These charts show how California is generating energy differently than a decade ago


How California produces electricity looks far different now than 10 years ago as it continues to seek sustainable options while keeping the lights on through heat waves and wildfires.

Natural gas, a nonrenewable source, still makes up about half of California’s total in-state electricity generation, according to data from the California Energy Commission released in April. While much of the other half used to be from nuclear sources, in the past decade, the share of renewable energy sources, such as photovoltaic solar and wind, has substantially grown.

“What you’re seeing in those is a move renewables that’s in line with numbers state mandates,” said Lindsay Buckley, a spokesperson for the state commission.

The fourth largest electricity producer in the country, California generates about 200,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year.

Two decades ago, photovoltaic solar power accounted for less than 1% of that production. Powered by renewable energy policies and incentive programs, that number grew to about 16% in 2021. The year before, in 2020, it surpassed the amount of hydroelectric power generated in California.

The amount of wind power generated in the state also rose in the past decade — nearly twice as much in 2021 compared with 2011.

Hydroelectric power, another renewable source that has been around in California for more than a century, has not had the same upward trajectory in the past 10 years, however. Hydropower generation in California, which depends on rain and snowpack, declined during drought years, when there’s less of the “hydro” needed to generate the “electric” part.

In recent wet years, like 2017 and 2019, when there’s been plenty of rain to fill the reservoirs that generate electricity, hydroelectric power made up around 20% of California’s in-state electricity generation. However, during prolonged drought, such as in 2021, that figure drops all the way to less than 8%.

Though it remains one of the largest hydroelectricity producers among US states, California’s unpredictable — and dry — climate makes hydropower generation in the state “highly variable,” according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Last year, the state had to shut down the Lake Oroville hydroelectric plant after water levels there plummeted to historic lows. Energy officials still say hydropower in California is generally reliable in meeting electricity needs, especially during peak hours.

“Many hydroelectric resources are able to hold back water to generate electricity during hours of peak energy demand,” Buckley said.

But as these years of prolonged dry conditions repeat, California’s power grid continues to be put to the test, with experts predicting continuing supply shortages. State officials and utility providers have already warned of forthcoming summer blackouts, especially during peak surge hours.

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