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California: the Dominant Clean-Energy State

California has seen its population and economy grow -- and a 36 percent drop in emissions per GDP at the same time.

(TNS) -- A just-released report hails California as the dominant state in the country when it comes to developing a clean-energy economy and promoting green technology.

And if California's figures were counted as a nation, the Golden State ranks among the top five in the world in measures such as energy productivity, electricity from renewable sources and reductions in carbon intensity.

"One of the important increases in improvement we've seen over the years is the amount of renewable energy California is creating," said F. Noel Perry, founder of the nonprofit group Next 10, which commissioned the California Green Innovation Index.

The eighth annual edition of the index gives the state high marks for solar generation, energy and electricity efficiencies and growth in clean tech investments and patents.

The study, made up of data compiled by the Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics research firm, also highlighted figures that Perry said indicates a "de-coupling" between economic growth and carbon emissions.

Part of the the Next 10 report broke down the gross domestic product as well as greenhouse gas emissions on a per capita basis between 1990 to 2014.

During that period, California has seen its population and economy grow. At the same time, the state has seen a 36 percent drop in emissions per GDP.

"I think it shows you can grow the economy and reduce emissions at the same time," Perry said. "In other words, it's not like if you do one you reduce the other.

Solar energy generation in California, according to the report, has grown 1,378 percent in the last five years and has not been limited to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The index's top region for commercial and residential solar power is Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario and the top city for industrial solar power is Fresno.

Last year, total residential megawatts of solar increased 65 percent across the state from the previous year.

For data compiled from 2014, California's total state greenhouse gas emissions fell 0.62 percent from the previous year.

Emissions have been on a downward trend for years but Adam Fowler, a research fellow at Beacon Economics, pointed out that vehicle registrations, population numbers and statewide economic figures have been going up.

"When you have all those kinds of bits and pieces that are continuing to expand and you're still seeing a drop, to me, it's a good sign," said Fowler in a conference call Tuesday.

In the renewable energy sector, California installed 3,266 megawatts of photo-voltaic solar in 2015, more than any other state in the U.S.

Some 20.1 percent of California’s total energy generation comes from renewables, nearly three times the national average of 6.8 percent.

The Next 10 index also found California had registered more clean technology patents in 2015 than any other state. California finished first for patents that included energy storage, efficiency, green materials, biofuels, wind, solar and transportation.

"That tells us that California is the center for innovation related to coming up with different products and services that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the creation of new companies," Perry said.

If California were a country, it would rank fourth as the most energy-productive economy in the world, up from fifth, unseating Japan.

When it came to carbon intensity — dividing CO2 emissions into per capita GDP — only France ranked higher than California and the state ranked fourth among nations when it came to the share of electricity from renewable sources. Spain finished first.

The state did lag in one rather surprising category in the innovation index — methane emissions in the agriculture sector.

"It's largely tied to a large uptick in milk production in our state," Fowler said.

A greenhouse gas estimated to be as high as 25 times more potent at trapping heat than CO2, methane is the world's second-largest source of emissions.

It may come as a surprise but California — not Wisconsin — has the largest number of dairy cows in the nation.

Greenhouse gas emissions attributed to livestock manure management is up 22.6 percent between 2000-2014 and the California Air Resources Board estimates dairy and livestock emissions account for 5 percent of the state’s overall GHG emissions.

About one-quarter of the emissions from livestock come from "manure management practices," such as increases in the amount of manure put in storage lagoons.

But Perry and Fowler see an opportunity for innovation, even in cow waste.

They point to methane digesters that can help process the waste and turn it into energy.

Methane digesters have been hurt by high upfront costs but "it has the potential to become another source of income for farmers," Fowler said. "There is some cool innovation in that area that I think we'll see expand over the years."

©2016 The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.