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.