Clean Power Cumulative grid-connected solar PV capacity

Published on July 26th, 2013 | by Silvio Marcacci


Dazzling Dozen US States Illuminate Path To Solar Energy Future

July 26th, 2013 by  

A solar energy revolution is dawning in America, led by twelve states whose progressive policies dominate the US solar industry and illuminate the path forward to a nationwide clean energy economy.

This “Dazzling Dozen” represent 85% of America’s total solar energy capacity despite being home to just 28% of the total US population and 21% of all US electricity consumption, according to Environment America’s “Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn From America’s Top 12 Solar States report.

These 12 states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Vermont – have little in common demographically or politically, but have all used smart policies that if emulated by other states, could help America get 10% of its electricity from solar energy by 2030.

US Solar Energy Economy Growing With Installation Surge

The sun is definitely rising on the US solar industry, according to the report. America had 7,500 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity at the end of 2012, three times more than in 2010, and more than ten times 2007.

In fact, the US installed 1,300MW of solar capacity in just the fourth quarter of 2012, more than it had installed in its entire history up to 2010. America’s solar surge doesn’t seem to be slowing down either, with solar energy representing nearly half of all the new electric generation capacity installed across the country in the first half of 2013, becoming just the fourth country to pass the 10,000MW installed capacity mark.

A green jobs boom has accompanied the surge in new installations, and every one of the top ten states in solar jobs is a member of the Dazzling Dozen. More than 119,000 Americans now work in the solar energy industry, up 13% from the previous year. Over half of these workers are solar system installers, and employment in installation grew 17.5% in 2012 alone. While solar manufacturing jobs saw a significant lull on competition from cheap foreign imports in 2012, analysts predict employment will rebound in 2013.

Expanded solar energy also creates benefits beyond just economic growth. Solar PV produces 96% less pollution than coal-fired power and 91% less pollution than natural gas. Solar also improves grid reliability by reducing the need for long-distance transmission, placing local generation near demand, and generating the most power when demand is highest (the afternoon).

What’s The Secret To Solar Success?

So enough about the benefits of solar energy, and more about how these states have found success. Environment America outlines multiple approaches that have worked for the Dazzling Dozen, but highlight four especially important policies:

  • Net metering: 11 of the 12 states have strong net metering policies in place where consumers are paid the full retail electricity rate for any excess power they supply back to the grid. Net metering shortens the payback time and increases return on investment for small-scale solar systems.
  • Renewable energy standards: 11 of the 12 states have mandatory minimum requirements for the percentage of a utility’s power that must come from renewable sources, and 9 have specific solar carve-outs that set specific targets for solar power within the RES.
  • Interconnection: 10 of the 12 states have strong interconnection policies that cut through red tape for review and approval to help expedite the successful connection of solar projects to the grid.
  • Creative financing options: most of the states have different financing mechanisms in place to help pay for solar systems including solar leasing, on-bill financing, virtual net metering, third-party power purchase agreements, and property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.

Additional Policies For Governments To Adopt

Beyond the four best practices, “Lighting the Way” recommends other policies for all levels of government to adopt in order to achieve America’s full solar energy potential:

Toward A 100% Solar-Powered America?

While the Dazzling Dozen shine a light on solar energy’s success in America, we’ve still got a long way to go. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates rooftop solar PV could generate more than 20% of all US electricity demand, and maximizing utility-scale solar projects in rural areas could generate 70 times the entire amount of power used in America annually.

That’s why “Lighting the Way” matters – every one of our 50 states has the potential to generate more electricity from solar power than it uses in an average year. “The sky’s the limit on solar energy,” said Rob Sargent of Environment America. “The progress of these states should give us the confidence that we can do much more.”

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

  • save south korea.. bad rich people are building too much…40, 50, 60…. nuclear plants…. contact me if you can help me.. i know professor, company etc in south korea…

  • Pieter Siegers

    I think the US can do much better than just 10% of solar in 2030! If I remember well Germany at the moment is at 25%?

