Slowing renewable energy development, underwhelming transportation sector improvements, and a concerning cross-sector excessive dependence on natural gas pose big difficulties for California’s booming clean energy economy, which is supporting good job numbers but failing to produce more than mediocre yearly emissions reductions. The California Green Innovation Index, now in its thirteenth year, was released by the nonpartisan charity Next 10 and developed by Beacon Economics.
Between 2018 and 2019, total greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 1.6 percent, the second-largest drop since 2010. This accomplishment, however, falls well short of what is required to meet California’s target to reduce emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. California must now maintain a 4.3 percent annual reduction until 2030, which is over 2.5 times more than the reduction achieved in 2019.
“The Index this year demonstrates California making some significant progress after emissions rose in 2018—but even the second-largest emissions reduction in a decade isn’t enough to overcome obstacles linked to transportation, excessive-consumption of the natural gas in the power as well as buildings areas, and the growing threat of pollution from wildfires,” stated F. Noel Perry, who is a businessman as well as founder of the Next 10 firm. “California must accomplish long-term reductions on a scale that we have never seen before. “It’s a true litmus test for our climate leadership.”
While California’s statewide emissions cuts in 2019 fell short of the drastic cuts required, the state did report robust job growth in the clean energy industry, which is a positive indicator for the state’s economic future. California’s economy has the largest concentration of clean and green employment in power production in the country, according to the Index, thanks to its investment in the solar energy. In 2019, California had more than 124,000 solar-related jobs, accounting for more than one-third of all solar-related occupations in the United States. The total number of jobs in solar in California was more than 5 times greater than the total count of jobs in fossil fuel energy generation.
Slowing renewable energy growth, along with sustained gas investment, provides a bleak picture of the state’s transition to sustainable energy.
Despite surpassing California’s objective of 33 percent renewable energy by the year 2020, the overarching patterns in the state’s power sector—that has historically provided the bulk of California’s carbon reductions—paint a concerning picture, according to the Index. The expansion of renewable energy in California has slowed significantly in recent years. In the year 2020, the state built additional gas power capacity (1.5 gigawatts) compared to any other type of electricity, including solar (1.3 gigawatts). Wind, biomass, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric power generation accounted for 45.3 percent of the state’s power mix in 2020, down from 46.3 percent in 2019.
“To fulfill California’s goal of 50 percent renewable energy by the year 2026, the state’s proportion of renewable electricity output would have to climb by 2.8 percent per year,” said Patrick Adler, who is the Research Manager at the Beacon Economics. “However, the percentage of California’s overall power mix generated by renewable energy resources increased by just 1.4 percent in 2020, owing primarily to the retirement of aged and less effective fossil fuel power plants, rather than the addition of the new renewable energy resources. As a result, there is a considerable amount of work to be accomplished.”