Renewable Energy

California has set ambitious goals for increasing its share of electricity from renewable sources, including a target set in 2018 to supply 100 percent of the state’s retail electricity sales from zero-carbon energy sources by 2045. The state is in a good position to meet or exceed its renewable and clean energy goals for the next few years. In recent years, however, renewable generation has slowed down. In 2020, the state barely met the interim goal of having at least 33 percent of electricity generated from Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)-eligible sources.

Generation from biomass, geothermal, and small hydro remain stagnant—electricity generation from these sources, which totaled 23,813 GWh in 2020, were lower than the total in 2002 (25,468 GWh), the inception year of California’s RPS program. Furthermore, the ongoing drought is expected to continue to hamper electricity generation from hydroelectric, and the resulting shortage has mostly been met with increasing generation from natural gas, which could lead to higher cumulative GHG emissions and air pollution.

Fortunately, there have been exciting announcements and developments planned in 2021 and beyond—from partnering with the federal government on offshore wind development to a possible rooftop solar and storage requirement in the commercial sector. Governor Newsom also issued an emergency proclamation in July 2021 calling on the state to procure a diverse mix of resources and technology such as battery storage, pumped storage and demand response—to help ensure energy reliability with increasing incidences of heat waves and wildfire. Moreover, the CPUC has committed to procure more than 1,400 megawatts of new storage within seven years.

Renewable Electricity Generation and Power Mix
  • The percentage of California’s total power mix (in-state generation plus imports) from renewable sources rose 1.4 percent to 33.1 percent in 2020, barely meeting the interim goal of having 33 percent of generation from RPS-eligible sources.

  • Electricity generation from renewables exceeded 90,000 gigawatt-hours for the first time in 2020, but has not significantly increased since 2018. The increase in total RPS percentage is due to the decrease in generation from non-RPS eligible sources—3.9 percent lower than in 2019 and 6.9 percent lower than in 2018.

  • The drought significantly hampers electricity generation from hydroelectric. Small hydro’s share of generation in 2020 (1.39% of the power mix) is one of the lowest since the RPS program’s inception. Ongoing generation from hydroelectric is expected to remain low, as long as the drought persists.

  • Despite having a similar share of renewables, imports from the Southwest are more carbon intensive due to their higher percentage of generation from coal (17% in 2020) compared to Northwest imports (0.5%) and in-state generation (0.2%).

  • Electricity generation from RPS-eligible renewable sources and large hydroelectric made up 45.3 percent of the power mix, a slight decrease from 46.3 percent in 2019, mainly due to the drought.

  • Of the utility-scale power plants that came online after 2010, California added more capacity from solar than any other sources. However, in 2020, California actually added more natural gas plants (1.5 gigawatts) than any other sources including solar (1.3 gigawatts).

  • In 2020, cumulative installed capacity from wind totaled 5,983 megawatts (MW) in California, almost unchanged from 2019 (5,959 MW). Meanwhile, the rest of the U.S. continue to add wind capacity at a nice pace, adding 9,482 MW in 2020.

  • To meet the 2026 goal of 50 percent of generation from RPS-eligible renewable sources, California’s share of electricity generation from renewables would need to increase by 2.8 percent each year from 2018 to 2026, revised upward from 2.3 percent previously.

Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs)
  • In 2020, total estimated annual load served by Community Choice Aggregators in California increased 9.2 percent over 2019’s annual load, with 19 CCAs serving over 11 million people in California in 2020.

  • The bankruptcy of Riverside County’s Western Community Energy in May 2021 underscores the challenges CCAs face in procuring an energy supply that is at the whims of sporadic market rates. To mitigate some of these risks, eight CCAs have formed a joint buying group called California Community Power in order to procure larger energy purchases than each would be able to separately.

Distributed Energy Resources and Renewable Energy Curtailment
  • Since 2018, the residential sector had the most rebate-qualifying distributed energy resources (DERs), mostly for electrochemical storage technologies (such as lithium-ion battery storage). Previously, commercial and government sectors had the most rebate-qualifying DERs.

  • In 2020, California added 189.3 megawatt-hours of energy storage capacity across all sectors (mostly in residential), which is about the same as in 2017 and represents a 59.0 percent increase over 2019’s capacity added (119.1 MWh).

  • In California, renewable energy curtailments have been rising every year, driven by growth in solar power to meet the state’s aggressive clean energy goals and an inability to use all available renewable generation for increasing numbers of hours each year. In 2020, curtailment totaled 1,587.5 gigawatt-hours (GWh), representing a 64.5 percent increase over 2019 curtailments (965.2 GWh).

Renewables Interconnections and Installations
  • Interconnected distributed generation within the three investor-owned utilities service territories totaled 1,399 megawatts (in alternate current) in 2020, a 5.4 percent increase from 2019. Residential continues to be the largest sector, accounting for 62 percent of the interconnected distributed generation installed (864 MW).

  • As of 2020, California accounted for 43 percent of small scale solar PV net generation in the residential sector nationwide, 32 percent in the commercial sector, and 71 percent in the industrial sector.