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California Renewable Energy Statistics & Data


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Photo: Sacramento Utility District NREL 14898

California with its abundant natural resources has had a long history of support for renewable energy. In 2009, 11.6 percent of all electricity came from renewable resources such as wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and small hydroelectric facilities. Large hydro plants generated another 9.2 percent of our electricity.

Around the turn of the 20th century, tens-of-thousands of homes in Southern California took advantage of the "California sunshine" to heat water for their homes. The oil crises of the 1970's gave rise to concerns over dependency on fossil fuels. At that time, federal and state tax credits helped establish a new solar and wind industry. Wind turbine farms cropped up on the slopes of California's hills in three primary locations: Altamont Pass near San Francisco, Tehachapi Pass near Bakersfield, and San Gorgonio Pass near Palm Springs.

Following deregulation of the electric utilities in 1998, the California Energy Commission was placed in charge of a new Renewable Energy Program to help increase total renewable electricity production statewide. This followed decades of bi-partisan legislative and gubernatorial support for renewable energy helping to make California a recognized leader in the field.

Utility Companies and Renewable Energy

In 2002, California established its Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) Program, with the goal of increasing the percentage of renewable energy in the state's electricity mix to 20 percent of retail sales by 2017. The 2003 Integrated Energy Policy Report recommended accelerating that goal to 20 percent by 2010, and the 2004 Energy Report Update further recommended increasing the target to 33 percent by 2020. The state's Energy Action Plan supported this goal.

In 2006 under Senate Bill 107, California's 20 percent by 2010 RPS goal was codified. The legislation required retail sellers of electricity to increase renewable energy purchases by at least 1 percent per year with a target of 20 percent renewables by 2010. Publicly owned utilities set their own RPS goals recognizing the intent of the legislature to attain the 20 percent by 2010 target.

On November 17, 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S-14-08 requiring that "...[a]ll retail sellers of electricity shall serve 33 percent of their load with renewable energy by 2020." The following year, Executive Order S-21-09 directed the California Air Resources Board, under its AB 32 authority, to enact regulations to achieve the goal of 33 percent renewables by 2020.

In the ongoing effort to codify the ambitious 33 percent by 2020 goal, SBX1-2 was signed by Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., in April 2011. In his signing comments, Governor Brown noted that "This bill will bring many important benefits to California, including stimulating investment in green technologies in the state, creating tens of thousands of new jobs, improving local air quality, promoting energy independence, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

This new RPS preempts the California Air Resources Boards' 33 precent Renewable Electricity Standard and applies to all electricity retailers in the state including publicly owned utilities, investor-owned utilities, electricity service providers, and community choice aggregators. All of these entities must adopt the new RPS goals of 20 percent of retails sales from renewables by the end of 2013, 25 percent by the end of 2016, and the 33 percent requirement being met by the end of 2020.

Timeline of California's Renewables Portfolio Standard

  • 2002: Senate Bill 1078 establishes the RPS program, requiring 20% of retail sales from renewable energy by 2017.
  • 2003: Energy Action Plan I accelerated the 20% deadline to 2010.
  • 2005: Energy Action Plan II recommends a further goal of 33% by 2020.
  • 2006: Senate Bill 107 codified the accelerated 20% by 2010 deadline into law.
  • 2008: Governor Schwarzenegger issues Executive Order S-14-08 requiring 33% renewables by 2020.
  • 2009: Governor Schwarzenegger issues Executive Order S-21-09 directing the California Air Resources Board, under its AB 32 authority, to adopt regulations by July 31, 2010, consistent with the 33% renewable energy target established in Executive Order S-14-08.
  • 2011: Senate Bill X1-2 codifies 33% by 2020 RPS.

Page updated April 20, 2011


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