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California's renewable energy story – The right law at the right time

California is nation's renewable energy leader, a front-runner when it comes to promoting renewable energy sources and fight against climate change. And it all started a decade ago, when Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB32, a law requiring California to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020.

This doesn't mean that the state hasn't been trying to reduce its carbon emissions before but with the right legislation everything became a whole lot easier. AB 32, or to be more precise the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, was the first bill of this kind in a country as it took a comprehensive, long-term approach to addressing climate change.

AB32’s main target is to reduce carbon emissions to 1990’s emission level to 431 million metric tons, in 2020. According to most analysts this looks very likely to be achieved. California’s rather ambitious long-term goal, which is not yet set into law, calls for an 80 percent reduction by 2050, down to 86 million tons.

The rapid growth of three renewable energy industries (solar, wind and geothermal) was the driving force behind this reduction in carbon emissions. At this moment, around 27 percent of electricity in California is generated by renewable energy sources, with the majority coming from solar power. According to state law California must get 33 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Solar power is the most important renewable energy source in California. The state's current solar power capacity is around 7,000 megawatts (MW). Even some major setbacks like the bankruptcy of large solar power company Solyndra in 2011 wasn't enough to significantly hurt solar energy industry in California. Solar power plants are spreading across the entire state, from the Central Valley through the Mojave Desert. The growth of solar power industry was largely helped by the fact that solar panel prices decreased 82% during the last five years.

Car traffic is the single biggest source of carbon emissions in California. In this sense, the fact that California also lead the nation in the number of electric cars on the road is certainly positive and very welcome. In 2015, a 1.7 percent of new cars registered in the state were electric cars.

It has been estimated that the renewable energy industry currently employs more than half of million Californians which is the proof that renewable energy industry can also be major force to drive economy forward.

However, there is plenty left to do. These efforts to halt climate change impact and promote renewable energy sources, though they seem extensive, are still far from making the real difference.

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board recently stated “we can be pleased with our success and be proud of it, while still recognizing it’s a drop in the bucket in terms of what we need to do”.

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