How To Power California With Wind, Wave, & Solar Energy

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With a population of over 38 million and rising, California has often been deemed of sufficient size to almost be considered a nation-state of its own. The Golden State’s GDP is on par with many countries, and the state has also been a global leader in renewable energy — often standing apart from its parent country’s political decisions.

So, it’s no surprise that a new study has been released by Stanford researchers showing how California could convert to an all-renewable energy infrastructure that is both technically and economically feasible.

The plan, published in Energy, outlines what it would take to make the change, and all the benefits that would come with it.

Power California With Wind, Wave, And Solar
Moon Rise behind the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm. Image Credit: Chuck Coker via Flickr

“If implemented, this plan will eliminate air pollution mortality and global warming emissions from California, stabilize prices and create jobs – there is little downside,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, the study’s lead author and a Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering.

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It’s not a half-thought out plan, either, taking into account California’s transportation, electric power, industry, heating, and cooling needs. All employment and financial benefits are laid out, as well as the land and ocean areas necessary, and policies required. It also provides new estimates of air pollution mortality and morbidity impacts.

It’s not the first time the authors have set their minds to redefining a state’s energy infrastructure, having created a similar plan for New York once before. This time, it’s their aim to power California with wind, wave, and solar, and it’s only the second on their way to creating plans for the entirety of the US.

The plan would create approximately 220,000 manufacturing, installation, and technology construction and operation jobs — and that’s taking into account the losses of fossil-fuel and nuclear jobs. Additionally, California would walk away with net earnings of around $12 billion annually.

One scenario shows California’s energy needs being met by 2050 with a mix of sources:

  • 25,000 onshore 5-megawatt wind turbines
  • 1,200 100-megawatt concentrated solar plants
  • 15 million 5-kilowatt residential rooftop photovoltaic systems
  • 72 100-megawatt geothermal plants
  • 5,000 0.75-megawatt wave devices
  • 3,400 1-megawatt tidal turbines

“I think the most interesting finding is that the plan will reduce social costs related to air pollution and climate change by about $150 billion per year in 2050, and that these savings will pay for all new energy generation in only seven years,” said study co-author Mark Delucchi of the University of California, Davis.

“The technologies needed for a quick transition to an across-the-board, renewables-based statewide energy system are available today,” said Anthony Ingraffea, a Cornell University engineering professor and study co-author. “Like New York, California has a clear choice to make: Double down on 20th-century fossil fuels or accelerate toward a clean, green energy future.”

Plans such as these can often languish in academic space forever, without ever making it into the minds of politicians and society. Hopefully Jacobson and co. will have better luck getting their ideas out into the real world.

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

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