wait to get a refill on your 500 gallon propane tank.

Or you can just chop 10 CORDS ( not " face cords " ) OF WOOD and use your trusty wood stove to give you food and hot water. Any Monarch wood stove will work. Our family has the RENEWABLE WOODLOT. Each human being requires 7 acres of woodlot for breathing purposes, so where is YOUR 7 ACRES?

Here is a way to keep fit and learn yourself about how energy can be made and how much energy you can put out; this " energy source " is used all the time in Third World Countries: Attach a car alternator to the place that you would regularly have the rear wheel on a bicycle. Get a 12v inverter ( if charging your laptop, just by the car or airplane adapter ).

Now just pedal your way to energy independence! PA City Hall should have these GREEN energy producers lined up in front of City Hall with our City Employees giving more energy to power City Hall. If you do not like the people there, ask them to give their ALL on those GREEN ENERGY PRODUCERS!
EE is right on several levels.

Kudos to him.

PS Burning METHANE works too. The SJ Sewage Plant runs on the methane biomass it creates. The outflow is near ALVISO.

7 people like this
Posted by Carlito Waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 30, 2015 at 10:11 pm

The council members Berman, Burt & Klein, the "Chief of sustainability Comision" and the Utilities Advisory Comission live in a Byzantine world; while there are more important issues to tackle and make life more livable for Palo Alto residents, instead they waste precious amount of time and resources in a minuscule group's agenda.

Here are some of the issues they could tackle if they want to make themselves useful to the City they serve; that is right , they are supposed to serve and not to impose their own personal agendas on us, the residents, just because they think they know better than us.

Enforce the speed limits on our city streets, if they are not to be enforced, why have the speed limits signs?
Do a better job in controlling the traffic flow in our City, specially in commute hours.
Fix our City Streets, quite a few of them are just pathetic.
If they really like to look ahead, why not create an alternate recycled water network through the city, to use for residential landscape irrigation, and other uses instead of regular precious Hetch Hetchy potable water?

Electric service is not fully reliable in this City, electricity power goes out at least 2 times a year, the last time was around two months ago , it lasted SIX HOURS for the service to be restored; thanks to my natural gas water heater we could take a nice hot shower, thanks to our natural gas stove we could cook a nice hot meal, and thanks to my natural gas clothes dryer we could dry loads of wet clothes.

If the City can not provide a reliable service as it is now, how they can be sure that they will be able to be exceptionally reliable once a huge extra load is added to the existing grid? Is there a back up energy storage they will use when there is a black out? Or they want to leave us in the dark, without our natural gas energy back up.

If they keep pushing with those byzantine ideas, lawsuits will follow.

Enough is enough!

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 30, 2015 at 11:44 pm

@Carlito, educate me how you ran a natural gas clothes dryer during an electrical power failure. (The water heater and stove I understand.)

5 people like this
Posted by Justin
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 31, 2015 at 12:06 am

Palo Alto's purchase of "carbon neutral" electricity is just an accounting gimmick, not a representation of actual generation. The question we should be asking is, what is the marginal electricity generation from the increased load due to switching to electric heating? The answer in the west is almost always natural gas. It would only be renewables in situations of overgeneration where renewable output is curtailed (possible, but rare) and would never be nukes or hydro.

The efficiency of marginal units may vary depending on load and time-of-day, but it will be typically maybe 30-40% (sorry, don't know exact numbers), so maybe 27-38% after considering transmission losses. So a heat pump with a COP of 3 is roughly as efficient as a gas furnace with 90% efficiency. Even if there is some small efficiency and/or GHG savings, I don't think it's worth the added cost.

9 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 31, 2015 at 8:23 am

More left wing lunacy, what else would you expect to come out of City Council. Is the plan to buy every resident a new furnace and stove and dryer? Since the electricity comes from power plants burning coal or gas its not clear where the savings comes from.
But, if Palo Alto wants to save energy just stop building so many new apartment buildings and condominiums. And without El Camino in constant gridlock from 3PM to 7PM we could help the environment by not having thousands of cars sitting in one pace burning gasoline. But this would not provide funding for the whole Green Lobby waiting to peddle their solar array panel generators, new furnaces, stoves, dryers, etc. so their is no support for the one obvous idea to decrease pollution in PA.

9 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 31, 2015 at 9:55 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Brilliant thinking!
Pretty soon we will not have any decent Disaster resistant systems.
Clean air rules banned the old wood burning fireplaces that require NO Gas or Electric.
Now they want us not to cook unless electricity is available.

