Commentary | New pool needs to be powered by sustainable sources

George Sanen, project manager for the pool project, made two very important statements during Monday night’s Council meeting:  “Pools are energy hogs” and “pools use a lot of power.” Put another way, pools generate a lot of greenhouse gas (GHG), which leads to climate change. The new pool is three times larger than the current one and the new pool house twice as large as the current locker room so the new facility is going to need a lot more power.  And will generate a lot more GHG, unless Piedmont gets the design right.

The right design is an “electric” pool, a pool that runs on electricity generated from renewable sources such as wind and solar and uses no natural gas. 

There are three options for building an electric pool. One, use electric heaters and pumps run on renewable energy currently provided Piedmont by its energy provider, East Bay Clean Energy (EBCE). This electricity is more costly than natural gas but will become less so over time as solar and battery technologies are improved and generates no GHG.  Second, use onsite solar to generate the needed electricity. This option would take a solar PV array the size of the tennis courts and then some so is impractical. Third, use onsite heat pumps and high-efficiency water pumps powered by a mix of onsite solar and EBCE renewable energy to operate the facility.

This third option is ambitious but can be achieved if the right design team is assembled.

Unfortunately, the City undersold the need for creative thinking by setting a pretty low bar for pool design in its request for proposals. The RFP calls for a LEED silver design (a building performance level set by the U.S. Green Building Coalition) as the goal for the pool facility [learn MORE]. This design level will have little impact on the GHG output of the new pool facility and may not even be applicable to pools. It certainly won’t eliminate natural gas from the pool. The RFP says the feasibility of the electric option will be studied but unless that analysis includes all three electric designs it won’t provide the specificity for the city to minimize GHG emissions from the new pool.

The RFP also failed to cite the City’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) [learn MORE]. The CAP is a Council-approved set of goals and policies designed to reduce Piedmont’s GHG by 80% by 2050. The CAP has set the goal of the City acquiring 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and switching from natural gas to electricity for municipal operations by 2050. 

Of all city facilities, the current pool is the largest user of natural gas so switching to an all-electric pool now will be a significant step towards meeting those goals. Some have suggested phasing in an all-electric pool but that kicks the can down the road and would probably cost more in the end. And by phasing the City would miss an opportunity to educate the community about converting from natural gas. The 2050 GHG reduction target will only be achieved by Piedmont homes converting from natural gas to electricity so the City can lead the way here by building a pool with no natural gas.  

Those interested in engaging is a discussion of the pool design should email the City at or

7 thoughts on “Commentary | New pool needs to be powered by sustainable sources

  1. Aside from all the above excellent comments (and original article) on energy and GHG, there is the looming issue of…water! A pool that size takes a lot of it, and then loses a part to daily evaporation. How much of course depends on numerous factors, but the average pool in average conditions is said to lose about 600 gallons a week. Ours of course is going to be larger than average. Plus the hotter and windier it is, the more water you lose. Last time I looked, both heat and wind are on the rise.

    Nothing to be done ( I assume) since the wheels are well in motion, but I wish the vote had been held now, in the middle of our drought. Perhaps the outcome would have been different, if only in pool size.

    • Something can be done. According to city staff and the project manager, the conceptual design is open for review so hopefully the pool will be tweaked for better energy and water efficiencies. One improvement would be to square off the recreational pool so an automated pool could could be used. That would save much energy and water.

  2. One correction Garrett:
    Using onsite solar (to drive HPs) can be a great advantage to reduce emissions immediately since it now would become a direct addition to the Grid, which satisfies the renewable “additionality” requirement for the RPS. This also reduces EBCE use which in reality has a negative effect due to its delivery over the grid that is currently only ~35% Green and will not be 1oo% until 2045.

  3. Recently the City passed the controversial Reach Codes which forces homeowners to convert to convection cooking, add heat pumps and other costly additions if certain remodeling dollar thresholds are met. These retroactive changes become very costly for those in older homes as more extensive construction is required to retrofit. The Reach codes were passed in an effort to eliminate natural gas as an energy source, reduce Green House Gases and put Piedmont on a path of environmental sustainability.

    Surely the City will make the same efforts with the new pool as they are imposing on individual homeowners. The pool is the single largest gas energy user in town and the new pool will be considerably larger. Environmental and sustainability issues become even more critical. Given flooding, droughts, raging fires and soaring temperatures, climate change is here. And action must be taken now.

    The conversation concerning the City doing the right thing is getting kicked down the road until further decision points in the new pool process are finalized that will make any meaningful conversation mute. I am disappointed.

  4. I agree. First, Piedmont’s Climate Action goals are not science-based targets. Second, our CAP objectives lag alarmingly behind both State and national greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals. Furthermore, just 2 weeks ago, Gov Newsom asked his staff to develop plans to meet Net Zero Emissions targets a full decade earlier— by 2035 (rather than 2045). Piedmont cannot build a pool facility in 2023-24 which is expected to serve our community for 50 years— until 2074– which will burn natural gas for another half century and with our consciences intact. The former pool facility emitted 75% of Piedmont’s municipal emissions in 2019. A conceptual draft of a potential new aquatics facility depicts pools which are both larger and deeper, with a much greater volume of water to heat. We must continue to be data-driven, science-oriented, creative problem solvers who recognize the scope and severity of the climate emergency and act on our knowledge and understanding responsibly and soberly.

  5. Thank you Garrett. This is a critical issue that Piedmont must face now $19 million for an energy guzzling pool would be shameful

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