Archives for the month of: April, 2016

Even with an El Nino and the wettest March on record, the prognosis of California’s drought is mixed. In Southern California, El Nino has been a disappointment, but parts of the state have been thoroughly drenched.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides almost 30% of water used in California, is at about 87% of it’s long-term average. An encouraging sign, but with climate affecting how the snowpack accumulates and melts, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is an unreliable source of water long-term.

 

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Shasta Lake

 
Reservoirs in Northern California are filling up, but smaller reservoirs in the southern part of the state remain at low levels. Lake Shasta, the state’s biggest reservoir and a key water supplier for the Central Valley, is just below historical average, and with recent storms, was filling up so fast that the Federal Bureau of Reclamation had to ramp up releases from 5,000 cubic feet per second to 20,000 cubic feet per second, the first time that the bureau has released water into the Sacramento River at such a rate since 2011.

Folsom Lake, another northern California Reservoir, is currently at 115% of it’s average, and as such, the San Juan water district has switched to a 10% voluntary conservation target, abandoning the state’s targets. Other water-rich districts have asked the state to ease conservation demands. This public perception of water abundance, at least in parts of the state, is not entirely accurate, and California’s drought and water usage is a statewide, not regional, issue. The US drought monitor shows much of central and southern California to be in an “exceptional drought.”

In fact, according to most experts, it will take years for California to rebound from this historic drought. The state’s groundwater aquifers have been heavily used during the drought, mostly by farmers drilling wells in the Central Valley. Water tables dropped by 50 feet in some areas, causing the land surface to sink which in turn leads to other problems, such as buckling roads. What’s more, Central Valley farmers pump water out of the ground faster than the aquifers can be replenished even in wet years. Although the state’s reservoirs are, on the whole, rebounding, many are still at levels far below their long-term averages. Moreover, drought is not only a meteorological condition, but is also when demand for water exceeds supply. California uses too much water, and conservation efforts are extremely important for the future, regardless of any El Nino.

On one unspecified day in February, the 200,000th electric car was sold in the state of California, which is home to about half of all electric cars in the United States. Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order in March, 2012 establishing a path to 1.5 million zero emissions vehicles (ZEV) in California by the year 2020, and with new and improved electric cars available for purchase and ZEV-friendly codes and legislation, California is getting closer to it’s goal. Forecasts for EV growth vary significantly, from 5% of new car sales in 2020 according to the Ready, Set, Charge initiative and 15% of new car sales in the same period by the California Air Resources Board.

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Starting January 1st, 2017, the California Building Code has mandated that new commercial buildings supply a percentage EV Ready parking spots, ranging from four to ten percent of total parking spots, when parking exceeds ten spaces. All new residential construction must also be EV-ready. One- and two-family dwellings are required to have a service panel with the capacity for a 40-amp circuit (sufficient for a 32-amp charging station), and conduit that can support wiring for an 80-amp circuit. Residential developments with seventeen or more units must provide charging for three percent of all parking spaces.

There is currently one public charger for every ten electric vehicles, and while CalGreen’s updated building code addresses the need for EV-ready infrastructure in new construction, public charging stations are thin on the ground, and where they can be found, wildly inconsistent. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) banned California’s electric utilities from owning and operating EV charging equipment, partly in the hopes that the private sector would produce more innovation. Another black cloud hanging over public charging stations for ZEV’s in California is that the PUC let NRG, an energy company sued by the state for misconduct, spend $100 million dollars on public charging for electric vehicles, essentially sticking a big chunk of public electric vehicle infrastructure in the middle of a lawsuit.

While policies favorable to ZEV’s are somewhat responsible for helping drive the growing number of electric vehicles on the road, the dropping price of electric car batteries is arguably the major driver of growth. The cost of Li-on battery packs fell an estimated $1000 per kilowatt hour between 2007 and 2014, and the cost currently hovers around $300 per kilowatt hour. Researchers generally agree that electric car batteries need to be less than $150/kWh to be able to compete with internal combustion vehicles.