Heating with Electrics does cost more for the exact same BTU's. Just review any Energystar report

This is all about more REVENUE for PAU. (and Builders doing the needed upgrades)

BTW Something smells (and it ain't mercaptan ). This same PAU was encouraging the very expensive GAS tankless water heater upgrades

8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 31, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Words to Berman, Burt, Klein, and the UAC.

Remember the carney's first rule: don't swallow your own snake oil. Consider stepping into the real world for a vacation, gang.

31 people like this
Posted by More Snake Oil
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 31, 2015 at 1:08 pm

If and when someone invents solar panels that DO NOT damage roofs, and follow the sun like a sunflower, I will try them again.

Until then, stop pushing solar panels! I had serious damage to my roof that outweighed my savings by 2000 times over, literally. And stop buying panels made in China--they are the most damaging and least effective of all.

4 people like this
Posted by Kevin Ohlson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 31, 2015 at 1:17 pm

This does not seem fully thought through. We, like many, use gas for space, water, dryer and cooking. Setting aside the appliance conversion costs, which are not insignificant, I believe the operating costs of an all-electric environment will be much higher. Does electricity provide the same thermal capabilities as gas for the same cost? And, if I remember correctly, the electric rate increases the more you use. Lots of other questions, but they could easily be put to rest with a clear, simple, and end-to-end comparison chart.There is one already, right?

6 people like this
Posted by nat
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2015 at 1:31 pm

It would be terrible if heat, hot water and cooking were all dependent on electricity.
Outages can last a long time. And posters above point out that electricity is generated by gas and coal plants, not just hydropower.

4 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 31, 2015 at 2:37 pm

This is typical climate warming alarmism... which, in the end, is about political power and control. Notice how the recurring alarm about sea-level rise is back on the political front burner, put there by politicians and interest groups that want funding from the government.

Relatively cheap natural gas (due to fracking) is a real threat to the greenies, thus the current war on NG...which is why they are screaming alarm about global climate warming. It is a big circle for self interested green groups.

OK, now to electricity and natural gas. NG is the most efficient per BTU. I have both, but typically use NG. My choice, and my utility bills to pay. Let free individuals decide how to spend their own money.

BTW, for those who want to consider solar, it might be worthwhile to consider hybrid PV-T panels, which provide electricity and hot water. Google it.

16 people like this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 31, 2015 at 3:51 pm

I'd like to see the city leaders stop emitting gas.

9 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 1, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Doesn't the City own/operate a number of service vehicles that operate on natural gas?

If they do--will they be shutting these vehicles down, and replacing them with electrics?

Like this comment
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2015 at 4:20 pm

It should be pointed out that induction cooking and electric cooking (like coils) provide different experiences. Changes in temperature control on an induction cooking range are almost instantaneous, more like natural gas than an electric coil and provide pinpoint control much like gas. This is why induction cooking ranges are quite prevalent in Swiss commercial kitchens (plus the fact that they don't have a convenient supply of cheap natural gas like California does).

Induction cooking and electric coil have about the same efficiency ratiing (72%) which is far more than natural gas (44%). But in real world usage, induction cooking is more efficient than electric coil because such efficiency assessments don't cover performance differences between the two technologies (it takes more time to heat up a pan with an electric coil, and the coil will retain heat after it is shut off).

It would be great if more American restaurateurs adopted induction cooking, but the American restaurant industry is quite conservative in adopting new technology.


Someday when I remodel my kitchen, I will definitely consider an induction cooking stove to replace my glass-ceramic topped radiant electric unit.

1 person likes this
Posted by M. A. Complexer
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 1, 2015 at 4:30 pm

"...the recurring alarm about sea-level rise is back on the political front burner, put there by politicians and interest groups that want funding from the government."

People sucking money from the government know that the DOD hands out much, much more cash than the EPA, NOAA, NASA, and other climate funders combined, and it's lots easier to get ahold of. No shuckster is going to waste their time conning the climate and environment piggybankers when there's a much bigger, very willing mark next door.

Take it from a well funded veteran of the process. I thank you for your support.

6 people like this
Posted by Electrical Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 1, 2015 at 5:11 pm

"Induction cooking and electric coil have about the same efficiency ratiing (72%) which is far more than natural gas (44%)."

Not quite. You need to consider the equivalent of what the transportation crowd calls the "well to wheel" efficiency. Let's call its cooktop counterpart the "well to meal" efficiency.

Accepting your figures--I'd question the low gas number, but we'll let that go for now--you need to factor in the 40% gas energy to electric energy conversion efficiency when comparing electric heating of any kind to gas. The well to meal efficiency of the electric/induction cooking option is then 29% (0.72 x 0.40), which is pretty lousy by any reckoning. The corresponding gas cookingefficiency remains 44%.

