Solar Santa Monica

Solar Santa Monica

Solar roofWith panoramic views of the ocean, over 86,000 make Santa Monica their home. On the edge of Los Angeles, Santa Monica is a desirable place to work and live. Residents want to keep it that way and make the city a model of sustainable living.

Santa Monica plans to be the nation’s first “Net Zero” city. Through energy efficiency, solar and other renewable energy, the city envisions generating clean energy that matches its total energy consumption.

Santa Monica currently has over 60 buildings with solar power. Other residential and commercial buildings are in the process of installing solar roofing.

The Civic Center Parking Structure will have 250 kW of PV. Where the city government does not use solar power, the city has contracted with Electric America to supply the City with 100% renewable electricity. Electric America has the flexibility to use a mix of renewable sources including geothermal, wind, biomass power plants, and solar.

Solar Santa Monica launched a two year program on January 1, 2007. The voluntary program starts with 50 residential and commercial buildings. With the benefit of what is learned from these 50 projects, the program will be made available to all. The 50 buildings will include 30 to 35 residences, 5 to10 business and 5 municipal buildings.

Susan Munves estimated that over 20 years, $1.4 billion is the probable investment required to achieve being a “Net Zero” city. This is likely to be less than the current utility electric costs. The city will only invest a small part of that investment. The city’s primary role is facilitating and project management. Santa Monica’s 20 year plan would eliminate electricity produced by coal and natural gas power plants, and all the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

Stuart Cooley, Energy Efficiency Engineer for the city, explained that a detailed GIS database was developed of all the roofs of the city. Aerial photography was used to identify over 100MW of available rooftops on the 17,500 roofs in the city. With future solar PV technology, the roofs could represent even more solar energy potential.

Solar Santa Monica makes it easy for citizens to participate. To prevent excess expensive solar power from being installed, the city offers energy audits and identifies solutions from efficient fluorescent lighting to energy saving appliances to cut usage. The city is prequalifing “preferred partners” to install efficiency upgrades. Prepackaged PV and solar thermal systems are offered to residents and include preferred pricing, streamlined purchasing, permitting, installation and financing.

For commercial properties, Solar Santa Monica will provide comprehensive energy assessments for both the property owners and the leasing businesses. Proposals will be delivered with energy bill analysis, system specifications and pay-back analysis. Tax advantages will be detailed. Preferred financing sources will be offered.

Santa Monica goes beyond clean electricity to be a city that models clean transportation. Use of electric vehicles increases every year. The city has over 30 battery electric vehicles (BEV). The largest BEVs are Toyota RAVs which are used by inspectors, engineers, and in other city jobs. The city has a variety of light electric vehicles (LEV) including Dymac, Columbia, e-Ride, GEM, and Taylor-Dunn which make ideal utility vehicles for people maintaining parks, the Pier, and Promenade. The small size and quiet-running of these LEVs are appropriate are in these public places.

The city is now planning on adding two Phoenix BEV sport utility trucks: one for the water department and one for the library. The Phoenix trucks have an impressive 130 mile range. Santa Monica will trickle recharge each night at 220 volts, rather than use Phoenix’s fast recharge option. In addition to the city’s BEV, there are 21 hybrid-electric vehicles. One Prius is an Energy CS plug-in hybrid that averages 120 miles per gallon.

Rick Sikes, Fleet Superintendent, showed me a wide range of clean vehicles. A total of 265 city vehicles run on natural gas, include heavy trucks and street sweepers. The City compresses natural gas from the same SoCal Gas pipeline residents use to cook with and heat water. The cost of this fuel has remained well under $2 per gallon equivalent, even when gasoline was over $3.00 per gallon.

Over 80% of the city’s 519 vehicles are either alternate fuel (alt-fuel) or electric. 100 of Santa Monica’s Big Bus fleet is liquid natural gas (LNG), which they state is 77% cleaner than diesel. LNG provides a 300 mile range. 88 buses run on B20 biodiesel. Only about 20 older buses run on standard diesel. Santa Monica is committed to the State of California’s zero-emission bus regulation. 15% of their fleet replacements starting in 2012 will either be battery-electric or hydrogen fuel cell.

5 of the city’s fleet of Toyota Priuses were converted by Quantum to run on pure hydrogen. The city has a Proton electrolyzer that splits water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen. Because the city buys renewable energy for the electricity that runs the electrolyzer, resulting in the hydrogen Priuses producing no green house gases, on a “well to wheels” basis. Over the next few years the city fleet will get cleaner. Hydrogen can be mixed with CNG to make many of the existing vehicles run cleaner.

For jobs like parking enforcement and quick commutes inside the city, the zero-emission vehicles are perfect, as are the 70-mile range hydrogen Priuses.

Santa Monica commuters are encouraged to burn less oil than the national average. Only 69% drive solo vs. 76% as the national average. In Santa Monica, 19% carpool, 7% bus, 3% walk and 2% bike to work. The city is making progress. In 1993, the average vehicle ridership was only 1.1; by 2005, it had jumped to 1.4.

Rideshare programs are encouraged. Financial incentives work. The City of Santa Monica implements a mandatory “Parking Cash Out” Program, which is a State law requiring employers of fifty or more employees who lease their parking and subsidize any part of their employee parking to offer their employees the opportunity to give up their parking space and rideshare to work instead. In return for giving up their parking space, the employer pays the employee the cost of the parking space. The city provides this for its only employees, achieving an AVR of almost 1.8.

Santa Monica is a model of clean transportation, energy efficiency and renewable energy.