Solar Generation In California Increased Almost 20-Fold In The Last 11 Years

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The California Energy Commission just released energy data showing that solar power electricity production in California increased almost twenty times since 2012.

The increase was 2,609 gigawatt-hours (GWh) to 48,950 GWh. Rooftop solar increased 10 times and the rest of the overall increase was from utility-scale solar.

During the same period, wind power generation increased 63%. Fossil fuel use in the state’s energy mix declined in the same time frame. Coal use was almost entirely eliminated and natural gas electricity production decreased 20%.

The state of California has a goal to be operating on 100% clean, renewable electricity by 2045. The goal by 2035 is 90% clean, renewable electricity. The Golden State has also been installing energy storage in the form of more battery systems to provide backup electricity when it is needed.

California Energy Commission staff answered a couple of questions about how California achieved the above goals for CleanTechnica.

How did California increase its solar and wind generation so much in the last 10 years, and how did natural gas generation decrease by 20% in that time?

California’s nation-leading Renewables Portfolio Standards (RPS) is a large part of the reason the state is successfully transitioning from an electrical system driven primarily by fossil fuels to one led mostly by clean energy resources. 

The RPS program requires a portion of all retail electric sales in California to come from eligible renewable resources. The program was established in 2002 with an initial requirement that 20% of electricity retail sales be served by renewable resources by 2017. Escalating requirements saw the goal progress to 34% by 2020 – a target that was met two years early.

In 2018, Senate Bill 100 was signed into law accelerating the goals again, to 60% by 2030 and requiring RPS-eligible sources and zero-carbon resources to supply 100% of California’s electricity retail sales and electricity procured by 2045.

Image credit: California Energy Commission

What are the plans for solar, wind, and geothermal growth?

Plans for solar, wind, and geothermal growth are detailed in the above graphic.

You can also find detailed information about how this additional generation will be built out in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent energy plan: Building the Electricity Grid of the Future: California’s Clean Energy Transition Plan

Here are a few excerpts that are applicable.

  • California’s energy transition is well underway, with nearly 35,000 MWs of renewable resources already serving the grid, and 9,000 megawatts (MW) of that capacity coming on-line in the last three years. To provide 100% clean electricity, current studies show California will need to build an additional 148,000 MW of clean energy resources by 2045.
  • The new grid will continue to innovate energy demand side resources by increasing energy efficiency, adoption of customer solar and storage, and utilize technologies that allow customers to supply power stored in their zero-emissions car batteries and other sources back to the grid. Optimizing demand side resources creates greater grid efficiencies and advances our goals of affordability and reliability. But the only way to achieve our goals is to build more clean energy, faster.
  • Modernizing our electric grid means adapting to how these newer forms of power differ from older, dirtier sources. For example, newer, clean sources of electricity like solar and wind energy are more variable and more intermittent. We will not be able to build a reliable, clean electric grid using solar and wind energy alone. California needs more diverse clean energy resources – including batteries, clean hydrogen, and long duration storage – and a wide range of technologies and resources to meet the unprecedented growth in demand for electricity at all hours of the day and different times of year.
  • Last year, California passed important regulatory reforms that will make it easier to build thousands of new MWs of clean electric generation. The state has a comprehensive electric generation and energy storage procurement planning process and is making it easier to fast-track new clean energy projects. Our state is also investing in connecting and delivering these clean energy resources to California consumers. Now, we must get to work and build the clean energy projects that help us reach our goals.
  • Energy efficiency and technology will also be critical. Customers will have increased ability to voluntarily and automatically reduce electricity use to provide power back to the grid when demand is high. State incentives to harness the “smart” capabilities of cars, household appliances, and other equipment will reduce strain on our electric grid and help customers reduce their electric costs. The electrical grid of the future will be smart and dynamic, with buildings and vehicles providing power back to the grid during peak hours, and charging during times of relatively low demand.

California is home to some of the best offshore wind resources in the country, a power source that will play a major role in helping the state achieve 100% clean electricity and carbon neutrality. In 2022, California adopted a report that sets planning goals of 2,000-5,000 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind by 2030 and 25,000 MW by 2045, enough electricity to power 3.75 million initially and 25 million homes by mid-century.

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A Little Context

California has about 39 million residents. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, it has enough solar power to run a little over 11,000,000 homes. Just over 78,000 people work in the California solar industry, according to the same source.

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Jake Richardson

Hello, I have been writing online for some time, and enjoy the outdoors. If you like, you can follow me on Twitter:

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