For the first time in history, California’s demand was 100% matched by renewable energy generation


According to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), California hit a big milestone in its energy transition, achieving a 100% renewable energy supply on Saturday afternoon. For about fifteen minutes, the state’s energy demand was matched by a 101% supply availability of renewable energy, a majority of it supplied by solar PV.

This is a glimpse into the state’s emissions-free future that it envisions, and a huge accomplishment when considering California as a sovereign nation would represent the fifth largest economy in the world, larger than Germany.

At about 2:45 PM on Saturday, CAISO reported that 12,391 MW of the 18,000 MW demand was supplied by solar PV. The remainder was picked up by generation from wind, geothermal, and other sources. After fifteen minutes of peak solar irradiance, the supply dipped down to about 97% renewable energy. The peak renewable production broke a previous record of 96.4%.

Image: CAISO

“Twenty years ago no one thought we could get to 100% renewable energy. But bit by bit, bill by bill, and solar panel by solar panel we did it,” said Dan Jacobson, senior advisor to Environment California. Jacobson and his colleagues watched the CAISO tracker closely, expecting the possibility of the milestone being reached that day. Jacobson was instrumental in the promotion and passing of California’s 2018 SB 100 bill, which mandates 100% emissions-free retail electric sales to end-use customers by 2045.

While environmentalists and solar energy developers are excited by Saturday’s milestone, disappointment is strong related to recent federal actions that have directly contrasted with stated clean energy procurement goals. Particularly, the antidumping investigation launched by the Department of Commerce that has pinched off the bulk of the nation’s solar module supply is of concern. 

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom said in a letter to Commerce that the tariff inquiry has delayed at least 4.4 GW of solar and energy storage projects. It has led him to reconsider the closure of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear plant, which has a capacity about half the size of the delayed solar pipeline. In the letter, he encouraged Commerce to, “take immediate action to resolve this issue as soon as possible.”

“This Department of Commerce tariff issue is one of the biggest stories in the country,” said Newsom to the New York Times editorial board.

Despite these headwinds, the solar industry is pushing hard to achieve the state’s procurement mandates to decarbonize the grid. The climate-conscious eagerly look ahead to a day when no more carbon is emitted to power the economy.

“California has shown that, for one brief and shining moment, we could do it! Now we need to get our state running on 100% clean energy for the whole day, the whole week, and the whole year. It’s time to move to 100% clean energy, 100% of the time,” said Laura Deehan, executive director of Environment California.

 This article was changed to reflect that though renewable energy generation was 101% of the current level of demand, it does not mean California was actively “100% powered” by only renewable energy sources. Natural gas, nuclear, energy storage, and other resources also contributed to the grid at this time.

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