If you prefer induction to electric coil or even gas, then by all means use it. But be aware of the whole picture.

5 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 1, 2015 at 5:37 pm

>No shuckster is going to waste their time conning the climate and environment piggybankers when there's a much bigger, very willing mark next door.

Top level climate scientists who are skeptics about global warming alarm typically don't get funded by any government agency. It is almost only the alarmists that get funded. The science on climate change is far from being settled, despite what you might hear from the alarmists. My suggestion would be to reverse the funding awards, giving all the government funds to the skeptics, and none to the alarmists. Then, in about five years, 97% of all published climate scientists would be skeptics. Note: This is just a thought model on my part...I don't really want to exacerbate the sad political 'science' that we have been subjected to.

Once a true belief cause enters the political realm, as it has here in Palo Alto political leadership, it is almost impossible to stop. However, the true costs of such belief should always be spotlighted. In this case it is the natural gas attempted elimination (eventually to be banned). The leader of the true belief brigade in PA politics is Larry Klein, but he has followers...the one that really surprises me is Pat Burt (since he has a technical background, and should be a more critical thinker).

This attempt to eliminate natural gas in PA should be resisted.

Like this comment
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2015 at 6:31 pm

@Electrical Engineer:

The efficiency numbers I quoted include the 40%.

Let's put it in a way that's way more understandable to the layperson. Cook a steak on an electric range. Now cook that steak on a gas range (I've owned both). Which kitchen is hotter when the steak is done? The kitchen with the gas stove is hotter.

You don't need to be an engineer to understand the basic fact that gas ranges waste more energy to the surrounding environment than electric ranges do.

How electric versus gas range operation costs is a separate matter. Here in California, running a gas stove is cheap, but that doesn't make it a more efficient energy user. It's just cheaper.

2 people like this
Posted by Jay
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 1, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Electric vs gas water heater energy usage.

Assuming the electricity is generated by a gas fired energy plant, only 40%, at best, of the energy in natural gas is converted to electricity, the rest is lost to the inefficiency of generating and transmitting electricity.

An electric home water heater is about 90% efficient converting energy in the electricity to hot water. By comparison, a gas home water heater is about 60% efficient.

The total efficiency of that electric hot water heater is therefore 90% of 40%, or only 36% efficient. Since the gas water heater is still 60% efficient, an electric water heater therefor uses almost twice the energy to heat the same amount of water. This is the reality of electric power generation via fossil fuels. Electric water heaters do not emit green house gas at the water heater, but rest assured, the power plant where that power was generated does, and perhaps twice as much compared to a gas water heater.

7 people like this
Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 2, 2015 at 12:52 pm

From my utility bill, I pay about 13 cents per kWh for electric and $1.01 per Therm for gas. One Therm converts to 29.3 kWh which gives the cost of gas as 3.4 cents per kWh. Therefore electrical energy costs about 3.8 times as much as gas energy.
(Don't tell the CC or they will raise our gas rates.)

2 people like this
Posted by Joan
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 2, 2015 at 12:59 pm

"This attempt to eliminate natural gas in PA should be resisted."

Thank you, Craig. As usual, you are one of the more lucid voices on this forum.

1 person likes this
Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 2, 2015 at 1:01 pm

@Reader, you didn't include the 40%. The heat is not in your kitchen but it's going up the smokestack at the generator plant.

22 people like this
Posted by Inefficiency
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 3, 2015 at 8:23 am

We installed an induction range when we remodeled our kitchen four years ago. What the seller AND the remodeled failed to tell us is that you can't use regular pots and pans on the range.

At first we thought we had a faulty system, then, reading the manufacturer's manuals, found out we needed to replace our cookware with special, VERY expensive magnetic cookware. This cannot be non-stick and cannot be put on the dishwasher.
What a pain for time-constrained people!

Well, we starting washing all these pots and pans by hand every day: lo and behold, our water usage increased, because washing them thoroughly uses more water than putting them in the water-and-energy-efficient dishwasher.

We are now in the process of converting to a gas range and oven.

4 people like this
Posted by Humble observer
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 3, 2015 at 9:12 am

"Inefficiency," I sympathize with your frustration, but am perplexed by the "nobody-told-us" attitude. It's in the nature of induction ranges to require special cookware. That's how they work. How else could you reconcile the fact that the elements on the stovetop don't just generate simple heat, as with conventional stoves? Why elect to install something as unusual as an induction range without understanding what's most basic about it, or at least doing any homework?? Microwave ovens and convection ovens too cook differently from conventional ovens, and users bear some respinsibility to know that, too. (Whether or not anyone else "told us.")

