Today, California can claim first place in just about every renewable-energy category: It is home to the nation’s largest wind farm and the world’s largest solar thermal plant. It has the largest operating photovoltaic solar installation on Earth and more rooftop solar than any other state. (It helps to have a lot of roofs.) This new industry has been an economic boon as well. Solar companies now employ an estimated 64,000 people in the state, surpassing the number of people working for all the major utilities. California has attracted more venture capital investment for clean-energy technologies than the European Union and China combined. Even the state’s manufacturing base is experiencing a boost; one of California’s largest factories is Tesla Motors’ sprawling electric-vehicle assembly plant in the Bay Area.
California is the world’s eighth-largest economy but accounts for only about 1 percent of global emissions. That, says Nichols, is exactly the point: to set an example. “We never thought that what we did in California was actually going to solve the problem of global warming,” she says. “But we thought we could demonstrate that you could.”