Blog: Leading the way to an inclusive zero-carbon future

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Paul Lau, CEO & General Manager

4/27/2021

 

In the nearly 40 years I’ve worked at SMUD, I’ve seen some great environmental achievements. From smart grid technology and electric vehicle deployment to battery storage, SMUD has always been at the forefront of reducing carbon while benefitting the community. It’s easy to forget that, in 2018 we hit our goal of reducing our carbon emissions by 50% from 1990 levels. That’s the equivalent of removing 377,000 vehicles from the road. Today we boast a power mix that is about 50% carbon free. There's a lot to be proud of.

But in all of my time at SMUD, I’ve never been prouder of the work we’re doing to improve the quality of life for the people we serve than I am right now. Our goal of achieving zero carbon in our power supply by 2030 is the most ambitious goal of any large utility in the United States. But it’s much more than a lofty goal. Our 2030 Zero Carbon Plan puts SMUD on a path to tackle the health, environmental and social impacts of carbon emissions. 

The SMUD Board directed us last July to develop a way to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.  But, SMUD staff did as they always do and boldly took it even further with our plan to reach zero carbon emissions by 2030, a full 15 years ahead of the State’s SB 100 goal. Net zero simply wasn’t good enough.

When I think about what this goal means, to be the first large utility company in the nation to reach zero carbon power, I am reminded that SMUD has never shied away from a challenge. In fact, we’re known for setting game-changing goals and achieving them.  

We’re running full speed ahead toward this goal and asking you to join us. I know that by increasing our renewable energy resources, incorporating new technologies, implementing innovative business models and fostering regional partnerships, we can do this. We must do this. We must address the destruction that carbon is having on our environment, public health, our economy and our historically under-resourced communities for future generations.

We will work together with our partners to meet these zero carbon imperatives:

  • Increase our use of renewable energy and batteries by 3.5 times
  • Retire and refuel our natural gas plants, including the complete shuttering of the McClellan and Campbells gas-fired plants by 2025
  • Partner with investors to help us bring new and emerging technologies to fruition, to make them available to everyone at a cost that everyone can afford.
  • Accelerate the transition to all-electric homes and electric vehicles to help decarbonize the two largest carbon emitting sectors in California, with a commitment to electrify 100% of homes, businesses and vehicles by 2045, by 2040 for our low-income customers.
  • Support more hydroelectric projects, both rooftop and utility- scale solar, wind, biomass, biofuels and more.

No solutions are off the table. Instead, we've set a bigger table. We have spent the past eight months getting input from our customers and consulting with industry experts and regional partners on how we can best achieve our zero-carbon goal.  I’m confident we’ll get there. By uniting to align policies, regulations and resources to support a zero carbon future, we’ll be able to accelerate innovation and clean energy solutions, creating well-paying jobs in the clean energy sector and put Sacramento on the map as a place where green businesses want to be.

Our bold plan calls for us to get 90% of our power needs from renewable sources (excluding large hydro).  To do that, we will increase renewable and battery storage by 3.5 times.  Specifically, we’ll add:

  • 1,100 to 1,500 MW new local utility-scale solar
  • 700 to 1,100 MW of local batteries
  • 300 to 500 MW of wind energy
  • 100 to 220 MW of geothermal energy
  • 100 MW of regional solar energy energy

And our customers are critical in helping us decarbonize our region. Over the next nine years, our customers will install:

  • 500 to 750 MW of rooftop solar
  • 50 to 250 MW of customer-owned battery storage

That will get us about 90% of the way to zero carbon.  We’ll rely on new and emerging technologies to close the remaining gap to zero.  Technology that may not be market-ready now, but shows great promise includes biofuels, thermal/battery hybrid, pumped hydroelectric storage, pre- and post-combustion carbon capture and storage, power-to-gas, hydrogen and methane, long-duration batteries and compressed air storage. 

Our customers’ investments in clean technology will help us get to zero. Energy from rooftop solar systems and stored energy in our customers electric vehicle batteries will all help us offset the need to get energy from gas-fired power plants.

These efforts will identify new partnerships and business models such as the use of virtual power plants, vehicle-to-grid projects and more.

We’ll study it, scale it and deploy it to maximize our reductions. And we’ll do it all while keeping our promise to provide reliable, safe power and affordable rates.

Our community has always been at the heart of everything we do. We are going all in for the health and quality of life in Sacramento, and we are leading the way for a clean energy future for our country.  I hope you’ll join us. Learn more at smud.org/ZeroCarbon.


Paul Lau was named SMUD’s CEO & General Manger in October 2020. A nationally and internationally recognized expert in emerging energy technologies, Lau previously served as chief grid strategy and operations officer since 2015. In that capacity, he had responsibility for SMUD’s power supply and distributed energy resources strategies, including the operating strategies of SMUD’s generation, transmission and distribution systems. A 39-year SMUD veteran, Lau received his bachelor’s degree in electrical power engineering from California State University, Sacramento.