Solar and wind notched records as renewables met California’s energy demand

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) said a new–albeit brief–record was set on April 3 when 97.6% of the energy on the statewide grid came from renewable energy resources.

The previous record was set days earlier when 96.4% of the grid’s electricity came from renewable resources. The April 3 level occurred at 3:39 pm. Renewable energy’s share typically in the state peaks in the spring as mild temperatures suppress load demand and higher sun angles allow for greater solar energy production.

CAISO reported that the grid set an historical peak of 13,628 MW of solar production just after noon on April 8. It also reported an all-time wind resource peak of 6,265 MW just before 3:00 pm on March 4.

More than 15,000 MW of grid-connected solar is now online in the state, along with 8,000 MW of wind. Another 600 MW of solar and 200 MW of wind are expected to be added to the grid by June 1, CAISO said. The system also has around 2,700 MW energy storage systems, mostly using lithium-ion batteries. That capacity is expected to reach 4,000 MW by June 1.

In early February, data from the California Energy Commission (CEC) showed that 59% of the state’s electricity came from renewable and zero-carbon sources in 2020. 

 The CEC estimated that in 2020, 34.5% of the state’s retail electricity sales were served by Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS)-eligible sources such as solar and wind. When sources of zero-carbon energy such as large hydroelectric generation and nuclear were included, then 59% of the state’s retail electricity sales came from non-fossil fuel sources that year. 

In 2019, more than 60% of the state’s electricity came from renewable and zero-carbon sources. The drop in 2020 was blamed on a decline in hydroelectric generation caused by severe drought, as well as pandemic-related delays to new renewable energy projects.

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