Tech Insights

California’s Progress Toward Power Grid Resilience and Carbon Neutrality

September 01, 2023 by John Nieman

California has made significant clean energy gains and strives to reach 100 percent clean electricity by 2045, a goal outlined by Senate Bill 100. 

Given the stranglehold the fossil fuel industry has had over energy production, reaching 100 percent clean electricity may have once seemed like an impossible prospect. Still, California is well on its way to achieving this milestone. The steady decrease in fossil fuel dependence and the increased ability to harness solar and wind resources in California has created measurable and impressive gains for the clean energy sector.

 

Wind and solar.

Wind and solar. Image used courtesy of Adobe Stock

 

There has been a twentyfold increase in solar energy generation from 2,609 gigawatt-hours (GWh) to 48,950 GWh in California since 2012, according to data from the California Energy Commission. The push toward using rooftop solar panels has played a critical role in this leap for solar power usage and will only continue to grow as installation costs decrease.

In addition to these solar power increases, critical clean energy projects have captured the power that wind can offer the state of California and have made key green contributions from this natural resource. In the figure below from the California Wind Energy Association (CalWEA), we can see that while solar power frequently eclipses the clean energy conversation, wind projects also have a critical role in the path toward a resilient grid.  

 

Longitudinal data on clean energy sources.

Longitudinal data on clean energy sources. Image used courtesy of CalWEA

 

Because of substantial wind energy projects in areas like Kern County and Solano County, CalWEA estimates that 2.3 million California households are supported by wind energy.

These impressive solar and wind energy advancements have not happened without government intervention, underscoring the need for oversight as other states look to replicate the energy landmarks that California is achieving.

 

State Regulation and Oversight Mechanisms

Governor Gavin Newsom has been signing Senate Bills since 2018 that set clear benchmarks for California’s long-term progress toward a cleaner, safer energy grid that supports the growing state.

In 2018, Senate Bill 100 set a bold precedent for the shift to clean energy with the goal of 100 percent of retail energy provided by clean, renewable, and zero-carbon sources by 2045. California has often been on the cusp of environmental reform with measures like electric vehicle mandates and plastic bag bans. Senate Bill 100 is leading the way and setting the standard for clean electricity initiatives at the state-level scale.  

Newsom has since passed Senate Bill 1020 to help manage progress and set graduated goals as California heads toward its final clean energy objective in 2045.

In addition to political mandates, data infrastructure has also been created to manage and track progress. The California Energy Commission (CEC) has created a multitude of interactive tools that help organize and monitor this path toward clean electricity. The rollout of data management supports the CEC’s ongoing efforts to increase ease and accessibility as the state pivots away from fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources.

 

The Climate Context and Growing Urgency  

California is not just innovating for the sake of progress but is, in fact, responding to a demonstrable need for grid resilience. As a result of rising temperatures triggered by climate change, California is experiencing an increase in extreme weather events like droughts, wildfires, and even the very recent hurricane Hilary, which stunned the region.  

The NASA heat map below captures the simple and urgent fact that the state of California spans a region in the U.S. taking the brunt of heat wave intensity.

 

Heatwave density, duration, and intensity in 2020.

Heatwave density, duration, and intensity in 2020. Image used courtesy of NASA

 

California will be vulnerable to catastrophic power failures without a more resilient power grid protected by clean electricity. Thanks to political momentum, clean energy accessibility, and solar and wind power innovations, the state is well on its way to meeting this formidable climate challenge and serving as a beacon of hope for other vulnerable regions.