California Set to Transition to 100% Carbon Free Energy


A major energy bill has reached the desk of California Governor Jerry Brown.  SB100 calls for California to shift to 100% carbon-free clean energy by 2045. 

If the bill passes, it will increase the renewable energy requirement to 60% by 2030 and will give the state 15 more years to make the complete transition

Though a similar bill has been introduced in Hawaii, SB100 would be the first of it's kind for such a big state.

California's Current Energy Landscape

California is currently the number one state for solar in the United States.  In 2017, California generated just over 29% of its energy from renewable sources with 10.29% coming from solar. 

About 9% of California's total energy mix came from nuclear and 15% from hydropower.

The last nuclear plant in California is scheduled to be shut down so we can assume that without nuclear,  California currently generates about 44% of its energy from carbon-free sources.  

That leaves California with 56% of its energy coming from carbon sources. 

Natural gas currently accounts for 34% of all electricity production in the state. and the remaining 22% is a mix of oil, coal, and other unspecified carbon sources.

How The Change Could Happen

SB100 has two main components: An increase in the near-term renewable portfolio standard, and a long-term carbon ban. 

As we mentioned earlier,  If SB100 passes, it will increase the near-term carbon-free energy requirements to 60% by 2030.  This is essentially an extension of  California's current solar and wind power purchases.

The more challenging part of getting to 100% is solving how to not use natural gas for flexible capacity. 

The first part will look like an extension of the current program of wind and solar power purchases, with gas plants balancing out the variable generation. Achieving 100 percent zero-carbon electricity requires a more profound shift: finding alternatives to natural gas for flexible capacity.

Advocates believe that solutions will arise as people create new technologies focuses on solving the problem.

California has long been the home of big thinkers, innovators, and change-makers, and while intermittency is an important issue, it can be addressed by a combination of solutions that include regional power transfers, energy storage, flexible demand and emerging technologies like wave, tidal and ocean thermal, which can be used to balance loads with supply.
— Ed Smeloff, director of grid integrations at solar advocacy group Vote Solar.

Energy storage is currently the most likely solution to grid resiliency and handling flexible demand.  The energy storage industry has been making a lot of progress over the past 10 years and with entrants like Tesla, and other battery manufacturers, energy storage could be the answer in the future. 

The main concern with storage is the cost.  According to GreenTech Media "Questions remain about how much it would cost to build enough storage to make the zero-carbon system work. Recent battery plants have wielded four hours of energy duration, but the technology to store energy for weeks or months remains a distant hope for the industry."

Keeping Options Open But Firm

The language inside of SB100 is incredibly important.  The original bill which failed in 2017, called for 100% renewable sources of energy.  This year, SB100 calls for 100% carbon-free energy.

A distinction that leaves the door open for future technologies as Dan Jacobson, state director for Environment California states, " The state is not trying to prescribe exactly what your energy is going to look like in 25 years — we don’t know what utilities are going to look like in 10 years."

This leaves the door open for new technologies and potential carbon capture processes to become a part of the road to 100% carbon free.

The bill does stipulate however that California must go carbon-free without causing additional greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere in the Western grid, meaning it cannot simply outsource fossil fuel combustion beyond state borders.

We will watch to see what Governor Brown Does with the bill.