California to be at 50% Renewable Energy by 2030

By John Addison

John Addison is the author of two books - Save Gas, Save the Planet that details the future of transportation and Revenue Rocket about technology partner strategy. CNET, Clean Fleet Report, and Meeting of the Minds have published over 300 of his articles. Prior to being a writer and speaker, he was in partner and sales management for technology companies such as Sun Microsystems. Follow John on Twitter @soaringcities.

A few years ago, it was 10 percent; today 40 percent; in 12 years half of California’s electricity will be generated with renewables, primarily solar and wind power. The world’s fifth largest economy is all in; it is the law to be 50 percent by 2030. As of now, California is ahead of schedule.

In addition to meeting traditional electricity needs for homes and buildings, demand for electricity is growing with increased population, economic growth, water pumping, recycling and desalination, and millions traveling in electric cars, buses and rail. Although California has only 13 percent of the nation’s population, it has half the nation’s solar power, half the grid storage, and half the electric vehicles.

Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President, GTM Research at the California Distributed Energy Future discussed three driving forces:

  1. Decarbonization
  2. Decentralization
  3. Electrification

Decarbonization

California’s clean energy leadership got serious in 1978 when energy efficiency was established in building codes. Then regulated utilities were financially rewarded for promoting efficiency. It worked. California’s electricity demand has been flat for 40 years; the state is twice as energy efficient as the nation.

California is on track to use 50 percent renewables in 12 years. Today, California is coal free and nuke free, generating 40 percent of electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. Wind and solar power are being added, often for less than four cents per kilowatt-hour. Renewables, energy efficiency, energy storage, microgrids, and software are enablers of the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

California’s 10 GW of installed solar is almost half of all solar power in the United States. Another 32 GW is under development. In addition to photovoltaics (PV), utility PG&E uses concentrating solar power (CSP), rather than PV, from Ivanpah, a project developed by Google and Brightsource and managed by NRG.

After the disastrous natural gas (methane) leaks at Aliso Canyon, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ordered that its gas storage be reduced from 86 billion cubic feet (Bcf) to 15 Bcf. Using solar plus storage, Southern California Edison (SCE), serving 14 million people, will shut down about 50 methane peaker and large gas power plants over the next few years.

Decentralization

Electricity generation is increasingly decentralized; generation is often at the same location where the electricity is used. Large centralized coal, gas, and nuclear plants have been shut down. Becoming more important are solar and wind operators, efficiency implementers, electric mobility providers, community providers, and aggregators. Becoming more important is upgrading the grid, faster distribution lines, market exchanges, software, and storage. Becoming less important are the large utility central power plants.

Solar is running on over 500,000 California homes. Commercial and industrial corporations are also installing solar. Walmart, Walgreens, Kohl’s, Target, and Costco have covered hundreds of their roofs with solar. Technology giants such as Alphabet (Google), Facebook, SAP USA, Salesforce, Oracle, and Apple power data centers and headquarter campuses with renewables plus storage.

Storage is a big driver in decentralization. In 2010, lithium batteries cost about $1,000 per kilowatt-hour; now as low as $145 per kilowatt-hour. Consider how some San Diego schools are using solar+storage+software to save money. Many schools face peak energy demand in the morning. As everyone arrives, classrooms and offices are heated or cooled after being empty all night. For these peak school hours, battery-stored electricity is used. The batteries were fully charged in the middle of the night, taking advantage of deep off-peak time-of-use (TOU) rates. In the middle of the day, maximum sun power is captured with large-scale batteries.  By late afternoon, energy demand declines at most schools enabling batteries to be fully charged. In many areas, peak utility demand is now hours like 5 to 9 in the evening where schools sell power to utilities during these hours at premium rates, participating in demand response programs.

Renewables, corporate defections, community solar, and zero-net-energy builders are disrupting industries such as coal mining, gas fracking, and utilities. There will be winners and losers. The most forward looking utilities (and their regulators) are increasingly acting as distributed system operators (DSO), buying, selling, connecting, storing, and managing distributed energy resources (DER).

In seven years, the entire ten-campus University of California has pledged to be carbon neutral. UC’s buildings and vehicle fleet will no longer be net emitters of greenhouse gases. With over 500,000 students, faculty, and staff, the impact is massive. Progress is everywhere. At UC Irvine, many buildings are not only LEED Platinum rated for efficiency; they are also covered with solar power. Park Place, upscale apartments near UC Irvine, will use 1.3MW Tesla battery systems. At UC Davis, the West Village complex of apartments and homes is near zero-net energy for the two thousand living there. UC San Diego, with its microgrid, already generates over 80-percent of its total energy needs.

Electrification

California homeowners and businesses are gradually electrifying everything. Half of all electric cars in the nation are on the road in California. Number one EV maker Tesla has its massive manufacturing site in California. Rail and buses are increasing powered by electricity, which in turn is increasingly renewable.

Efficient electric water heaters, heat pumps, and appliances are replacing older and less efficient natural gas (methane) heaters and pumps. By law, buildings will use 50 percent less energy by 2030. New building codes for 2020 require new houses to be zero net energy (ZNE), new government buildings ZNE by 2025, and new commercial buildings to be ZNE by 2030. These ZNE buildings are completely electric, using no fossil fuels.

Everything is getting electrified in California. So far, solar and wind are not only meeting this increased demand for electricity and replacing fossil fuels.

In California, the use of both energy efficiency and renewable energy are accelerating. California has an economy that is bigger than India, France, Brazil, Russia, and all but four nations. The 40 million people living in California’s dispel the myth that coal power is needed to have a thriving economy.

California’s non-profit electric wholesaler and grid operator, CAISO, reports the details of California electricity generation and use. For this year, this month, even for today, you can see the details at CAISO. As I submit this article, renewables including hydro are at 40 percent, as the people of world’s fifth largest economy decarbonizes, decentralizes, and electrifies everything in homes, work, and transportation.

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2 Comments

  1. Electric vehicles are in their infancy today. They will become eight times more efficient as elevated guideway cars solve city traffic congestion. The power grid will not carry any of the transportation electric load as the guideway structures will contain their own solar farm sufficient to power mobility. This further justifies going solid state solar using PV solar panels. Price parity has been crossed already so nukes are obsolete not because of the danger of producing massive amounts of dirty bomb materials but because the output electricity is too expensive to sell in the real market. Same for coal it is too expensive compared to solid state energy conversion. Too many moving parts in a corrosive steam environment. Manufacturing of solar panels follows the semiconductor price curve so they will continue to be lower cost and individuals will own their own equipment eliminating the fees and taxes of the collective monopoly grid system.

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  2. Great article. Thanks for the info.

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