Palo Alto Reducing Carbon Footprint Through Electrification Efforts

City of Palo Alto resources planners Shiva Swaminathan and Christine Tam during a recent talk on electrification efforts in Palo Alto at the California Energy Commission.

For the city of Palo Alto, reducing the carbon footprint has a lot to do with electrifying its power sources and home water heating.

Palo Alto gets roughly 30 percent of its electricity from solar sources. The city is currently on track to source 50 percent of its power from renewables by 2017.

If the city meets that goal, it will beat the state’s Renewables Portfolio Standard timeline target by 13 years.

That focus has allowed the city’s electricity supply to become 100 percent carbon neutral – a status the city earned in 2013.

The electrification effort, overseen by the utilities and development services departments at the city, includes promoting the adoption of home heat pump water heaters (HPWH) as a replacement option for natural gas water heaters.

“Palo Alto has established itself as a pioneer in the effort to promote electrification of appliances including converting gas water heaters to heat pump technology,” said California Energy Commissioner David Hochschild.

Natural gas usage and transportation account for more than 90 percent of the city’s carbon footprint. As a result, gas water heaters are seen as a promising target for electrification.

A HPWH operates like a refrigerator does – except run in reverse by transferring heat from the surrounding air to water.

Palo Alto has a HPWH pilot program that offers rebates of up to $1,500. The heaters also qualify for a $300 federal tax credit if they are ENERGY STAR certified.

Under the program, the city will track customer feedback on the retrofit process and how the heaters are performing.

The program is part of a larger electrification effort underway in Palo Alto, said Shiva Swaminathan, who is the project manager for Palo Alto's Smart Grid program.

He and HPWH pilot program manager Christine Tam talked about electrification and the HPWH effort at the Energy Commission on August 29.

It remains to be seen if HPWH will be widely adopted because of the high costs for homeowners.

A 50-gallon HPWH costs roughly $2,500. Installation or retrofits require a permit and hiring an electrician since the units need to be plugged into a 240 volt outlet.

Installing the units will lower homeowners’ natural gas bills, but increase their electric bills.

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California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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