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California   California Profile

State Profile and Energy Estimates

Profile AnalysisPrint State Energy Profile
(overview, data, & analysis)

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Last Updated: October 20, 2016

Overview

California is the most populated state in the nation, and with the largest economy, its total energy demand is second only to Texas.1,2,3 Although California is a leader in many energy-intensive industries, the state has one of the lowest per capita total energy consumption levels in the country.4,5 California state policy promotes energy efficiency.6 The state's extensive efforts to increase energy efficiency and the implementation of alternative technologies have restrained growth in energy demand.7 But California is also rich in energy resources. The state has an abundant supply of crude oil and is a top producer of conventional hydroelectric power.8,9 California also leads the nation in electricity generation from solar, geothermal, and biomass resources.10

Residential energy use per person in California is lower than in every state except Hawaii.

Stretching two-thirds of the way up the West Coast, California is the nation's third-largest state.11 Motor vehicle travel within the state contributes to energy use by California's transportation sector, and transportation dominates California's energy consumption profile.12 More motor vehicles are registered in California than in any other state, and commute times in California are among the longest in the country.13,14 In contrast, the residential sector consumes less energy than any of California's other end-use sectors.15 In most of the more densely populated areas of the state, the climate is dry and relatively mild.16,17 More than two-fifths of state households report that they do not have or do not use air conditioning, and almost one-seventh do not have or do not use space heating. Residential energy use per person in California is lower than in every other state except Hawaii.18,19

Petroleum

Even though California's crude oil production has declined overall in the past 30 years, it remains one of the top producers of crude oil in the nation, accounting for about 6% of total U.S. production in 2015.20,21 Petroleum reservoirs in the geologic basins along the Pacific Coast and in the Central Valley contain major crude oil reserves. The most prolific oil-producing area is the San Joaquin basin in the southern half of the Central Valley.22,23

Federal assessments of California's offshore areas indicate the potential for large, undiscovered recoverable crude oil resources in the federally administered Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).24 Concerns about the cumulative impacts and risks of offshore oil and natural gas development after the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill resulted in state legislation that imposed a permanent moratorium on offshore oil and natural gas leasing in state waters.25 Congress imposed a federal moratorium on oil and natural gas leasing in California federal waters in 1982. The federal moratorium was lifted in 2008; however, no new lease sales for the California federal OCS are currently planned.26,27

California ranks third in the nation in petroleum refining capacity.

California ranks third in the nation in petroleum refining capacity and accounts for more than one-tenth of the total U.S. capacity.28 A network of crude oil pipelines connects the state's oil production to the refining centers located in the Central Valley, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay area.29 California refiners also process large volumes of Alaskan and foreign crude oil received at the state's ports. Crude oil production in California and Alaska has declined, and California refineries have become increasingly dependent on imports to meet the state's needs.30,31 Led by Saudi Arabia, Ecuador, and Columbia, foreign suppliers now provide more than half of the crude oil refined in California.32,33

California's largest refineries are highly sophisticated and are capable of processing a wide variety of crude oil types. To meet strict federal and state environmental regulations, California refineries are configured to produce cleaner fuels, including reformulated motor gasoline and low-sulfur diesel. Refineries in the state often operate at or near maximum capacity because of the high demand for those petroleum products.34 California requires that all motorists use, at a minimum, a specific blend of motor gasoline called CaRFG (California Reformulated Gasoline).35 When unplanned refinery outages occur, replacement supplies must be brought in by marine tanker from refineries in the state of Washington or on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Refineries in several other countries can also supply CaRFG.36 Locating and transporting replacement motor gasoline that conforms to California's strict fuel specifications can take several weeks.37

Natural gas

As with crude oil production, California's natural gas production has experienced a gradual overall decline in the past three decades.38 Reserves and production are located primarily in geologic basins in the northern portion of the Central Valley. Some natural gas fields are also located in the southern portion of the Central Valley, in the coastal basins onshore in Northern California, and offshore along the Southern California coast.39 California accounts for less than 1% of total U.S. natural gas production and that output equals about one-tenth of state demand.40,41 Two-thirds of California households use natural gas for home heating, and about three-fifths of California's in-state utility-scale net electricity generation is fueled by natural gas.42,43

Several interstate pipelines bring natural gas into California from the Southwest, the Rocky Mountain region, and western Canada, by way of Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon.44,45 In 2011, natural gas supplies began arriving via the Ruby Pipeline, which runs from Wyoming to Oregon, linking natural gas produced in the Rocky Mountain region to markets in Northern California.46,47 In California, markets are served by two key natural gas trading centers—the Golden Gate Center in Northern California and the California Energy Hub in Southern California.48 The state has 14 natural gas storage fields that help stabilize supply; together they have a storage capacity of about 600 billion cubic feet of natural gas and a typical working natural gas capacity of about 375 billion cubic feet.49,50,51 California also exports natural gas to Mexico.52

