Clean Power

Published on January 25th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


Top Solar Power States (Per Capita)

January 25th, 2013 by  

I love rankings as much as the next guy, and as a cleantech fanatic, I especially love the rankings of states, countries, companies, etc. that show who’s leading in solar power or wind power installations. However, what are often more important than absolute figures are relative figures. By looking at who’s leading relative to various important metrics, we can focus in on who has great policies and who has horrible policies (and who has mediocre policies).

Back in 2011 and 2012, I created some relative rankings of countries based on solar power per capita, solar power per GDP, and solar power per TWh of electricity production; as well as relative rankings of countries based on wind power per capita, wind power per GDP, and wind power per TWh of electricity production. However, for a long time, I’ve been wanting to also find data on total solar power capacity per state so that I could see how the different states compare relative to such matters. For various reasons (i.e. I overbook myself day after day), I never got around to asking SEIA or GTM Research for those numbers. Luckily, though, I met and had several good chats with GTM Research solar analyst Scott Burger at Masdar’s Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, and I mentioned this idea to him (and the need for that state data). With great appreciation, he delivered.

So, based on Q3 2012 data from GTM Research and July 2011 data from the US Census Bureau, here are the top solar states per capita (click here to see a much larger version of the bar chart):

Some initial thoughts:

1. My home state of Florida (aka the “Sunshine State”) is pretty freakin’ behind when it comes to installing solar power. Of course, I already knew that, but this is quite sad, given its tremendous solar resources and large population.

2. California, despite being clear in the lead in absolute terms, is only #6 in relation to solar power per resident.

3. As everyone knows, New Jersey is rockin’ it, but Arizona actually has it beat. That’s not a huge surprise — Arizona is one of the first states hitting grid parity — but I did think NJ was going to be #1. I guess there really are a ton of people packed into that small state. (Notably, Arizona just took a big step backwards on the solar front.)

4. Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana… what the heck are you doing? Get some decent solar policies in place and take advantage of your amazing solar resources!

If you’re in Arizona, New Jersey, Hawaii, New Mexico, or Nevada, share the good news with your friends and family!

If you’re in pretty much any other state, share the not-so-good news with your friends and family! And work to improve the solar policies in your state.

If you don’t really care about all this, I don’t know how you made it down this far, but here’s a video of a penguin laughing for your efforts.

And last but not least, don’t forget to go solar.

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

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  • Jason Burwen

    Probably better to do this by MW per square area of useful solar resources. Not much point in solar if you have poor insolation.

    • That would be an interesting column to add and analysis to do. Do you happen to know of a source for such state-by-state data?

  • Florida is so low probably because the fossil industry there influences lawmaking decisions. They use the more oil to make electricity than any other state in the country…..

    • Bob_Wallace

      I suspect you looked at “energy” and not “electricity. Energy includes transportation, industry and heating.

      Florida uses about zero oil to make electricity according to the EIA. Natural gas is far and away the largest source. Coal is a distant third, nuclear well below that and they have a small amount of renewables.

      Haiwaii and parts of Alaska are the only places I know of in the US that use oil for electricity.

      • No, Florida uses more to make electricity than Hawaii. It’s close though. Overall, no one uses a high percentage but Florida remains the king which is odd since they are landlocked but off course the oil industry is right there…..

        I have to double check the source.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Following your link to their link I find this page…

          That shows YTD Nov 2012 Florida using a fair amount of petroleum liquids.

          My link shows Oct 2012 Florida used about zero oil.

          On another EIA page I find…

          “Florida was second only to Texas in 2011 in net electricity generation from natural gas, which accounted for 62 percent of Florida’s net generation; coal accounted for 23 percent, the State’s three nuclear power plants accounted for 9.8 percent, and other resources, including renewable energy, accounted for the remainder.”

          62% + 23% + 9.8% = 94.8%. Add in some renewables and there’s not much room left for oil.

          Then I checked the Net Generation by State by Type of Producer by Energy Source 1990 to 2011 “big page of data”, looked at a couple of years (2008 and 2009) and I just don’t see a lot of oil getting used. Far less than what nuclear is producing.

          I suspect an error in the “lots of oil” page. I’ll see if I can work up some multi-year oil data from the big page.

        • Bob_Wallace

          OK, I did some spreadsheeting…

          Total Electrical Power Industry numbers.

          1991, the first year in the database, FL got 19.4% of its electricity from oil.

          2005, skipping ahead a bit, FL got 16.9% from oil.

          2008 – 5.5%

          2009 – 4.2%

          2010 – 4.0%

          2011 – 1.5%

          I might have spotted the problem. In 2011 and 2012 the row order is all screwed up on the page. Things are out of order, shuffled. If summary reports were pulling numbers from rows based on what used to be there then there would be errors.

          That would throw off your source.

          Again – here’s the PDF. Take a look at what happens in column C in 2011 and 2012.

          • I wish they made the data simpler from state to state. While they don’t use a high percent of oil for electricity they use a higher percent versus other states although its hard to see if other states dropped as fast as they did down to 1% etc… thanks.

