by Bryan Dreher
Close your eyes and imagine how you will see California in 30 years. Did you see it being overcrowded, affected negatively by global warming, or unable to support all its citizens? You are not alone if you see a more dystopian than a utopian environment. Politicians and Californians alike are starting to open their eyes to this matter, and one area of focus on improving upon is the electricity supply and needs for the state. While California strives to be solely run on renewable energy, the methods and energy sources to obtain this feat must be established.
This is where the potential for offshore wind farming can lend a hand to the energy crisis. The California Energy Commission (CEC) set a goal of having 25,000 megawatts (MW) by way of offshore wind farming by 2045, enough to provide electricity to 3.75 million homes and enough to power 25 million homes by 2050 (California Energy Commission, 2023).
As shown in Figure 1 above, the projected population growth strongly suggests a vastly higher amount of energy required. Luckily, these projections have not gone unnoticed; roadmaps are being established, and proposals are being laid out to meet these demanding numbers. Below, we will look at the current policies to address these challenges and see how beneficial offshore wind farming could be to California.
Fig 1: California Energy Consumption (High), CED Revised 2017 Data (California Energy Commission, 2018)
Figure 1 shows a steadily increasing electricity demand for Californians. Even with new forecasts, the population declined within the state; the electricity need is increasing. How will this be addressed? Luckily, these projections have not gone unnoticed; roadmaps are being established, and proposals are being laid out to meet these demanding numbers. Below, we will look at the current policies to address these challenges and see how beneficial offshore wind farming could be to California.
What is on the table?
California is addressing its future environmental footprint on multiple fronts, from eliminating gas-powered vehicles in the near future to relying solely on renewable energy to support all citizens within the State. The state has set its stance on where it wants to be, but how can it all be accomplished?
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a challenging and costly endeavor. The goals are lofty, but Senate Bill 100 calls for 100 percent renewable energy production by 2045 (G. Charles, 2019). California needs to supply an energy amount in 2050 of roughly double that of what was needed in 2010 (M. Walmsley, T. Walmsley, & M. Atkins, 2015). The total thermal and non-renewable energy production is responsible for 66.4% of all produced energy within the state (CEC, 2021). The power requirement is fundamental, and the methods to obtain these lofty goals of converting non-renewable energy to renewable energy are evident in the current landscape. Windmills and solar farms are becoming increasingly common, yet is it enough? Considering the more stringent requirements of SB 350, the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act SB 350 takes the requirement of 33 percent renewable energy production by 2030 to 50 percent. SB 350 looks to address the issues of achieving the energy production transformation logically by working with the State’s leading utility companies to identify and assess the methods and barriers underlying future challenges. SB 350 sets strict requirements yet focuses on figuring out and concurring the needed switch to zero-emission generation.
SB 100 and SB 350 will positively affect the State in more ways than just reducing fossil fuel usage. These include the reduction of carbon emissions and air pollution, an improved power grid, job creation, and increased affordability compared to traditional energy sources (Department of Energy, 2023). This will be extremely important with other laws like Executive Order N-79-20, where in 2035, all new cars sold will be zero-emission.
The current technological landscape limits the choices of creating and obtaining complete renewable energy production. Wind, Solar, Small Hydro, and Geothermal lead the way in the current renewable market, where Wind and Solar make up the majority. The issue with SB350 is that a significant amount of energy must be created, and when produced by wind and solar, the physical footprint would be tremendous. The real estate needs in executing and implementing SB 100 and SB 350 would hamper future expansion and possible interference with current privately owned lands. One acre of land can produce approximately 24,276 kilowatts daily (B. Massey, 2023), and one onshore wind turbine can produce 2.5-3 megawatts daily. The amount of land coverage would be vast to reach the requirements set forth by the State legislature. This would affect land ownership and land use and hurt the wildlife habitats throughout the state. With these deadlines approaching, what can be done to accomplish these goals and address the possible negative aspects listed above?
Addressing the Challenges
While the main objective of the state, in terms of energy production, is transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy, the next step is determining how to create and provide the needed energy levels to the State. What are the best ways? What all is needed? These are among the most critical questions, for the deadline is approaching. The challenges have been presented, and proposals have been vocalized, published, and analyzed. Among them is the method of harnessing wind power through offshore wind farms. Offshore wind farming has gained traction across the globe in recent years for the unique capabilities that it offers.
Fig 2: Illustration of turbine heights over time and energy outputs
As shown in Figure 2, the possible energy generation from offshore windmills is significantly more productive than the onshore windmill variants. The outputs could be a great solution to California’s renewable energy requirement when considering the more substantial wind levels over the ocean. Offshore windmill farms would also help with the negative environmental impacts of large solar and wind farms onshore. Thus, allowing California to continue expanding within its boundaries and not hampering the wildlife habitats necessary for many.
Californians agree with the possible benefits of offshore wind projects, and multiple bills have been established. In a poll in July 2023, 83% of California residents supported offshore wind projects off its’ coast (PPIC, 2023). These numbers show tremendous support for the endeavor, which can also be seen on the political level. Assembly Bill 525 (Chiu, Chapter 231, Statutes of 2021) sets forth a goal of providing electricity through offshore wind farming. These values are 5,000 MW by 2030 and 25,000 MW by 2045, enough to provide electricity to 3.75 million homes. (CEC, 2023). Assembly Bill 525 continues by setting a goal of powering 25 million homes by 2050 by offshore windmills. With the US Census showing just over 14 million homes in 2021, the addition of harnessing offshore winds is a possible game changer.
Offshore wind energy generation would be a significant but enriching endeavor for California. It would be a leading entity in terms of renewable energy, setting the foundation for others to follow, especially in times when the health of the planet continues to garnish more attention. Analyzing the pros and cons of the currently available options to achieve the high renewable energy production requirements, it goes without saying that including offshore wind farming is necessary moving forward.
California has set demanding goals for its future. Preparing, adapting, and overcoming obstacles is better than waiting until it is too late to enact successful changes. Citizens and politicians see the State's issues and have taken steps to prepare for a changing environment. With the limited choices in fulfilling the 100 percent clean and renewable energy requirement, decisions on the best way to accomplish this feat will have to be made. Onshore windmills take up large amounts of land, which can cause issues with land use and future expansion. Solar farms take up large amounts of land and aren’t as successful as windmills at energy production. Offshore windmills can harness more energy from high wind levels, more giant turbines, and they don’t have a physical presence within the State.
Large corporations, like BP, are also seeing the change in times and are adjusting their business strategies to adjust for the changing times. BP has recently partnered with Equinor to create an offshore wind farm that can generate up to 4.4 GW of energy; this is enough to power 2 million homes (BP, n.d.). When giant oil and gas companies see the change in times and adapt, the people must also. This is what California has started and is progressing toward its future-saving goals.
Offshore wind collection is the way of the future for California. There will be significant changes to electricity gathering and production within the State over the next 25 years. How this will be accomplished is still up in the air, but the data supports offshore wind farming. However, like any political action comes analysis, weighing the pros and cons of multiple options. In the end, the price tag is what usually matters, unfortunately. In the next few years, important decisions will be made on the chosen path to reach the lofty energy goals; hopefully, offshore windmills will be included and invested in heavily for the successful future of the state is at stake.
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