Carbon Neutral Electricity and Natural Gas

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Since 2013, Palo Alto has provided 100% carbon neutral electricity and, as of July 1, 2017, we also provide 100% carbon neutral natural gas. For electricity, carbon neutral means that we match electricity demand with carbon free supply on an annual basis. For natural gas, carbon neutral means that we buy carbon offsets to balance emissions from natural gas use in Palo Alto. 

Why Go Carbon Neutral?

As a community, Palo Alto is committed to demonstrating leadership on the path to a sustainable future. The City of Palo Alto Utilities is the first utility in the world to provide both carbon neutral electricity and natural gas as a standard to all customers.

Cutting Carbon Emissions

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are a major contributor to climate change. California has set a bold target for reducing CO2e emissions and Palo Alto has an even more ambitious goal of 80% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Palo Alto's Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The City's 100% carbon neutral electricity and natural gas have helped bring us closer to our GHG emissions reduction target. However, other sources of GHG emissions continue to contribute to Palo Alto's carbon footprint.

Timeline & History

Before 2013:

Sustainable Foundation

 Legacy of Leading: Palo Alto has a deep history of pioneering new and ambitious approaches to sustainability.

Utility Efforts: By 2012, Palo Alto had reduced the GHG emissions in its electric portfolio through energy efficiency, encouragement of solar photovoltaic panel installations, and adoption of an accelerated Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), as shown in the chart at left.

2013

Carbon Neutral Electricity: As a community, we knew we could do more. In 2013 Palo Alto's City Council adopted the Carbon Neutral Plan that led to 100% carbon neutral electricity through power purchases from carbon free renewable and hydroelectric sources.

2016


Ambitious Climate Targets: 
The City Council approved the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP), including its main goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2030, which is 20 years earlier than the State of California's goal.

2017


Carbon Neutral Natural Gas:
In 2016, the City Council approved the Carbon Neutral Natural Gas Portfolio Plan. This allows the City to provide 100% carbon neutral natural gas as a default to all customers starting July 1, 2017. We calculate annually the amount of GHG emissions associated with natural gas consumption in Palo Alto and purchase offsets to remove an equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere.

Electricity from Solar Soars:In 2017, several new large solar contracts came online, and the percentage of Palo Alto's electricity sourced from solar resources increased significantly, from 3% in 2015 to 33% in 2017.

2018 And Beyond


Palo Alto's Next Steps: 
Palo Alto's sustainability efforts will be guided by our Sustainability and Climate Action Plan and the Sustainability Implementation Plans.

Utility as Partner: At the City of Palo Alto Utilities, efficiency is our number one recommendation to minimize the environmental impacts of energy use. We are also working to go beyond gas by facilitating the switch to electric vehicles and high-efficiency electric appliances.

What's Next

Our Path to Sustainability

Together, we’ve made Palo Alto a world leader in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, our efforts don't end with the use of 100% carbon neutral electricity and natural gas. To meet Palo Alto's GHG emission goals, we need to continue to prioritize efficiency, reduce single-occupancy-vehicle travel, and consider switching to electric vehicles and high-efficiency electric appliances.

Efficiency

Even with clean sources and offsets, using energy still has environmental impacts. The state has ranked efficiency as the top priority to minimize the environmental impacts of our energy use. (See California's Energy Action Plan from 2003.)

Using electricity efficiently reduces your costs and helps ensure that we can continue to meet electricity demand with carbon neutral supply as more people switch to electric vehicles and high-efficiency electric appliances. Using natural gas efficiently also helps keep your costs down, while moving us away from fossil fuels.

The City's Utilities Department has many programs to help residents and businesses improve their energy efficiency.

 • Home Efficiency Genie: A concierge service for all things home efficiency, offering free expert advice, discounted home energy assessments, and free efficiency products.
 • Green Living Resources: A guide to CPAU's programs and rebates for energy efficiency.
 • Commercial & Industrial Programs and Rebates

Reducing Emissions from Remaining Fossil Fuels

Gasoline and natural gas are the major fossil fuels that Palo Alto uses. After Palo Alto began sourcing all of its electricity from renewable and hydroelectric sources in 2013, the majority of its carbon emissions were associated with road transport and natural gas use.

Road Transport

Road transport makes up the largest percentage of Palo Alto's remaining carbon emissions. The City is already a leader in electric vehicle ownership, accounting for one percent of all EV sales in the state (about 2,500 cars). Learn more about electric vehicles in Palo Alto.

Natural Gas

In Palo Alto, we believe we must go beyond carbon neutral natural gas. Advancements in electric space heating, water heating, and other devices have made switching to high-efficiency electric appliances more compelling than ever.

Additional Resources