Coal

California does not have any coal production or reserves and has been phasing out the use of coal-fired power plants for electricity generation.53,54 More coal is used at industrial facilities in California than is currently consumed by the electric power sector.55 Almost all of the coal consumed in California originates from mines in Utah.56 Some coal from western coal mines arrives in California by rail and is exported to overseas markets from port facilities located primarily in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas.57

Electricity

Natural gas-fired power plants generate about three-fifths of California's total in-state net electricity generation.58 Until 2012, California's two nuclear power plants with four reactors provided about one-sixth of the state's total net electricity generation.59 However, the two reactors at the San Onofre nuclear plant, initially shut down because of equipment problems in 2012, were permanently shut down in mid-2013, cutting the amount of electricity generation from nuclear power in California in half.60,61 Almost 14% of the nation's hydroelectric generating capacity is in California, but hydroelectric power's share of the state's net generation varies with annual precipitation. With adequate snowpack, hydroelectric power can account for more than one-fourth of California's total net generation. But because of prolonged drought, in 2015 it supplied less than one-tenth. Other renewable technologies provide almost all of the rest of the state's net generation—nearly one-fourth of the total in 2015.62,63 In-state coal-fired power plants have not been significant contributors to power generation in California, and that contribution has decreased in recent years.64 In 2015, only 0.2% of the total net electricity generated in California came from coal-fired sources.65

Reductions in California's hydroelectric generation and nuclear capacity and generation have been largely made up for by renewable generation.66,67 The Sunrise Powerlink Transmission project, which was put into service in June 2012, added approximately 800 megawatts of transmission capability to the Southern California electric grid, bringing electricity generated from renewable energy from Imperial County, in the southeastern corner of the state, to San Diego. Added transmission capability provided by the Sunrise Powerlink Transmission Project helped the Southern California electric grid address the capacity shortage that resulted from the decrease in nuclear generation.68,69 Additional transmission projects have come online or are in the planning and construction phase.70

More than one-fourth of California's electricity supply comes from facilities outside the state.71 In 2015, other than power from other unspecified sources, much of the power delivered to California from states in the Pacific Northwest was generated by wind. States in the Southwest delivered power generated at coal-fired power plants, at natural gas-fired power plants, and from nuclear generating stations.72 Electricity supplied from out-of-state coal-fired power plants has decreased following the enactment of a state law in late 2006 that requires California utilities to limit new long-term financial investments in base-load generation to those power plants that meet California emissions performance standards.73

In 2000 and 2001, California suffered an energy crisis characterized by electricity price instability and blackouts.74 Following the crisis, the state government created an Energy Action Plan that was designed to eliminate outages and excessive price spikes. The plan has been updated twice since 2003. The Energy Action Plan's goal was to ensure that adequate, reliable, and reasonably priced electric power and natural gas supplies, including prudent reserves, were provided. To reach those goals, the plan calls for optimizing energy conservation, building new generation facilities, and upgrading and expanding California's electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure to ensure that generating facilities can quickly come online when needed.75,76 Although California has the second-highest retail electricity sales in the nation, retail sales are the second-lowest in the nation on a per capita basis.77,78 About one-fourth of California households use electricity for home heating.79

Renewable energy

California is among the top states in the nation in net electricity generation from renewable resources. The state leads the nation in net electricity generation from solar, geothermal, and biomass. California is also a leading producer of electricity from conventional hydroelectric power and from wind, ranking fourth in the nation in both.80

California is the first state in the nation to get more than 5% of its electricity generation from solar energy.

In 2014, California became the first state in the nation to get more than 5% of its utility-scale electricity generation from its solar resource.81 In 2015, utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal resources supplied 7.5% of the state's net generation.82 California has considerable solar potential, especially in the state's southeastern deserts.83 Several of the world's largest solar thermal plants are located in California's Mojave Desert.84,85,86,87 On a smaller scale, the California Solar Initiative encourages Californians to install solar power systems on the rooftops of their homes and businesses.88 When distributed (customer-sited, small-scale) generation is included, about one-tenth of California's total net generation is provided by solar power.89 Currently, California has about 14,000 megawatts of installed solar power generating capacity.90

