SoCal Gas' Tanya Peacock on Renewable Natural Gas for Sustainable Transportation 

Tanya Peacock

On April 21, MoveLA  convened a panel of experts from the business, government, and nonprofit sectors for a discussion on improving mobility and health through innovative transit technologies. VX News excerpts Tanya Peacock, Public Policy & Planning Manager at SoCalGas who elaborates on the company’s commitment to achieving net-zero operations and energy delivery by 2045. Peacock highlight’s SoCal Gas’s recent partnership with Sunline Transit Agengy to test innovative technologies that reduce the cost of hydrogen production and power the agency’s fleet of 17 fuel-cell electric buses with hydrogen produced on site.  Watch the full panel discussion online, here.

Tanya Peacock: SoCalGas recently came out with a very significant climate commitment, ASPIRE2045, to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations, but most importantly, in the delivery of energy by 2045. This commitment actually makes SoCalGas the largest gas distribution utility in North America to set a net zero target that includes scope 1, 3, and 3 emissions that would not only eliminate its direct emissions (scope 1), but also those generated by customers' energy delivered through SoCalGas' pipelines (scope 3).

Not only will the cars we use, the buildings we own, and the facilities we operate make this transition, this means that all of the fuel—traditional natural gas—is going to have to be net-zero by 2045. This aligns up with the Paris Climate Agreement's recommendations and reflects the company's focus on supporting California with a resilient gas grid through the energy transition as we build a carbon-neutral economy.

You may ask, "How is SoCalGas going to achieve this net-zero goal? How do we know it's real? And, where is the accountability?" The commitment is important because it's a milestone, it puts a stake in the ground, and it's just the beginning. There's a lot more to come. We are working on a very specific, measurable framework for ESG related goals over the next coming months and later this year, so you're going to see a comprehensive sustainability strategy and a clean fuel strategy. That's where all the details and all of the accountability are going to come in.

In terms of what we're doing today to advance technologies that can help us end our reliance on diesel for transportation, I have a great example that was just announced today.  It's a partnership between SunLine transit—the transit agency that serves parts of Riverside County— and they currently have 17 hydrogen fuel cell electric buses. This project will produce hydrogen from renewable natural gas at SunLine Transit Agency's hydrogen fueling station in Thousand Palms, California.

It's a demonstration project called Hydrogen Silver STARS, and it's going to produce renewable hydrogen to fuel SunLine's fleet of 17 hydrogen fuel cell electric buses and support further expansion of that fleet. The goal is  to produce emissions-free, renewable hydrogen for fuel cell electric vehicles, and the idea is that this technology can be commercialized and utilized in other locations. The key thing is to be price-competitive with gasoline, because that's really been the challenge for hydrogen but in particular renewable hydrogen.

The project will make hydrogen from renewable natural gas, the same way it's done currently in large centralized hydrogen-production plants. It's done through a process called steam-methane reformation, but it's going to do this with very compact equipment small enough to fit in a tractor trailer container, so it's modular. The 'stars' component of the project is an electricity-powered induction heating process, which means there's absolutely no combustion to create that steam to then create the hydrogen. This significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional hydrogen production.

Even cooler, the system is produced using 3D-printing. This makes it well-suited for mass production after it's tested at the SunLine facility, and makes it drastically less expensive to make and operate compared to alternatives. Instead of having to truck hydrogen around to stations, you can produce it onsite in a very affordable, low-GHG emissions way. SoCalGas has played a key role in advancing all kinds of technological innovations over the years. This is just another example of how we've partnered with other entities, like transit agencies, to really bring innovations and new technologies to the market.

I'm optimistic that low-cost, on-site renewable hydrogen production could really be a game changer for fuel cell electric buses, and this will absolutely improve air quality all around Southern California and beyond.

Danny Tabor:  As you build out the 2045 plan and you're developing the infrastructure to support renewable hydrogen transformation that you discussed, how do you envision including communities that have typically been the last to receive the benefits of technology?

Tanya Peacock: So, specifically with respect to hydrogen as a vehicle fuel, whether it be for buses or passenger cars, one of the advantages of hydrogen is that it, in a way, is a drop in replacement for gasoline, and it doesn't require that you have a garage or the ability to charge. Moving to the passenger side, there are some applications where you might have trouble charging at home for whatever reason, whether you live in a multifamily building or you can’t cover the cost of rewiring your garage to provide the proper amount of power needed for an electric vehicle charger. If you had an option of affordable renewable hydrogen to power your vehicles, it just gives you another option for clean fuels

 I think the key to decarbonisation and very much for equity is optionality—that you have clean choices in terms of decarbonisation. Also when you're looking at decarbonizing heat and decarbonizing buildings, electrification absolutely makes sense in some instances. And then there are others that really need to think about the fact that gas is in 94 percent of homes in Los Angeles, basically Southern California Gas Company’s service territory. It's a big deal, and we’re going toto decarbonize those homes faster than we're going to be able to electrify them. But that's a very controversial topic and this is a panel on  transit, and so I don't want to go down that path, but affordable clean fuels provide a decarbonisation option.

There's still work to be done to address the affordability issue, but if we don't start now we're not going to be able to get there in time in terms of meeting climate goals. Especially in this crucial next decade when it's all hands on deck. We have to look at all options for decarbonisation if we're going to have a chance of meeting our 2030  goals. So, that's my somewhat roundabout response to your equity. I think providing affordable options addresses that issue in a lot of ways.

"This commitment actually makes SoCalGas the largest gas distribution utility in North America to set a net zero target that includes scope 1, 3, and 3 emissions that would not only eliminate its direct emissions (scope 1), but also those generated by customers' energy delivered through SoCalGas' pipelines (scope 3).”—Tanya Peacock