California’s Electric Vehicle Power Sources – Just the Facts

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

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

Some EV enthusiasts swear that the grid in California is more than capable to juice their vehicles using mostly green (renewable) energy. Others say that 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.

Without counting the impact of manufacturing batteries, which can be dirty (especially depending on the vehicle), where is the power coming from? I opted to use one state as an example. Being that California leads the nation in renewables, and has several initiatives for using greener power, I focused on that state.

Out of state energy.

California’s load serving entities (LSEs) reported 8,739 GWh of imported energy from out-of-state hydroelectric facilities in 2018, bringing the state’s total hydroelectric energy to 35,083 GWh¬, which is about 12-percent of the California power mix.

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

Fuel TypeCalifornia
In-State Generation (GWh)
Percent of California
In-State Generation
Northwest Imports (GWh)Southwest Imports (GWh)California Energy Mix (GWh)California Power Mix
Large Hydro22,09611.34%7,41898530,49910.68%
Natural Gas90,69146.54%498,90499,64434.91%
Other (Petroleum Coke/Waste Heat)4300.22%094390.15%
Small Hydro4,2482.18%33414,5831.61%
Unspecified Sources of PowerN/AN/A17,57612,51930,09510.54%

Some of these numbers have increased: In 2021, wind energy generated within California totaled 15,173 gigawatt-hours (GWh) or 7.8 percent of California’s in-state power. Wind energy power plants generating in California during at least part of the year had a total capacity of 6,281 megawatts.

By the way: the last remaining coal-fired power plant in California is the 63 MW Argus Cogen plant. California made a push for natural gas back in 2014, and most of the coal plats are now burning greener natural gas. Natural gas is responsible for about one-third of California’s power.

Off-grid, or partially off-grid solar power (home solar).

California also leads the nation in the number of homes which have solar panels installed, totaling over 230,000. That total is expected to climb to a quarter of a million by or before 2024. Nationwide, the demand for solar has jumped to a point that demand is outstripping supply.

California, along with many other states, still has blackouts. This has been going on since well before electric vehicles grew in popularity. They will need to increase the grid as populations increase, which is obvious. What remains to be seen is the true effect of electric vehicles, as they all need to get power from somewhere.

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