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California is poised to be the world’s largest economy with a zero-emissions goal

"Solar Impulse 2", a solar-powered plane piloted by Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland, flies over the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, California, U.S. April 23, 2016, before landing on Moffett Airfield following a 62-hour flight from Hawaii. Jean Revillard/Solar Impulse/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY - S1AETRTMTZAC
Jean Revillard/Solar Impulse/Handout via Reuters
California’s future in flight.
  • Michael J. Coren
By Michael J. Coren

Climate and emerging industries editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

The Golden State is turning into the Solar State. On Aug. 28, California’s state assembly passed a bill to eliminate electricity-related greenhouse-gas emissions by 2045 and cut them by half by 2026. If the state senate and governor Jerry Brown sign off on it, California will become the world’s largest single economy to adopt a zero-emissions goal for its electricity grid by relying on wind, solar, and other renewable technology.

Hawaii is the only other US state with greater ambition (it enacted a bill in June), and Massachusetts is considering a similar bill. The European Union’s bloc of 28 countries (the third-largest source of global emissions) plans to achieve net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 across all sectors of all economies. To do this, carbon removal systems now being developed (as Quartz has reported) are expected to play a role in compensating for sectors such as aviation that may still emit greenhouse gases even after the energy grid is fully powered by renewables.

California can set its ambitious goal thanks to the explosive growth of renewable energy in the state. Solar, in particular, has beat all expectations soaring from 0.5% of electricity generation in the state in 2010 to 10% last year. That helped the state push GHG emissions below 1990 levels by 2016—four years early.

The carbon intensity of California’s economy (emissions per unit of gross domestic product) has been steadily falling: emissions have dropped 12% from their 2001 peak, while the state’s GDP has grown 91% in the same time frame. This has helped make the decision to clamp down on greenhouse-gas emissions more popular than it might have been otherwise. A Public Policy Institute of California poll of 1,711 adult residents this July found 72% of Californians (pdf) supported a future with zero energy emissions—as did about half of Republicans in the sample.

California has a massive energy-related legislative agenda lined up this year, unrivaled anywhere else in the US according to the Advanced Energy Economy AEE, a clean-energy advocacy group. Bills to modernize the regional electrical distribution system, enact a more stringent renewables mandate, and set the zero energy emissions goal are all working their way through the state legislature, alongside a dozen others.

“While it’s not new for California to make a splash on energy legislation, it is pretty significant that three groundbreaking energy bills are being actively discussed in the legislature this final week,” wrote Emilie Olson of AEE by email. “Wrapping in the controversial wildfire conversations as well, these bills together represent the largest clean energy legislation being considered simultaneously relative to anywhere else in the country.”

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