  • Will Poundstone

    actually Texas uses a lot of wind power

    • Yeah, certainly, as does Iowa and several others states not leading in solar. Would like to do the same thing for wind power.

  • David Sullivan

    Don’t let the Naysayers slow ya down Mr Shahan. You’re hittin’ it out of the park. Keep up the great journey and momentum. You’re the best!!!

  • Bob_Wallace

    Might be interesting to add a third column – average price of electricity – for each state. That might tell us more about why some states are installing a lot more than others are.

    Although at 36.7 cents per kWh one would think Hawaii would be way out in front.

    Then there’s Mass at 13.8, only a bit of national average sitting way high on the list. Neither a savings or a “lots of sunny days” advantage.

    • Great idea. Would be interesting. Will add to the spreadsheet & share,

  • Otis11

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but solar isn’t even close to grid parity in Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama or the central/south/east parts of Texas because of the lack of sun. While it’s latitude is quite promising, the percentage of sunny days along the gulf coast kinda neutralizes that.

    NJ got by the lack of great solar resources by having more expensive grid electricity, (And that’s the same case with Germany) and AZ reached parity just by having incredible resources (Think 360 sunny days a year).

    That’s how solar need to get it’s foot in the door here in the US. Start in the North East and compete with expensive electricity, and along the South East and use the desert climate and incredible solar radiation.

    The thing is we don’t actually need solar everywhere – just like we don’t need wind everywhere – we need the balance, which isn’t pointed out nearly enough! Here in Texas, for example, we need to put solar out in West and North Texas (which we have plenty of) and use wind in the central/north/east parts. Once offshore wind becomes more mainstay put that off the coast to power the rest. Connect them all and you’ll have a relatively reliable power source. Pair that with the medium and small hydro resources we have along our Texas rivers and renovate them to be pump-up storage as well, and we’ve got an incredible resource to make Texas near 100% renewable without what people traditionally consider grid storage. Throw in some smart meters that pair with smart water heaters and even a thermal storage AC system in some of the commercial buildings to be able to dynamically shift load and we have all the technology we need, here today, almost at parity! Ok well anyway, I’ll end my little rant. Thanks for the article!

    • Bob_Wallace

      That portion of the South that you list get an average of 4.5 to 5 hours per day of usable solar input. That’s very good.

      Some of the southern states do have electricity costs that are less than the US average. That will mean that it will take solar longer to reach grid parity there. But if coal gets shut down the price structure could change.

      Don’t think best solar sites = south. Summer is when our electricity needs are highest and northern locations can get a lot of sunshine with their long summer days.

      You are right about different mixes of generation in different places.

      Good rant.

      • Otis11

        Yeah, I mean it’s not a pittance, but it’s not that great either. I know along the gulf coast it can go for a month without the sun shining for more than a few hours. While overall it might be 4-5 hours a day, I’d be surprised if it was anywhere near dependable. But go up near Dallas or out west to San Antonio or even El Paso and the story changes dramatically. Keep going out to New Mexico and Arizona and it’s rare to see shadows from clouds! Fortunately, the places with lots of shade typically have significant wind resources, especially off the coast.

        And I keep reading articles on here saying “Solar could power everything!” or “Wind can power the whole US!” with research to prove it, but likely the most reliable, and I’d be the most economical solution to this problem is an all of the above plan. Use what you have, string a HVDC line across the US and boom, you’re done! But unfortunately that’s not going to happen because of the high capital required for something that’s “unproven”. Sure, unproven… it’s called statistics but politicians don’t understand math and there’s more money in centralized power than decentralized power, so where’s the money going to come from?

        If you ask me a decent stop gap would be to take Texas (has it’s own grid and impressive renewable resources, plus I’m familiar with pretty much every corner of it) Throw some PV and CSP out west and in the pan handle, scatter some wind throughout, use our already dammed rivers for pump-up hydro, and then take all the dairy farms (and cattle ranches for that matter) to run anaerobic digesters to produce methane that is used as fill-in for the larger scale renewables. We could make a state with below average electricity prices completely renewable and completely cost competitive with today’s technology. Then watch someone argue against renewables.

        I also don’t see the point in having the government throw millions of dollars into RE research when we truly have all the necessary technology TODAY if they just looked. The problem is everyone wants a cure-all. Does wind replace coal? Well, no, not 100% of the time. So they don’t want it. Does PV replace coal? No, not 100% of the time. So, again, they don’t want it. CSP? wave? offshore wind? (well, that one actually might soon enough)… but even if none of them do, throw them all together in the places that they are cost competitive and the balancing act is complete. Just need a little fill in from Biogas for the few statistical anomalies.

        BTW, you probably shouldn’t encourage my rants… or you’ll just keep getting them. And unfortunately I can get quite off topic. Haha.

    • thermal AC storage is already a great deal in Texas, you can get almost free electric at night. Run those chiller at night when they work better anyway and coast during the day. If you are a biz paying peak rates during the day there is no way you can’t jump at that.

    • Good points. Thanks for chiming in.

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