California sets clean energy record as it pushes toward climate change goals

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On the road to transitioning to net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, California set a new record earlier this month when its power grid briefly ran on 97% renewable energy.

The California Independent System Operator said in a statement last week that the state had hit the 97% renewable energy mark at 3:39 p.m. on Sunday, April 3, besting the previous record of 96.4% that had been set a week earlier, Bloomberg reported.

“While these all-time highs are for a brief time, they solidly demonstrate the advances being made to reliably achieve California’s clean energy goals,” California Independent System Operator CEO Elliot Mainzer said in a statement.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom heralded the new record, which was achieved primarily though the state's production of solar and wind energy.

California has aggressively boosted solar and wind energy production in recent years, with the hope of generating half its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Lawmakers in the state continue to craft legislation that will speed up the transition to clean energy, with more than 25 bills currently under consideration in the Legislature, the Los Angeles Times reported last month.

Workers in hard hats on a roof, installing solar panels.
Solar installers place solar panels on the roof of a home in San Diego in 2016. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

While Newsom unveiled a $10 billion electric vehicle plan in January to help Californians transition from gas-powered cars to electric ones, and the state is looking to ban the sale of new gas cars by 2035, clean energy advocates note that the electricity used to power EVs also should come from sources that do not emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In 2020, just 33% of the state's energy came from renewable sources, according to the California Energy Commission.

Since then, however, the country’s most populous state has worked to increase capacity for renewable sources of energy.

“In 2021, California was second in the nation, after Texas, in total electricity generation from renewable resources, including generation from small-scale solar PV generation,” the U.S. Energy Information Agency says on its website. “California is the nation’s top producer of electricity from solar, geothermal, and biomass resources. The state is also the nation’s fourth-largest producer of electricity from conventional hydroelectric power — after Washington, Oregon, and New York — and is sixth-largest from wind energy.”

Renewable sources of energy are growing nationwide. In late March, the U.S. marked another significant milestone when electricity generated by wind turbines was the second-highest source in the country over a 24-hour period, according to the Energy Information Agency.

The challenge ahead for California and the U.S. is to make sure that milestones for renewable-power generation continue to fall on a regular basis. Ashutosh Bhagwat, chair of the California Independent System Operator board of governors, sees last week’s record as a promising sign.

“When we see renewable energy peaks like this, we are getting to re-imagine what the grid will look like for generations to come,” he said, according to the Sierra Sun Times. “These moments help crystallize the vision of the modern, efficient and sustainable grid of the future.”