California Energy Profile

Jack Goodwin
January 13, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: Sources of Electricity Generation in California. [3] (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The golden state of California gives off a complex yet efficient glow when it comes to energy usage. As the most populated state in the nation, California has the greatest amount of people demanding energy in the nation. [1] California also has the largest economy in the nation, putting an even greater burden on energy demand locally. [2] Both households and corporations alike rely on a constant energy supply in order to maintain their life and work activities. Despite those prime rankings, California ranks second to Texas in total energy demand. [3] Although one would expect the energy demand to be high as a result, the energy demand per capita in California is one of the lowest in the nation. [1] This is due to the combination of multiple factors. The states mild climate, as well as high emphasis of California leadership on energy efficiency, create for an extremely efficient energy environment for the citizens and businesses of California to flourish. As the top producer of conventional hydroelectric, geothermal, solar and biomass power, California is well prepared for the energy challenges of the future. [4]

Household Energy Use

California is one of the nation's largest states, with household energy use being distributed among many categories. Transportation is a leading contributor to California's energy profile due to the sheer size necessary to travel while going about everyday life. [5] The early establishment of cities in California basins encouraged an expansive, spread out infrastructure in cities and urban areas. Average commute times to and from work are some of the highest nationwide, with more cars being registered in California than any other state. [6] In part due to these long distances, public transportation in California has long been lacking, leading to the purchase of and reliance on many cars per household in order to move around effectively.

However, despite the large demand in transportation energy, California's residential energy needs remain low due to mild year round climates. Many households do not report needing or using heating units due to the mild winters, as well as not needing air conditioning units during the mild summers. Temperatures are fairly well regulated due to the close proximity of the Pacific Ocean, which acts as a mediating factor to weather patterns near the coast. As a result, energy use per citizen in California is one of the lowest in the nation. [3]


California yields about 6% of the nation's oil production, with large oil reserves both on land and near the coastline. [7] Due to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, off-shore drilling was banned in the region for many decades, only recently becoming reopened due to confidence in current technology in 2008. Public opinion remains supportive of land based crude oil drilling while platform based off-shore drilling is on average not supported by the general public. Tar balls are known to appear on beaches near off-shore oil platforms, creating a visible effect for local residents wishing that off-shore drilling was still illegal.

California ranks third in the nation's oil refining capacity, although half of the crude oil refined within the state's boarders come from international sources. The source of this foreign oil is primarily from Saudi Arabia, Colombia and Ecuador. [8,9] Large volumes of crude oil are also transported from the state of Alaska for refinement. Due to the high sophistication of the oil refinery plants, many different types of fuel can be produced at any given time. With major refinery plants in the Los Angeles, Central Valley and Bay Area regions, many communities are in close proximity to this crude oil refinement.

Natural Gas

California yields less than 1% of the nation's natural gas production, with sparse reserves in valley basins and offshore deposits. However, although it produces very little natural gas, California imports a lot of natural gas via pipelines over inter-state boarders. Most of this gas is used for heating homes, with the remainder being directed to electricity generation. Natural gas provides the largest portion of California's electricity generation and will be discussed further in the following section. There are multiple natural gas pipelines feeding the supply of California, with the state being able to store around 600 billion cubic feet of natural gas. [3] This massive intake and storage ability for natural gas is a hedge against any energy shortages from other energy producers in the state, creating a back stop method to provide constant power to customers.


Fig. 1 shows the electricity power generation distribution in California. Natural gas power plants supply more than half of California's total energy generation. [5] The remaining electricity generator sources comprise of hydroelectric, wind, nuclear, solar and geothermal. About 14% of the nation's hydroelectric power generation occurs in the state, although that number fluctuates widely based on seasonal rainfall and snowpack. [10] Should a drought occur, mountains will not be able to store water in the form of snow and ice during winter storms. When those reserves melt in the spring, the water is sometimes insufficient for sustained hydroelectric power generation. Rain certainly contributes to the power contribution, but only the rain which is collected in water reservoirs which flow through hydroelectric dams.

Electricity generated by the burning of coal is not a significant source of energy production within California, as both local coal reserves and lawmakers prefer the choice of cleaner energy. California at one time ran 4 nuclear power plants, although the number was recently reduced to running only two power plants due to aging facilities. Despite the reduction in nuclear and hydroelectric production in the state, an increase in renewable energy sources like solar make up for the loss of traditional power generation. Solar power continues to be a priority for the leaders of the state, with new projects being constructed presently. The remaining 25% of California's electricity usage comes from sources outside of the state.

© Jack Goodwin. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "State Energy Data 2014: Consumption Technical Notes," U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2014.

[2] "Gross Domestic Product by State: First Quarter 2016," U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, BEA 16-39, July 2016.

[3] "State Energy Consumption Estimates, 1960 through 2014," U.S. Energy Information Administration, DOE/EIA-0214(2014), June 2016.

[4] "Electric Power Monthly - December 2015," U.S. Energy Information Administration, February 2016

[5] A. van Benthem, K. Gillingham, and J. Sweeney. "Learning-By-Doing and the Optimal Solar Policy in California," Energy J. 29, 131 (2008).

[6] "Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012," U.S. Census Bureau, 2012, Table 1098.

[7] "State Energy Production Estimates: 1960 Through 2014," U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2014.

[8] "Refinery Capacity Report - January 2016," U.S. Energy Information Administration, June 2016, Table 1.

[9] "Petroleum Supply Monthly - October 2016," U.S. Energy Information Administration, December 2016.

[10] P. H. Gleick, "Impacts of California’s Ongoing Drought: Hydroelectricity Deneration," Pacific Institute, February 2016.