It’s Going to be a Big Year for Renewables in California!

I recently moved to California from The South in order to live somewhere at the forefront of renewable energy and climate work. In my year here, I’ve been able to work on two different climate change research projects and I now work in environmental consulting. I have a PhD in Environmental Dynamics and love reading about clean energy and climate change and I think 2017 is going to be a big year for California and renewable energy. Here’s why:

California finally has a great snowpack and will therefore have a big year for hydropower (at least bigger than recent years). Snowpack is already at 100+% of the April average, which means we will definitely have more water flowing in our rivers and streams this year than recent years.

Current Snowpack Data From California Data Exchange Center

Hydropower provides predictable, reliable, round-the-clock energy that can easily displace natural gas and coal power. The figures below from California’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory Program illustrate this point quite well. Natural gas and renewables make up the bulk of our generation and when hydropower falls, natural gas picks up the slack.

Trends in Energy Generation in California from CA Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory Program

These figures also provide my next point for why it is going to be a big year for renewables and low carbon emissions in California. In recent years, exponential growth in solar and wind energy has been offset by a major drop in hydropower (and nuclear energy). The trends for solar and wind are likely to continue, with both being cheaper than ever before and often cost competitive with fossil fuels or even cheaper!

With our governor and state legislature continuously pushing for more action on climate change, California will continue to incentivize renewable energy projects and work to lower emissions from energy production, transportation, and other sectors.

While the amount of renewable energy connected to the grid climbs, California leads the nation on electric car sales and those continue to increase, meaning energy from the sun and wind will power more and more of our state’s transportation. My household, like many others, is on an affordable 100% renewable energy electric plan that helps boost installation of more wind and solar in the area.

The result of all these cutting edge bills, regulations, and actions that the state has taken recently is that California’s economy continues to grow while carbon dioxide emissions fall. The graphs below illustrate the fact that total emissions, emissions per capita, and emissions per unit of GDP are all falling while GDP (and population) climbs.

California is also experimenting with demand-side management of energy. If you live in California and happen to have the right energy provider, you can get paid to turn off lights and other things for an hour at a time by OhmConnect and help reduce the need for dirty peaker plants in the state (up to $75 just for joining and $300+ a year for participating). Carbon dioxide emissions from natural gas peaker plants are much higher than those of baseload natural gas plants, so limiting the use of peaker plants will have a major impact on emissions while helping lower energy bills as well.

Moving forward after 2017, I think energy storage will start to make a major impact on emissions and renewable energy penetration. By raising major concerns about the safety, reliability, and environmental impacts of natural gas, the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak has spurred cities and utilities to get serious about energy storage, which we will need lots of if we want to go 100% renewable energy. Luckily, the cost of battery and other storage technologies is dropping and Tesla’s gigafactory is coming online right nextdoor.