9 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 3, 2015 at 10:18 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Humble observer - regardless, it is worth noting a major limitation of induction cooking is that the very best pots and pans in terms of cooking use copper for even heat distribution, and they won't work with induction stovetops.

And induction is still less efficient than gas in terms of energy efficiency. 25% for induction when using grid electricity, and 38% for gas burners.

Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 3, 2015 at 10:31 am

Brian is a registered user.

Another thing about induction: there are plenty of induction-ready pots/pans available with non-stick finishes. Also, while I would never wash mine in the dishwasher, I don't know of any reason the pans are any different from other pans with respect to cleaning in the dishwasher. BTW, we really like our induction stove. Immediate response, like gas, no indoor air pollution (unlike gas), and almost no heating of the stove's surface.

14 people like this
Posted by Just Me
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 3, 2015 at 10:44 am

Just last month there was a push to conserve electricity because our infrastructure couldn't keep up to the demand, we were asked to "turn off unnecessary lights, not use major appliances until after 9 p.m. and set air conditioners at 78 degrees or higher."

So this push to electricity will create more scarcity, which will raise prices, cause more hysteria, and allow the government to step and have more control than they already have on our lives. Scarcity for profit and control.

12 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 3, 2015 at 11:09 am

>Scarcity for profit and control.


And wait until enough electric vehicles become part of the fleet....

This move away from natural gas is absurd.

6 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 8, 2015 at 9:48 pm

This thread seems to have more comments than the newer topic with 2.

Lots of folks seem to not want to spend $7,000 and up to replace their furnaces, stoves, etc.

10 people like this
Posted by Sighing
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 8, 2015 at 10:49 pm

Once upon a time, CPAU was pushing gas on us and we switched all we could to gas. We are not affluent and cannot afford to switch all our systems once again, back to electric this time... sigh...

11 people like this
Posted by Electrical Engineer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 9, 2015 at 12:41 pm

(Copied from the other thread on this topic)

To amplify my earlier comments on this issue:

Our utilities department has the wrong notion of how the grid works. That is a serious competency deficiency that should be corrected immediately if not sooner.

First, all of our imported electricity, no matter its origin, is transported to us on the grid. It arrives at the Colorado Avenue switchyard.

Second, you cannot add labeled "electrons" to the grid at one point, then collect them, and only them, at the point of use (aka the "load"). Electrical energy on the grid has no tags or colors. Every kilowatt hour on the grid is identical to every other kilowatt hour, regardless if they originate in "green" or "brown" or "black" sources.

Third, Palo Alto's "green" energy is an infinitesimal fraction of the total energy on the grid. What comes out of your wall socket is almost 100% the "brown" and "black" grid content.

Fourth, and here's the real kicker, the grid is not source-responsive as our utilities people seem to think, it is load-responsive. Big, big, difference. If you increase the load by, say, turning on a light switch, the entire grid responds to accommodate the added demand. Because grid content comes almost entirely from "ungreen" sources, those sources are the ones that fill almost all of your new electricity request. Given that electrical generation utilizes at most 40% of the energy in the fuel a generator uses, the effect of converting our city from gas to electric energy is to more than double the fossil fuel consumption and the associated carbon footprint (nuclear and the tiny fraction of hydro, wind, and solar generation excepted).

That is how electrical generation/distribution networks work, and only a major revision of the laws of physics can change it. Meantime, nature ignores all wishful thinking by our uninformed politicians, green advocates, and utilities staff.

15 people like this
Posted by Scott and Zelda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2015 at 8:14 pm

This is such a load of baloney.

Is the PAUD willing to give us all zero interest loans so we can afford to convert back to all-electricity?

Is the PAUD willing to upgrade the grid so we can avoid power outages? Or provide us all with big generators at zero cost to residents?

Only under those circumstances is this okay!

4 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 9, 2015 at 9:45 pm

This epitomizes the intellectual level of the "green" debate; switch to electricity, but cause more carbon emissions as Electrical Engineer @ Duveneck / Saint Francis points out in his earlier post.

Politicians using the city council as a platform for scoring brownie points with some special interest groups.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Anne Le Ziblatt, formerly of Tamarine and Bong Su, is back with a Vietnamese noodle bar in Redwood City
By Elena Kadvany | 7 comments | 3,226 views

Local Pols Debate Climate
By Sherry Listgarten | 10 comments | 2,641 views

Letting Christmas Linger
By Cheryl Bac | 5 comments | 1,393 views

The E.R.A. – no real equality yet. Why not?
By Diana Diamond | 13 comments | 858 views

Truth Matters (and so does good beer)
By Laura Stec | 2 comments | 679 views