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Solar Up 20X, Fossil Fuel Use Down In California

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California’s been getting a lot of bad press lately. There seems like an endless supply of videos on social media of robberies and shoplifting incidents, some committed in broad daylight. Housing shortages and homelessness, high interest rates, and even bad environmental stories flow out of the state as fast as residents supposedly do to other states. On top of all this, California recently had the bad luck of a tropical storm hitting at the same time as an earthquake.

With all of this going on, it’s easy for the good stories to fall through the cracks, and today we want to highlight some very good news about solar and fossil fuels. According to data from the California Energy Commission (CEC), California has made significant strides in developing a resilient grid, attaining 100% clean electricity, and meeting its carbon neutrality objectives. Analysis of the state’s Total System Electric Generation report reveals the transformation of California’s power mix over the past decade.

The numbers are truly impressive. Solar generation experienced an impressive growth, soaring nearly twenty-fold from 2,609 gigawatt-hours (GWh) to an astounding 48,950 GWh. Meanwhile, wind generation demonstrated a commendable increase of 63%. On the other hand, there was a substantial decline of 20% in natural gas generation. Notably, coal has been gradually phased out of the power mix, marking a significant shift towards cleaner and more sustainable energy sources.

In addition to contributing to the total utility generation, rooftop solar has experienced a phenomenal growth of 10 times in 2022. This remarkable progress has resulted in the generation of 24,309 GWh of clean power, significantly reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainable energy sources. Furthermore, the state’s innovative approach includes an expanding fleet of battery storage resources, which seamlessly support the grid by efficiently charging during the day, utilizing excess renewable power, and providing reliable energy supply during the evening hours. Such advancements in renewable energy infrastructure are crucial for a greener and more sustainable future.

“This latest report card showing how solar energy boomed as natural gas powered electricity experienced a steady 20 percent decline over the last decade is encouraging,” said CEC Vice Chair Siva Gunda. “Even as climate impacts become increasingly severe, California remains committed to transitioning away from polluting fossil fuels and delivering on the promise to build a future power grid that is clean, reliable and affordable.”

Senate Bill 100 (2018) was landmark legislation that mandates 100% of California’s electric retail sales to be sourced from renewable and zero-carbon energy by 2045, but getting to that goal isn’t going to be easy. This ambitious goal aims to reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels and combat climate change. To ensure steady progress toward the goal, Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 1020 last year, which sets interim targets of 90% clean electricity by 2035 and 95% by 2040. These targets serve as stepping stones towards achieving a sustainable and environmentally friendly energy future for California, and should help the state continue the massive growth in renewables it experienced over the last decade.

The state closely monitors its progress towards achieving its renewable energy goals through the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS). This standard allows the state to track the power mix of retail sales, ensuring that a significant portion of electricity comes from eligible renewable sources like solar and wind. The latest data for 2021 reveal that over 37% of the state’s electricity was generated from RPS-eligible sources, representing a notable increase of 2.7% compared to the previous year. Furthermore, when we consider other sources of zero-carbon energy, such as large hydroelectric generation and nuclear power, we can proudly say that nearly 59% of the state’s retail electricity sales are derived from non-fossil fuel sources.

Climate Change Isn’t Making This Any Easier, But It Isn’t Stopping Them

One of the biggest reasons California aims for more renewables and less fossil fuels in the electricity mix isn’t just bragging rights or to bother Texas. The goal of slowing down anthropogenic climate change is a high priority. Sadly, though, climate change is making the march to renewables a real slog.

But, as the state faces an extraordinary array of climate impacts, including heat waves, drought, and wildfires, there is a noticeable increase in the adoption of renewable energy sources, accompanied by a decline in the use of fossil fuels.

In 2022, California had its eighth warmest and ninth driest year in the past 128 years. Temperatures in California have increased by nearly 3 degrees Fahrenheit since the early 20th century. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that the six warmest years on record have all happened since 2014.

Over the past three years, California’s power grid has faced unprecedented challenges due to climate change-induced heat waves. These extreme weather events have significantly increased the demand for electricity, creating a precarious situation for the grid’s ability to meet additional needs. State energy forecasters anticipate a continuation of these erratic and intense weather patterns, resulting in a tight energy supply until additional energy production is established.

But, despite what anti-renewables people would tell you, California hasn’t been asleep at the switch.

To better prepare the grid for the future, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation in 2022 to establish the Strategic Reliability Reserve. This reserve serves as a safeguard during grid emergencies and plays a vital role in the energy transition. It includes demand response programs and other power resources that can be deployed in case of an energy emergency.

The California Public Utilities Commission has mandated the addition of 18,800 MW of new clean resources by 2028. Efforts are underway to promote the development of long-duration energy storage and offshore wind energy projects in the coming decades, further diversifying and expanding the state’s clean energy portfolio.

Proof That It Can Be Done

While I can’t personally say that I agree with everything that the state does, I do think this achievement is a good thing to highlight. It shows the naysayers in other states that renewables can be adopted and can be part of a resilient and stable energy supply. Hopefully they keep doing this right and keep showing the rest of the country the way forward.

Featured image provided by the California Energy Commission.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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