Here’s a reality check that ought to keep politicians up at night in California. Despite being a sunny, solar friendly state, with ample areas blessed with high wind, California still derives 50 percent of its total energy from crude oil. Another 34 percent comes from natural gas. This fossil fuel total for California energy, 84 percent, actually exceeds the world average for 2022, which – including coal – came in at 82 percent.
These figures come from the U.S. Energy Information Administration report “California Energy Consumption Estimates – Consumption by Source” for 2021, which is the most recent year for which data is posted.
To verify this data, which was mildly surprising, I turned to a separate EIA report, produced in conjunction with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, “California Energy Consumption in 2021.” To digress, this flowchart yields fascinating insights, because it shows fuel inputs on the left, then, moving from left to right, shows which inputs are directed towards electricity generation, then shows how these inputs all flow into the four primary sectors of California’s economy – residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation – and finally, on the right, depicts how much of the energy going into each sector is consumed in the form of actual energy services (traction, heating, cooling, pumping, powering, etc.) and how much is “rejected energy” lost to heat and friction. Grok that chart and you’re on your way.
To digress even more, for those who actually click on this revealing chart, you must note that the “non-thermal energy inputs,” on the chart are artificially inflated. The reason for this is explained in the lengthy footnote, where about halfway through you will read that “EIA reports consumption of renewable resources (i.e., hydro, wind, geothermal and solar) for electricity in BTU-equivalent values by assuming a typical fossil fuel plant heat rate.”
In plain English, this means whatever is reported as an input from these renewable sources is 2.5 times what they actually generated, based on the assumption these renewables are displacing that quantity of thermal fuel which on average only converts into energy services at a rate of 40 percent. Yes. They really do this. It’s standard practice. Absent a nuanced interpretation it overstates the contribution of renewables to California’s energy supply can be misleading.