California Electric Vehicle Power Sources – Just the Facts

Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 4MATIC+ (photo: Mercedes-Benz)

There is a lot of misinformation about California’s ability to cleanly power its electric vehicles using the current grid.

Some EV enthusiasts swear that the California grid is more than capable of powering their vehicles using mostly green (renewable) energy. Others say EV owners are using dirty energy to power their clean cars. There is misleading propaganda on both sides, and I wanted to present the facts without editorializing.

Not to mention the impact of the manufacture of the batteries, which can be dirty (especially depending on the vehicle), where does the power come from? I chose to use a state as an example. Since California leads the country in renewable energy and has several initiatives to use greener energy, I focused on this state.

Excluding state energy.

California’s Load Service Entities (LSEs) reported 8,739 GWh of energy imported from out-of-state hydroelectric facilities in 2018, bringing the state’s total hydroelectric energy to 35,083 GWh¬, or approximately 12% of California’s energy mix.

The table below is from from a 2018 study. It shows where power comes from and how much it contributes.

Fuel type California
Production in the State (GWh)
California Percentage
Generation in the State
Northwest Imports (GWh) Southwest imports (GWh) California energy mix (GWh) California Power Blend
Coal 294 0.15% 399 8,740 9,433 3.30%
Large hydroelectric plant 22,096 11.34% 7,418 985 30,499 10.68%
Natural gas 90,691 46.54% 49 8,904 99,644 34.91%
Nuclear 18,268 9.38% 0 7,573 25,841 9.05%
Oil 35 0.02% 0 0 35 0.01%
Other (petroleum coke/waste heat) 430 0.22% 0 9 439 0.15%
Renewable energies 63,028 32.35% 14,074 12,400 89,502 31.36%
Biomass 5,909 3.03% 772 26 6,707 2.35%
Geothermal 11,528 5.92% 171 1,269 12,968 4.54%
Small hydroelectric plant 4,248 2.18% 334 1 4,583 1.61%
Solar 27,265 13.99% 174 5,094 32,533 11.40%
Wind 14,078 7.23% 12,623 6,010 32,711 11.46%
Unspecified energy sources N / A N / A 17,576 12,519 30,095 10.54%
Total 194,842 100.00% 39,517 51,130 285 488 100.00%

Some of these numbers have increased: in 2021, wind power generated in California was 15,173 gigawatt hours (GWh), or 7.8% of the California state’s electricity. Wind power plants producing in California for at least part of the year had a total capacity of 6,281 megawatts.

By the way: the last coal-fired power plant in California is the 63 MW Argus Cogen plant. California pushed for natural gas in 2014, and most coal fields now burn greener natural gas. Natural gas is responsible for about a third of California’s power.

Off-grid or partially off-grid (domestic solar) solar energy.

California also leads the nation in the number of homes with solar panels, totaling more than 230,000. That total is expected to climb to a quarter of a million by 2024 or sooner. Nationally, demand for solar power has jumped to the point that demand is outstripping supply.

California, along with many other states, is still experiencing power outages. This happened long before electric vehicles gained popularity. They will have to increase the network as the populations increase, which is obvious. What remains to be seen is the true effect of electric vehicles, as they all need to be powered somewhere.

These are the facts as stated, and I hope they help dispel any misconceptions.

Rosemary C. Kearney