Which State Is The Leader In Renewable Energy?

Which state is the leader in renewable energy?

California is a leader in renewable energy usage and development in the United States. The state has set ambitious goals for transitioning to renewable energy sources through legislation and incentives. In 2021, California obtained over 37% of its electricity from renewable sources, the most of any state. The state also leads in installed renewable energy capacity, especially from solar and wind. California’s investments, policies, and natural resources have allowed it to harness renewable energy and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. However, the state still faces challenges to meet its renewable energy targets while maintaining reliability and affordability. This article will explore the factors that have made California the renewable energy leader, including capacity, generation, jobs and more.

California’s Renewable Portfolio Standards

California has some of the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the United States. The state first established its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) program in 2002 with the initial goal of 20% renewable energy by 2017. The program has been expanded several times over the years to drive further growth in renewable energy.

In 2015, California increased the RPS goal to 50% renewable energy by 2030. Two years later, the state passed Senate Bill 100 which accelerated and expanded the RPS even further – targeting 60% renewables by 2030 and requiring 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2045 (https://www.energy.ca.gov/sites/default/files/2021-12/CEC-500-2021-053.pdf).

California’s RPS is one of the most ambitious state-level renewable energy standards in the country. Meeting these goals will require utilities to build large amounts of wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy projects to serve the state’s growing electricity demand.

California’s Installed Renewable Capacity

As of 2018, California had an installed renewable energy capacity of over 31,000 megawatts (MW), the most of any U.S. state. This included over 10,673 MW of solar, 7,213 MW of wind, and 5,539 MW of geothermal capacity (Sovacool Cooper, 2008). Hydropower accounted for another 12,200 MW of renewable capacity. Biomass (biofuels) accounted for 673 MW, while small hydroelectric plants represented 188 MW of capacity.

California far outpaced other states in total installed solar capacity in 2018. The next-highest state was North Carolina with 3,287 MW. For reference, the entire U.S. had 62,000 MW of installed solar capacity in 2018 (Sovacool & Cooper, 2008).

California also led in geothermal capacity in 2018, with nearly half of the U.S. total. Wind capacity was strong as well, second only to Texas. Hydropower capacity put California behind only Washington, Oregon, and New York (Sovacool & Cooper, 2008).

Overall, California’s installed renewable energy capacity was more than 30% of the entire country’s renewable capacity in 2018. This shows California’s clear leadership in adopting and expanding renewable energy over the past few decades.

Comparing California to Other States

When it comes to renewable energy production and capacity, California compares favorably to other leading renewable energy states like Texas and Iowa.

Texas leads the nation in wind energy capacity with over 30,000 MW, while California ranks second with around 6,000 MW (1). However, in terms of solar energy, California far outpaces Texas with over 27,000 MW of solar capacity compared to Texas’ 5,000 MW (2).

Iowa, another wind power leader, has over 10,000 MW of wind capacity, significantly higher than California (3). But for solar, Iowa has just 1,200 MW compared to California’s massive solar capacity.

Overall, California has by far the most total installed renewable energy capacity of any state at over 60,000 MW. The next highest state is Texas at around 45,000 MW (4). So while some states like Texas and Iowa may lead in specific technologies like wind or hydro, California excels across solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable sources.

(1) https://www.fool.com/research/renewable-energy-by-state/

(2) https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/slideshows/these-states-use-the-most-renewable-energy

California’s Solar Energy Use

California leads the nation by far in installed solar capacity, with over 30,000 MW of solar power as of 2021 according to the California Energy Commission (CEC) [1]. This is nearly 10 times more solar capacity than the next highest state. In 2021, California generated over 18% of its electricity from solar power.

California dominates in rooftop solar in particular, with over 11,000 MW of small-scale solar capacity installed on homes and businesses as of 2021 [2]. This is more rooftop solar than the entire country had 5 years ago. California has over 1.3 million solar installations across the state, with solar panels on over 15% of single family homes.

California’s plentiful sunshine and supportive policies like net metering have enabled this solar boom. The California Solar Initiative and later programs like GoSolar California have incentivized rooftop installations. With smart inverters, California has managed to integrate all this distributed solar while maintaining grid reliability.