Substantial geothermal resources are found in California's coastal mountain ranges and in the volcanic areas of northern California, as well as along the state's border with Nevada and near the Salton Sea.91 With more than 2,700 megawatts of installed capacity, California is the top producer of electricity from geothermal energy in the nation.92,93 The facility known as The Geysers, located in the Mayacamas Mountains north of San Francisco, is the largest complex of geothermal power plants in the nation and has more than 700 megawatts of installed capacity.94 Although California's wind power potential is widespread, especially along the state's eastern and southern mountain ranges, much of the state is excluded from development of this resource because it is in wilderness areas, parks, or urban areas.95 Even so, the state has more than 6,000 megawatts of installed capacity.96 California is a top generator of electricity from wind energy, producing more than 6% of the U.S. total, ranking fourth in the nation behind Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma.97 California also leads the nation in utility-scale electricity generation from biomass.98 More than half of California's biomass generating capacity comes from plants fueled by wood and wood waste, although those plants account for only one-sixth of the total number of biomass plants in the state.99

California is the top producer of electricity from geothermal energy in the nation.

Growing concern over the environment has spurred policy initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard, issued in January 2007, called for a reduction of at least 10% in the carbon intensity of California's transportation fuels by 2020. The standard requires substitutes for fossil fuels that demonstrate lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than the fuels they replace. The first reduction in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels was 0.25% required in 2011, with annual increases to bring the total reduction to 10% by 2020.100 A number of alternative pathways have been identified that reduce the levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the production of ethanol, biodiesel, and renewable diesel.101 California has seven ethanol production plants and eight biodiesel plants with more under construction.102,103 However, California produces only about one-eighth as much ethanol as is consumed in the state and most of the state's ethanol supply arrives from elsewhere.104

California established an emissions cap-and-trade program as part of the state's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The program's goal is the reduction of the state's GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, to 40% of 1990 levels by 2030, and to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050, and the state is on track to meet its 2020 target. Major sources of GHG emissions, including refineries, power plants, industrial facilities, and transportation fuels, must meet a GHG cap that declines over time. To minimize the costs of pollution controls, a system for trading allowable emissions permits was created. The California Air Resources Board held its first quarterly auction of the tradable GHG emissions permits for the program in November 2012.105,106,107

The California renewable portfolio standard (RPS) was created in 2002 and has since been amended several times. The RPS requires that 33% of retail sales of electricity in California come from eligible renewable resources by 2020 and 50% by 2050. Eligible resources include wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, biogas, tidal, wave, ocean thermal, anaerobic digestion, fuel cells that use renewable fuels, and small hydroelectric facilities.108 The state also requires retail electricity suppliers to disclose the fuel sources used to generate the power they supply.109 In addition to the RPS, California has an energy efficiency resource standard.110 California policies promote stricter appliance efficiency standards and higher energy efficiency standards for public buildings.111

Energy on tribal lands

California has one of the largest Native American populations in the nation.112 The state is home to more than 100 federally recognized tribal groups.113 Although tribal areas are spread throughout the state, they account for less than 1% of state lands.114 Many of the tribal lands are small, including the nation's smallest reservation, the 1.32-acre Pit River Tribe cemetery.115 Other tribal lands are very large. The Colorado River Tribe Reservation straddles the Colorado River and the California-Arizona border, and about 67 square miles of the Reservation's almost 450-square-mile area is within California.116

California's diverse geography gives tribes access to a variety of renewable energy resources.117,118 A number of tribes are developing those resources. The Ramona Band of Cahuilla was the first reservation in the nation to be completely off-grid, establishing a microgrid and meeting all of their energy needs with renewable resources.119 Other reservations in the state have similar goals.120 The Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria in Northern California began installing a hybrid microgrid in 2015 that uses solar and wind energy for power generation.121 The Campo Kumeyaay Nation in Southern California was the first tribe in the nation to develop a utility-scale wind project with 25 wind turbines constructed on land leased from the tribe. Another wind farm partially on the tribe's land is in development.122,123 The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is working on the development of a combined wind/solar project on their large reservation in Southern California. Other tribes, particularly in Northern California, are in areas of abundant biomass potential.124 The Blue Lake Rancheria Tribe in Humboldt County uses wood waste from timber harvesting to fuel a first-of-a-kind biogas fuel cell system.125,126 In 2016, as part of the construction of its microgrid, the Blue Lake Rancheria installed a 500-kilowatt solar array.127

Several California reservations have abundant solar power potential. Some tribes have received grants from the U.S. Department of Energy for feasibility studies for solar projects and for the installation of solar PV systems. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of Palm Springs and the Bishop Paiute Tribe are each involved in projects that will bring solar PV to offices and homes on their reservations.128 Tribes have additional renewable opportunities. Geothermal resources underlie several reservations in the state, particularly in the Imperial Valley in the southern part of California, in the Geysers area in Northern California, and along the state's eastern border.129

Endnotes

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