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  • Writer's pictureMacy Myers

The Golden State of Renewables

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Golden State = Golden Energy Sources?

By Macy Myers: Renewable energy is energy derived from natural sources that are replenished at a higher rate than they are consumed. Sunlight and wind, for example, are such sources that are constantly being replenished. In California, we utilize many renewable energy sources.

Photo By Matthew Henry

Small-scale solar generation provided 25 percent of the state's total electricity net generation. In 2021, wind accounted for eight percent of California's in-state electricity generation, and the state ranked sixth in the nation with Texas leading the way. California is also the fourth-largest overall electricity producer in the nation and accounted for about five percent of the United States utility-scale (1-megawatt and larger) electricity net generation in 2021.

Renewable resources, including hydropower and small-scale (less than 1-megawatt) and customer-sited solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, supplied nearly half of California's total in-state electricity generation despite a decline in hydroelectric generation caused by drought. While the drought takes much of the in-state water resource use, tidal energy in California is growing. On Sept. 16, 2021, CalWave took a salty plunge deploying its xWave prototype off the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography research pier in San Diego, California. Even the Monterey Bay Aquarium utilizes hydro tech to directly meet the aquarium power demands.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have geothermal energy and biomass energy. In 2021, California produced about 70 percent of the nation's utility-scale geothermal-sourced electricity, and geothermal power accounted for almost six percent of California's utility-scale generation. Finally, in 2021, biomass fueled about three percent of the state's net energy generation, mostly from wood and wood-derived fuels. Apart from the current energy production California utilizes, officials and entrepreneurs are looking into more sustainable solutions going forward to meet the State’s initiative of being carbon-free by 2045, and federal organizations such as the Department of Energy’s (DOE) goals for the next 10 years. These efforts will have to address current issues and the projected demand challenges to come. We have discussed some of these issues and solutions in previous blogs.

Let’s Discuss the Bear in the Room: California Energy Crisis and What’s Being Done.

Whether it’s coming off a heatwave, lasting through a drought, planning for the future, or facing other difficult weather challenges, California’s energy issues and allocation are relevant to every single Californian. Why? We all use energy, and we all have a stake in solving these critical energy issues. In more recent news, blackouts and energy surges have posed serious problems for an oversaturated energy grid. Blackouts occur when a whole power system fails, which can be hard to recover from. Power outage maps show which communities are more affected than others. Alternately, power surges occur from an oversupply of power internally or externally, and can damage equipment. In many of these scenarios, the loss of power leaves homes, businesses, and other communities in a vulnerable state, which can have devastating effects.

There are also environmental impacts derived from other forms of energy including nuclear, biodiesel, and crude oil. California produces a combined total of about 81 million gallons of biodiesel annually from eight production plants, which is less than half the amount of biodiesel consumed in the State each year. California has about four percent of the nation's total crude oil reserves, and it is the seventh-largest crude oil producer among the states.

So, what else could we utilize in terms of renewable energy? While Southern California has more wind presence, the San Joaquin isn’t as booming in terms of wind energy. However, California’s offshore wind energy, which garnered government support through recent funding, may contribute greatly to the state’s power supply. Better yet, it’s renewable. While wind energy is taking up available real estate in the ocean, Solar energy installation is accredited for 19,000 acres of urban and built up land increase totaling 44,942 acres in California in 2016. Is the loss of farmland being replaced with renewable energy? To answer this, we might look at where climate concerns are the most pressing. Current California solar projects are primarily focused in Southern California where temperatures are much warmer than some perennial crops can thrive in, in parts of San Bernardino, Riverside, and Harper Lake, for example.

What’s in Store for Energy Demand?

The world’s population is expected to increase by 2 billion persons in the next 30 years, from 7.7 billion currently to 9.7 billion in 2050, and could peak at nearly 11 billion around 2100. Not only will this require more reliable energy in the human sector, but it also has major implications for agriculture. Producing food and fiber uses significant amounts of energy. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) will put pressure on agriculture to monitor water and energy use. For example, Miller Milling in Fresno County is working to meet these demands by utilizing solar power, energy reduction, and data management. Yet their solar power can only supply about 17 percent of the plant’s overall energy needs. Even laborer vehicles and transport in the industry will demand more power than current vehicles used. When considering electric vehicles (EV’s) which must be implemented in the next 20 years, “Overall, the transportation sector accounts for two-fifths of the state's total end-use sector energy consumption.” (Energy Information Administration in Calif.). The transportation sector uses about 85 percent of the petroleum consumed in the state. While converting to more electric vehicles will reduce the overall emissions from petroleum, we should consider the actual demand these electric vehicles (EVs) will place on California’s already overwhelmed energy grid, and if off road vehicles will have the same support to work in agriculture. Further, if discussions about climate change move more farming indoors or vertical, more energy will be needed. “If demand for power exhausts the grid's electric reserves, the ISO said it would instruct utilities to start imposing rotating outages. It would be the first time the state has taken such a measure since a brutal heat wave in August 2020 forced power cuts over two days to around 800,000 homes and businesses.”

But things are looking up! EVs are receiving funding for manufacturing batteries and grid infrastructure improvements! Other institutions, like California State University, Fresno, are funding initiatives that are to be used to make such improvements on HVAC systems and other climate-smart initiatives to support regenerative agricultural practices. .

We Think the Future Is Golden in California.

In order to meet the present and growing demand for energy in the Golden State, we need to look at the tools we have already and where we can expand our toolkit. While adding helpful innovations to our toolbox, we also have to look at other countries where energy efficiency is also a priority. What are other countries doing to implement energy-efficient practices? These countries are leading in the energy transition. What are we doing locally? The WET Center itself hosts some of the future's most promising energy ventures. Stasis Energy Group provides technology that is 100 percent sustainable, bio-based, and patented thermal storage combined with energy-optimized controls that offers simple bolt-in installation for existing RTUs. Another venture, HyVerde, combines power conversion hardware with control software as a means to enable more sustainable energy storage systems in transportation and grid applications. Renewell, another venture in the WET Center ecosystem, leverages pre-existing infrastructure like oil and gas companies to seal and convert 33 percent of the idle wells in the United State into 132GWh of storage, decreasing the idle well population and reducing methane leakage. Other companies in our space like OffGridBox help establish mini-grids and water purification boxes powered by solar energy. Beyond these companies, there are many solutions surfacing, like genome projects, to build better EVs and create more battery storage as they did in Moss Landing to mitigate the stress of surges and blackouts to the power grid. In all of this testing validity, risks, and funding will be necessary. Organizations like the California Energy Commission (CEC), the Department of Energy (DOE), Southern California Edison (SCE), Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the Central Valley Energy Coalition, and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) all play a critical role in validating these steps, informing the general public, and seeking energy solutions going forward.

This is Just the Beginning

The effort to manage and improve energy as we know it is extremely important for the future of California, and the world. Utilizing various renewable sources, and support from public and private organizations, we will see a progressive shift to harvesting more sustainable energy in the Golden State.


Funding & Other Opportunities

Deadline: November 18

Deadline: TBD

Deadline: January 2023

Deadline: Varies

Deadline: March 6

Deadline: Until December 2023

Check out the California State Grants Portal for more funding opportunities!


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