Renewable Energy Jobs in California

California is a leader in renewable energy job creation. According to a recent report from E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), there are over 500,000 clean energy jobs in California, representing 3% of all jobs in the state. This includes over 86,000 solar jobs and over 26,000 wind energy jobs (E2 2022 Report).

Many of the renewable energy jobs are concentrated in areas like the Central Valley and Greater Los Angeles. For example, a search on Indeed.com for renewable energy jobs in Tracy, CA returned openings such as field technicians, solar installers, and project managers (Indeed – Renewable Energy Jobs in Tracy, CA). There are also over 4,000 open renewable energy positions just on LinkedIn for California, including solar advisors and wind turbine technicians (LinkedIn – California Renewable Energy Jobs).

With California continuing to set ambitious renewable energy goals, the state is expected to see strong growth in clean energy jobs in the coming years across solar, wind, energy efficiency, grid modernization, storage, electric vehicles, and more.

California’s Renewable Energy Investments

California has made major public and private investments in renewable energy over the past two decades. In 2002, California established its Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) program, requiring electric utilities to increase their renewable energy mix. This kickstarted renewable energy investment in the state. According to a report from the University of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, California invested $12.7 billion in renewable energy from 2003-2014 [1]. This includes both public funds and private investments driven by the RPS program and clean energy policies. These investments supported over 19,000 construction job-years and almost 4,800 permanent ongoing jobs during this period.

More recently, California has seen increasing private investments in renewable energy. In 2021 alone, over $14 billion was invested in new utility-scale solar and battery storage projects in the state according to the American Clean Power Association [2]. Major solar and battery storage projects have been built by companies like 8minute Solar Energy, EDF Renewables, and NextEra Energy Resources. Going forward, California is projected to see over $7 billion in annual renewable energy investments to meet its ambitious clean energy goals.

California’s public policies and incentives have succeeded in spurring both public and private renewable energy investment in the state. Continued investments will be key for meeting California’s 100% clean electricity target by 2045 while maintaining grid reliability.

Renewable Energy Challenges in California

While California leads the nation in renewable energy adoption, major challenges remain to reach the state’s goal of 100% clean electricity by 2045. One key issue is the “duck curve” caused by solar energy, where there is a steep drop-off in solar generation in the evening when demand peaks, requiring rapid ramping up of other energy sources [1].

Transmission constraints also hamper growth of renewables, as much potential solar and wind development is located in remote areas far from population centers that need the power. Upgrading transmission lines is difficult and controversial [2]. There are also challenges integrating large amounts of intermittent renewables while maintaining grid reliability.

Energy storage solutions like batteries can help smooth out the duck curve and store excess renewable generation. However, much more storage capacity is needed. Other solutions like demand response programs, smart grid technology, and long-duration storage using pumped hydro or green hydrogen are still developing.

The Future of Renewables in California

California has set very ambitious goals for increasing renewable energy in the coming years and decades. The state has mandated 100% renewable electricity by 2045. To achieve this, California will need to continue rapidly expanding renewable energy generation from sources like wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.

California aims to have 60% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% by 2045. This is part of the state’s efforts to have a completely carbon-neutral electricity sector within the next two decades.

Reaching these goals will require major investments in renewable energy infrastructure, improvements in energy storage technology, updating and enhancing transmission lines, incentivizing rooftop solar for homes and businesses, implementing energy efficiency measures, and much more. With its ambitious policies and investments, California aims to continue leading the transition to a clean energy economy.


In summary, California is a clear leader in renewable energy in the United States. The state has enacted ambitious Renewable Portfolio Standards that require utilities to generate 60% of their electricity from renewables by 2030. As of 2021, California had over 35 GW of installed renewable energy capacity, including over 30 GW of solar. By comparison, no other state comes close to California’s renewable energy use and capacity. Through investments, policy incentives, and promoting renewable energy jobs, California continues working to grow its renewable energy economy and meet future clean energy needs. While challenges remain, California is expected to continue leading American renewable energy development into the future.

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