After two consecutive days in August 2020 of rotating electrical outages throughout the state, Forbes reported the blackouts “exposed the fragility of one of the most expensive and least reliable electric grids in North America.” The 10-day “heat dome” of September 2022 brought Californians within a hair’s breadth of more rolling power outages.
California energy officials are “cautiously optimistic” that the abundant water supply in state reservoirs due to this winter’s historic snowpack will generate enough hydroelectricity to help avoid dangerous power outages this summer. But weather forecasters expect an El Niño pattern this year, a weather wild card that could cause blistering heat waves and again test the resiliency of our electrical grid.
California now has 35 gigawatts of clean electricity to help power the grid but needs an additional 148 GW by 2045 to meet the clean energy mandate established under a 2018 law, Senate Bill 100. With a diverse array of renewables, increased clean energy coordination with neighboring states, and flexible demand, storage and transmission buildout, a cleaner and more reliable grid is within our grasp.
A 2022 report by GridLab and Telos Energy found that California can reach 85% clean energy by 2030 without compromising reliability, even “under stressful conditions.”
California has set a goal to generate up to 25 GW of clean, renewable energy from offshore wind development by 2045. The Legislature is also considering several clean energy bills, including measures to develop wave and geothermal energy, place solar panels along California’s vast highway system and ensure clean energy procurement to bolster offshore wind development.
But once a clean energy bill is signed into law, there is a thicket of bureaucratic and legal obstacles to overcome.
Coordinating agency permitting and environmental review of clean energy projects, as well as adopting a unified approach to prioritizing transmission development and addressing local land use constraints, are further steps the governor and legislature could take to reduce the delays on clean energy and transmission development.
California’s transformation to a decarbonized economy will reap many rewards, including climate mitigation, improved air quality and health outcomes for disadvantaged communities, the development of new technologies that bolster one of the largest economies in the world.
But to remodel our energy future, we need first to remodel our thinking with the sense of urgency and creativity that is needed to take action before it’s too late.