[Note: This item comes from reader Randall Head. DLH]
California just hit 95% renewable energy. Will other states come along for the ride?
By Sammy Roth
Apr 29 2021
Something remarkable happened over the weekend: California hit nearly 95% renewable energy.
I’ll say it again: 95% renewables. For all the time we spend talking about how to reach 100% clean power, it sometimes seems like a faraway proposition, whether the timeframe is California’s 2045 target or President Biden’s more aggressive 2035 goal. But on Saturday just before 2:30 p.m., one of the world’s largest economies came within a stone’s throw of getting there.
There are several caveats. For one thing, Saturday’s 94.5% figure — a record, as confirmed to me by the California Independent System Operator — was fleeting, lasting just four seconds. It was specific to the state’s main power grid, which covers four-fifths of California but doesn’t include Los Angeles, Sacramento and several other regions. It came at a time of year defined by abundant sunshine and relatively cool weather, meaning it’s easier for renewable power to do the job traditionally done by fossil fuels.
And fossil fuels actually were doing part of the job — more than the 94.5% figure might suggest. California was producing enough clean power to supply nearly 95% of its in-state needs, but it was also burning a bunch of natural gas and exporting electricity to its Western neighbors. It’s impossible to say exactly how much of the Golden State’s own supply was coming from renewables.
That said, what happened on Saturday is definitely a big deal.
“It sends chills down my spine. It’s amazing,” said Elliot Mainzer, president and CEO of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s main power grid. “These types of transitions aren’t always pretty. But we’re getting a lot of renewable generation online, making a real dent in the state’s carbon emissions.”
I’ll get to the bit about the transition not always being pretty in a minute. For now, here’s a chart based on data from the grid operator’s website, showing how various sources of power supply changed hour by hour on Saturday:
That green line at the top is renewables; you can see how it jumps up in the morning and falls in the evening, reflecting sunrise and sunset. The orange line under that is natural gas. The red line at the bottom is out-of-state imports. It sinks into negative territory in the middle of the day because California has so much solar power that it’s selling some to other states.
The 94.5% record may have been fleeting, but it wasn’t some isolated spike. Most of Saturday afternoon, the renewables number topped 90%, with solar and wind farms doing the bulk of the work and geothermal, biomass and hydropower facilities making smaller contributions. Add in the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant — which isn’t counted toward California’s renewables mandate — and there was enough climate-friendly power at times Saturday to account for more than 100% of the state’s electricity needs.
So California has lots of clean power. The important thing now is making sure the puzzle pieces of the grid fit together on hot summer evenings, like the ones last August when insufficient supplies after sundown led to rolling blackouts.
State officials are taking many steps to avoid a repeat of last summer’s emergency, some of which are more controversial than others. They’re also beginning to focus on the longer term. Mainzer’s grid operator recently urgedthe California Public Utilities Commission to order electric companies to add 10,000 megawatts of power by 2026 — about one-eighth of the state’s entire generating capacity! — in part to make sure there’s enough supply on the grid when the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant closes.
“That’s not an inconsequential investment,” Mainzer said.
No, it’s most definitely not. But while some of the clean energy solutionsCalifornia is almost certain to need will carry a high upfront price tag, others are much less expensive. In fact, some produce immediate savings.
Case in point: the Western Energy Imbalance Market.