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Clean Power Figure 2. Solar PV Technical Potential versus Annual Electricity Consumption by State30 - Courtesy Lighting the Way

Published on August 11th, 2014 | by Roy L Hales

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Environment California’s New Report: Lighting the Way

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August 11th, 2014 by  

The Top Ten States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2013

Figure 2. Solar PV Technical Potential versus Annual Electricity Consumption by State30 - Courtesy Lighting the Way

Figure 2. Solar PV Technical Potential versus Annual Electricity Consumption by State30 – Courtesy Lighting the Way

Jordan Schneider and Rob Sargent wrote Environment California’s new report Lighting the Way The 51 page study focuses on 10 key states who collectively possess 87% of US installed capacity.

Table 3. Top 10 States for Cumulative Solar Electric Capacity Through 2013 – Courtesy Lighting the way

Table 3. Top 10 States for Cumulative Solar Electric Capacity Through 2013 – Courtesy Lighting the way

“The top 10 states did not come to be America’s solar energy leaders by accident,” Schneider & Sargent conclude. “Their leadership is the result of strong public policies that eliminate barriers that often keep consumers from ‘going solar’ and provide financial assistance to expand access to solar energy to every individual, business, non-profit and government agency who wish to pursue it.”

One has only to look at the top of this page for an example of what they are talking about.

California has been leading the US in solar development for so long that one tends to forget it does not possess as much sunshine as most of America’s middle states. Its dominance started with the launch of the California Solar Initiative in 2006.

“Solar energy is emerging as a go-to energy option here in California and across the country,” explained Michelle Kinman of Environment California, in the press release announcing Lighting the Way. “Thanks to the commitment of California’s leaders, this pollution-free energy option is poised to play a major role in helping us meet our carbon emission reduction targets and will position California as a leader at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.”

“More than half of the 50 states have the technical potential to generate more than 20 percent of the electricity they currently use from solar panels on rooftops,” wrote Schneider & Sargent. “In several western states – California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado – the share of electricity that could technically be replaced with rooftop solar power exceeds 30 percent.”

Table ES-1. Solar Electricity Capacity in the Top 10 Solar States (ranked by cumulative capacity per resident; data from the Solar Energy Industries Association)  – Courtesy Lighting the Way

Table ES-1. Solar Electricity Capacity in the Top 10 Solar States (ranked by cumulative capacity per resident; data from the Solar Energy Industries Association) – Courtesy Lighting the Way

Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada are the nation’s leaders when solar capacity is measured per capita.

California’s rise to fourth place, measured by this metric, is a significant accomplishment. Last year the state was #6.

Yet Arizona’s leadership is threatened. Though “blessed with some of the world’s best solar energy resources, and facing the need to meet increasing demands for electricity from a growing population,” the solar community has been under attack. The Arizona Corporation’s Commission rejected a proposal to place a $50-$100 monthly fee on net metering homeowners, but agreed to let utilities charge an additional monthly fee of $0.70/kW (a $3.50 monthly charge for a 5 kW system).

This is not the only state where solar was attacked last year:

“the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) … engaged in largely unsuccessful attempts to roll back renewable portfolio standards in 16 states.” 

Schneider & Sargent claim the conservative organization’s sole victory was in Ohio. While this is literally true, that state’s solar capacity is only 88 MW. It would be more accurate to say the Ohio legislature called for further study of the wind sector.

Figure 9. Percentage of Top 10 versus Other States with Key Market Expansion Policies  – Courtesy Lighting the Way

Figure 9. Percentage of Top 10 versus Other States with Key Market Expansion Policies – Courtesy Lighting the Way

The key development in America’s top 10 solar states was policy:

  •  All of the Top 10 states have renewable electricity standards
  • All 10 states have renewable electricity standards that set minimum requirements for the share of a utility’s electricity that must come from renewable sources, and 8 of them have solar carve-outs that set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean, distributed electricity.
  • 9 of them have strong net metering policies. In nearly all of the leading states, consumers are compensated at the full retail rate for the excess electricity they supply to the grid.
  • 9 states have interconnection policies that reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.
  • 9 states allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements, and 8 allow property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.

Schneider & Sargent suggest “there is no reason why other states cannot follow the path established by the Top 10  states to create vigorous markets for solar energy …”

Figure ES-2, a-d. Solar Energy in the Top 10 Solar States versus the Rest of the U.S. – Courtesy Lighting the Way Click here to access their report

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About the Author

is the editor of the ECOreport (www.theecoreport.com), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America and writes for both Clean Techncia and PlanetSave. He is a research junkie who has written hundreds of articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.



  • http://www.planetexperts.com/ Carlos D. Aguirre

    This report is revealing about the impending impact of environmental effects.

  • Stan Hlegeris

    Just a quibble, but why would solar resource per capita matter?

    A crowded state like California has enough roof space and enough sun to provide all the electricity it could ever need, as does the empty state of Nevada.

    The resource per capita measure would seem to matter only in a state which is at the same time smaller, more crowded, and gloomier than any actual state.

  • Kyle Field

    “The Arizona Corporation’s Commission rejected a proposal to place a $50-$100 monthly fee on net metering homeowners, but agreed to let utilities charge an additional monthly fee of $0.70/kW (a $3.50 monthly charge for a 5 kW system).”
    The approved fee seems very reasonable to me. It’s not practical to ask utilities to buck up for net metering without a “grid connection fee” or similar to account for the fact that most grid connected solar installations make heavy use of the grid. These fees should (imho) be relatively small, monthlies…but as the % of solar rooftops increase, these fees will likely need to increase as well, further incentivizing residential storage systems/smart EV owners.

  • JamesWimberley

    Streamlined permitting o none should be included as an indicator. No-permit rules have played a big part in residential solar booms in Germany, Australia and the UK. The last has provided a natural experiment. Commercial solar installations, unlike residential, need planning permission – and the sector is anaemic.

  • Fact

    the charts also highlight energy effeciency in these states. with 1/4 of the overall population but with 1/5 of the overall electricity consumption.

  • Vensonata

    Arizona…now there is one perfect pv location. Winter solar production is extraordinary, close to 70% of summer. With pv at current rates it is entirely realistic to quadruple their installation to 1 kwhr panels per person, with some efficiency measures that would put them among the leaders of the world. On average 1 kw produces up to 2000 kw per year throughout most of the state. A 5 kw array per house petty well covers 100% of thoughtless electrical use ( as is the typical way in America)

    • DGW

      If only it weren’t for their dreadful voters.

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