    • Bill_Woods


      2012: 27.9 TW-h of 482.8 TW-h
      2012*: 14.3 TW-h of 244.1 TW-h (1st half of year)

      • Pieter Siegers

        Thanks you’re right, almost 6% for just solar.
        But still, I looked at the report, and calculating percentage of all renewables is currently 18.8% for Germany, today.
        How is that currently in the US? Any similar reference?

        • Bill_Woods
          • Pieter Siegers

            Thanks Bill.
            So that is 12% of renewables, of which only 1% was solar back in 2012 according to the graph.
            Calculating this to a real percentage it means solar was last year at a tiny 0.12%.
            OK, so the expectation of having 10% in 2030 wouldn’t be that bad after all, but I guess (hope) solar will outgrow other energy sources (even wind), so in the end we may be able to see a much better result.
            However to really reduce CO2 emissions much better energy storage systems are needed so that backup energy sources – currently mostly fossil fuels – will not be necessary anymore.

  • mds

    Great article Mr. Marcacci!
    Your plot of solar growth in the USA alone is priceless!
    …so different from the boneheaded predictions the EIA keeps making. I’m looking forward to the continued solar revolution in this country and the world. I’m looking forward to more people coming to their senses about solar.
    Thank you! mike

  • Too bad Florida the sunshine state isn’t in there… that may have to do with the gulf oil industry on their doorstep…

    • Pieter Siegers

      That wouldn’t be a bad guess!

  • BDev

    If you suggest that “gov’t needs to” one more time, I will pop you on the head.
    The only thing that gov’t needs to do is to eliminate all petro subsidies. The price of petro fuels will skyrocket, and the market will respond with incredible amounts of creative thinking and implementation.
    As long as gov’t keeps subsidizing petro, and also tries to get involved in alt energy, it is a clusterf**k. Recent history of gov’t funding for alt energy is directly to the point – bankruptcies.

    • That’s right but the petro industry is legally allowed to financially influence the very lawmakers that would need to pull the subsidies, and the military spending protecting the overseas oil flows…. etc…

    • Steeple

      How much do you think elimination of Federal oil and gas tax deductions would add to the price of crude oil in the US?

      • Ronald Brakels

        I have don’t know what federal oil and gas tax deductions are in the US, but surely the main subsidy would be the dumping of CO2 into the atmosphere without having to pay to remove it.

      • Ross

        Direct subsidies have been estimated at between about $10 – $50 billion.
        So let’s take $20 billion as the number.

        Let’s make a series of conservative assumptions to arrive at a low ball estimate of the total spent on fossil fuels for transportation and compare it with the direct subsidy:

        Average distance traveled for all motor vehicles is about 12,000 miles in the US

        Let’s take 255 million as the number of vehicles in the US.

        Let’s take $3.6 per gallon as the average price of gas/diesel.

        Let’s take 25 miles per gallon as the average fuel economy

        Putting all that together to get the total spend on fossil fuel

        (255×10^6 vehicles) * (12×10^3 miles per vehicle) * ($3.6 per gallon) / (25 miles per gallon) = $440 billion

        Subsidy on cost of fuel = $20 billion / $440 billion * 100% = 4.5%

        About 16c per gallon.

        • Steeple

          Thank you, Ross.

          Another way to consider this is as follows. The US consumes approx. 19MM barrels of oil/day = 570MM bbls/mo = 7B bbls/yr.

          Regarding Nat Gas, we consume approx 60BCF/day = 1.8TCF/mo = 21 TCF/year = approx 2B bbls of oil/year.

          $20 Billion/9 billion barrels = $2.20/gal = 5 cts/gal.

          Using that math, this would imply 1-2 % vs your 4%, but it seems like we are tightening up the range.

          I acknowledge that their are other costs, particularly in the cost of defending the world’s sea lanes for the transport of oil along with intervention in the Middle East. There would be tremendous savings if we can extricate ourselves at least from the Mid East.

