As California strives to meet its climate goals, it must adopt a new wave of renewable and sustainable energy technologies to reach the state’s energy demands and emissions standards. As renewables are becoming economically competitive, electrical grids are relying more heavily on these low-carbon generation resources. While a rapid development and expansion of renewables is transpiring, California, a state with deep roots in agriculture, must work to maximize the output its vast ranches and farmland, which are oftentimes prime locations for siting renewables. Agriculture exists not only as a crucial component of California’s history but as a thriving source of revenue and food security, with California being the most productive agricultural state in America.1 Thus, sustainable energy systems must be carefully integrated into existing agricultural land in order to generate renewable energy and supply farmers (this report’s all-encompassing term for agricultural operators) with an additional source of cash flow without cannibalizing valuable land. To aid in California’s transition, this report investigates the viability of co-locating emerging and established renewable energy technologies within agricultural operations.
The three energy sources focused on in this report are solar, wind, and biogas. Solar energy is an extremely viable technology given its low cost and California’s optimal solar conditions. However, the large land footprint of solar farms threatens agricultural land, so further research into novel solar co-locations is imperative. While wind energy co-locates well with agricultural and livestock operations due to its limited land footprint, many ideal wind conditions occur outside of ranch and farmland regions. Additionally, fugitive methane emissions from cow manure on Californian dairy farms can be collected and turned into biogas in biodigesters and refined into renewable natural gas (RNG). Californian dairy methane emissions will soon be regulated as requirements from Senate Bill 1383 are implemented, so harnessing biogas energy is not optional but will soon be mandatory.
Various incentive programs at the utility, state, and federal levels have proven to be powerful driving forces behind renewable energy commercialization efforts. Chief among these are the Renewable Fuel Standard, the Renewable Portfolio Standard, and various net metering and feed-in tariff programs. However, realizing the energy goals mandated by the legislature will require much more to be done. Further steps in actuating this transition could be as follows:
Through the TomKat Fellows' research, the team was able to provide recommendations to public policy, utilities, and private industry on actions and changes that can be made with renewables in agriculture. The full findings of the TomKat Fellows' research can be found in their final report.