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California, SoCalGas Pursuing Integrated, Community-Based Energy Program

An underserved portion of a Southern California beachfront community is the focus of a proposed power and energy program jointly sponsored by the California Energy Commission (CEC), University of California, Irvine (UCI) and Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas).

The partners plan to develop a replicable model that could be used throughout the state and SoCalGas service territory that includes Orange County, where the initial program is to be focused in Huntington Beach.

Like a proposal rolled out earlier this month in Northern California by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in Oakland, the SoCalGas-CEC effort is envisioning an mix that de-emphasizes traditional natural gas in favor of diverse energy options, including solar, wind and renewable natural gas (RNG).

"It will also consider the capability of storing wind- and solar-generated energy with power-to-gas technology," a SoCalGas spokesperson said.

SoCalGas is co-funding ($150,000) the effort with the CEC, drawing on the expertise of the advanced power/energy program  at UCI.

The Advanced Energy Community approach "will serve as a guide for future policy and planning in California to keep our energy system sustainable and make a difference in our clean energy future," said SoCalGas Vice President Lisa Alexander, who handles customer solutions and communications.

UCI’s Jack Brouwer, associate director, said the initiative is intended to improve quality of life while reducing costs and emissions in a given community.

The proposed power-to-gas technology to be applied would convert surplus energy from solar panels or wind farms into hydrogen that ultimately could be blended with traditional natural gas and used for homes to electric generation. Renewable hydrogen could be used in fuel cell vehicles or converted to methane for use in the existing SoCalGas natural gas pipeline and storage system.

"The conversion of renewable electricity to gas enables long-term monthly or seasonal storage of large amounts of carbon-free power," said the SoCalGas spokesperson. The Sempra Energy utility began a pilot project with UCI last year, which “successfully demonstrated the use of power-to-gas technology to use excess solar-generated electricity on the university's campus."

SoCalGas also has carried out a series of demonstration projects with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the industry-backed National Fuel Cell Research Center to convert renewable-based electricity into natural gas for storage.

In November, SoCalGas also said it had installed a bioreactor system to test power-to-gas technology at NREL in Colorado. The upcoming first-of-its-kind pilot project is assessing the longer term viability of energy storage, which could be key to California meeting ambitious carbon emission reduction goals.

SoCalGas also cited a study published earlier this year by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which concluded that by 2025 an estimated 3,300-7,800 GWh of excess solar and wind generation would be curtailed in California. The study found that if all of that excess power was converted to methane, there would be enough RNG to heat or provide electricity to thousands of homes.

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