Transforming the Grid: An Introduction to California's Electric System in the 21st Century

California's energy system is undergoing a radical transformation driven by disruptive technologies, consumer preferences, and aggressive clean energy policies. The old paradigm of central suppliers serving passive customers is giving way to a more decentralized and digitized system, with modular and smart technologies generating and controlling energy with greater efficiency and higher value. An increasingly clean power system is also key to decarbonizing other parts of the economy, including transportation — the largest source of statewide emissions — and heat.

Transforming the Grid: An Introduction to California’s Electric System in the 21st Century, which was released with A Regional Power Market for the West: Risks and Benefits, explains how the state’s power system and grid work, lays out environmental and social issues, and provides visions of the future as the grid evolves in concert with economic and environmental trends.

These two reports kick off a series of five briefs examining California's electric grid at a pivotal time in history. Please see the Additional Resources tab for links to the full series.

Next 10 owns the rights to this publication. Any usage of content from this publication is subject to our Terms of Use. This report is part of Next 10's California Grid series.


This brief is intended to provide an introduction to the California power system that is accessible for the lay reader, including the following components.

  • The basics of how the power system in California works, including the technical, regulatory, and financial aspects.
  • A discussion of various important environmental and social issues that are impacted by energy use, such as air pollution, water pollution, land use decisions, environmental justice, and job impacts.
  • Some visions of the future, and how the state might address the biggest energy problem of this generation—climate change—while maintaining a reliable and affordable power supply.

Graphics from this publication are not available for usage. Please see the full report to view all graphics.