California Energy Commission's Climate Change Research Program

Created: 3/02/2011 - Updated: 10/28/2021

Summary

The California Energy Commission’s main role is to guide the state’s energy policy and planning. Since 1988, the Energy Commission has played a major role in the state’s climate change efforts. From 1997-2015, the Energy Commission conducted research on climate change through their Public Interest Energy Research Program-Environmental Area (PIER-EA) in an effort to reduce environmental impacts from energy production. Climate change research priorities supported by the PIER-EA included climate monitoring, analysis, and modeling; emissions inventory methods; options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and adaptation. The PIER-EA Program concluded in 2015; however, the Commission continues to conduct climate adaptation and resilience research through the Energy Research and Development Division.

Background

In 1988, the California Energy Commission became the lead agency on climate change under Assembly Bill 4420. In 2006, two other bills were passed: (1) Assembly Bill 32, which set the level of greenhouse gas emissions in 1990 as the limit to be achieved by 2020, and (2) Senate Bill 1368, which required the Public Utilities Commission and the Energy Commission to set emissions performance standards. Because of these bills, the Energy Commission developed the PIER-EA, which oversaw and funded research priorities in California that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease climate change impacts, and improve environmental quality. The PIER-EA had four main research categories: 1) climate monitoring, analysis, and modeling; 2) greenhouse gas inventory; 3) reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; and 4) impacts and adaptation.

While the PIER-EA Program’s initiatives have concluded, the Energy Commission continues to be a leader in California concerning climate change mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. The research categories covered by the PIER-EA are now addressed throughout the Commission’s five divisions—Efficiency; Energy Assessments; Energy Research and Development; Fuels and Transportation; Renewable Energy; and Siting, Transmission, and Environmental Protection. The Commission is part of the State’s Intergovernmental Climate Action Team, funds climate- and resilience-related projects, and played a key role in the development of the 2018 update of The Safeguarding California Plan, an adaptation strategy and action document. The Energy Commission also co-funded the development of Cal-Adapt, a tool that demonstrates the projected impacts of climate change in California, including sea level rise, wildfire frequency, and snowpack projections. 

Cal-Adapt is intended to help decision-makers visualize impacts in order to develop sound adaptation policies for the state.

Implementation

PIER-EA was critical in developing guidance and research to assess energy-related impacts and develop alternatives and adaptation strategies. Because all funded research was peer-reviewed, it allowed innovative interaction and collaboration between non-governmental institutions, the private sector, and academia. PIER-specific resources and reports, as well as information on the Energy Commission’s (now discontinued) California Climate Change Research Center, are accessible through an archived version of the Energy Commission’s website.

The Energy Research and Development Division currently funds climate change mitigation, adaptation, and resilience-building research through the Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC), the Natural Gas Research Program, and the Food Production Investment Initiative. The Division continues to emphasize the importance of public interest energy research. Funded research has examined advancing the resilience and environmental performance of California’s electric system, accelerating drought resilience through innovative technologies, linking climate science with energy sector resilience, and characterizing air quality impacts from renewable natural gas, among others. The EPIC program has facilitated forums related to powering resilient communities through advanced energy technologies and invests over $130 million each year into energy research to meet California’s energy and climate policies.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The California Energy Commission has been working on climate change for over 30 years, and has shifted efforts from climate change projections to the development of adaptation options within the energy sector that will benefit people and the environment. Because the energy sector is the main contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the Energy Commission believes they should be leaders in identifying climate change impacts and assisting in the development of adaptation strategies.

Status

Information collected through interviews and publications. Updated 10/21.

Project File (s)

California Energy Commission Climate Change Partnerships

Citation

Score, A. (2021). California Energy Commission's Climate Change Research Program [Case study on a project of the California Energy Commission]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Version 2.0. (Last updated October 2021)

Project Contact(s)

The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency. Created by the Legislature in 1974 and located in Sacramento, the Commission responsibilities include:

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