Apr 12, 2024 - News

California is a solar superpower

Data: Climate Central; Note: Includes both utility-scale and small-scale solar generation; Chart: Axios Visuals

California leads the country in a climate-related measure we can be proud of: solar power generation.

Why it matters: Solar and wind power — which produce a small-but-growing share of America's overall energy supply — provide a bigger share of energy in some states than others.

By the numbers: California generated 68,816 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity from solar power in 2023, up 9% from 2022, per an analysis from the research nonprofit Climate Central.

  • That output has been soaring for a decade.
  • The state ranked eighth nationwide for wind power in 2023 at 14,897 GWh.
  • Wind-power generation has improved slightly but has been hovering around that number since 2014.

State of play: California policymakers have prioritized the transition to solar power and other clean, renewable energy to grow the state's production and storage capacity.

  • Since 2002, the state's renewable portfolios standard has set continuously escalating requirements for the amount of renewable energy in statewide retail electricity sales.
  • In 2018, legislators passed SB 100, which sets that standard to 100% clean electricity by 2045.
  • Meanwhile, legislators created community choice aggregation programs (CCAs), which buy power for residents and businesses in cities and compete with local utilities. They offer higher percentages of renewable energy at comparable or slightly lower rates.

Zoom in: San Diego Community Power (SDCP) launched in 2021 as an alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E).

  • SDCP offers service plans using 55% renewable plus 5% carbon-free or 100% renewable energy. SDG&E offers a 44.5% renewable plan.
  • The average monthly bills for standard residential services were $214.98 or $218.45 for SDCP plans and $217.85 for SDG&E in 2023.

Between the lines: The price of solar power has declined over the past decade, contributing to its growth.

  • Plus, California's geography and weather make it a prime candidate for solar energy production.
Energy generated by solar and wind, 2023
Data: Climate Central; Note: Includes both utility-scale and small-scale solar generation; Map: Axios Visuals

The big picture: Solar installations generated nearly 240,000 GWh of electricity across the U.S. in 2023, per Climate Central.

  • That's eight times more than in 2014.
  • Wind generation hit about 425,000 GWh last year — double that of a decade ago.

Context: "Together, these two renewable energy sources generated enough electricity in 2023 to power the equivalent of more than 61 million average American homes," per Climate Central.

What we're watching: Solar energy will play an increasingly important role in helping the state achieve its clean electricity goal by 2045, California Energy Commission staff told Axios.

  • That will require the electrification of all homes, buildings and cars that run on fossil fuels today, and the construction of an additional 148,000 MW of clean-energy resources.
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