        • mds

          The problem with both of your calculations is they depend on the idea that the US oil market is somehow separate from the world oil market and that oil companies are making efforts to pass on cost savings. Neither of these are true so your calculations of effect on the price of oil or gasoline don’t mean anything. Sorry Charlie, oil is a scarce commodity and the price will continue to be what the market will bear. (Care to throw your support behind an alternative?) Lord help us if there’s a nuclear war in the Middle East. …and I’m not using his name in vein here, I’m being very literal.

      • mds

        Elimination of Federal oil and gas tax deductions would not significantly effect the price of crude oil in the US. The market for crude oil IS A WORLD MARKET!!! Duh!!!

        Some of US subsidies to oil are going to increase production in the US and elsewhere. (The rest of the US subsidies to oil are going directly into corporate coffers to help maintain their world record corporate net profits… suckers!) This is increasing US exports of oil and it is a drop in the bucket on a global scale. It is NOT lowering the price of oil or gasoline in the US significantly. Wake up and smell the coffee! You’re being f@$&ed.

        Cut that $20 billion in subsidies today!

        The smaller subsidies to solar, wind, and EVs/PHEVs are bringing lower and lower cost alternatives. The higher dollar subsidies to oil are producing nothing but the same continued high cost. Fox News => Faux News => F@$&ed News. BOHICA

        • Steeple

          Well, that’s what happens when the government gets involved in markets. I’m sure that will be some renewables subsidies in about 20 years that look pretty stupid too. The subsidies are pretty small in the scheme of things, but we should get rid of them anyway.

          By the way, it’s illegal to export US produced oil so there are no US oil exports. We do export some refined products.

          Let’s let the high cost regions of the world make the mistakes inevitable in new technologies and we’ll be there to implement the best in class renewables once the cost curve flattens.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Other countries have figured out how to install solar for less than we are capable of doing. They’re going to be able to produce for less due to lower energy costs.

            Why do you want America to fall behind and be less competitive?

          • Steeple

            Let’s let them build the equivalent of the TRS 80s. Meanwhile, we can wait for the better versions without blowing a lot of experimental capital. That’s just being smart, not unpatriotic.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Naw, I’m convinced that you’re working for the Russians, North Koreans or another country that wants America to fail.

            You want us to sit back and let the rest of the world pass us by.

          • Steeple

            Give me rand, give me rand, give me rots of rots of land…

            You got me, Bob!

          • mds

            You’re not that well thought out. You are just another far right wing troll, a product of Faux News and/or the foolish believe that unbridled capitalism leads to a worthwhile result, libertarianism. Less government is a worthwhile goal. No government oversight is a goal of nut-balls and makes about as much sense as the far left belief that we should all give up the advantages of modern technology and go back to the land. Extremist nonsense in both cases.

          • mds

            You know this article provides proof positive that US incentives for renewable energy, solar in particular, are delivering beautifully. …and still you just don’t get it …you’re clueless

          • mds

            BS it’s illegal. I’ve read from several sources that oil exports have increased. I’ve also read we are project to become the 2nd or 3rd largest exporter of oil by the end of this decade. Please provide a reference on that. Why are gasoline prices not dropping in the USA?

          • Steeple

            Not sure you would consult someone as clueless as me. Took at least 8 seconds to find this lik:


            Insulting someone is a very convincing debating tactic; keep it up and expect great results.

            Oh, and gasoline prices aren’t dropping because of that precious Federal subsidy program for ethanol. Since there are fewer credits than needed for the Federal blending mandates, the price of those credits have skyrocketed. But I’m sure that you knew that already. Are you complaining? Don’t you want higher gasoline prices?

          • mds

            I would consult anyone who might have something to contribute, even if they are largely clueless most of the time. In this case you are correct and I am wrong. You have backed up your claim. Thank you and I apologize, I’m sorry for my mistake.
            Ethanol sucks as a fuel. It is too hydrophilic and that’s a problem. It’s fuel density is also poor. The subsidy for ethanol also sucks. It should be terminated. No I’m not complaining. I’m saying it’s foolish to think subsidies to oil are going to reduce the price of oil. There is too much demand. Money talks. They will change that law and begin exporting soon. The price of oil will not go down significantly. The NG terminals will be completed and NG will also be export, which will drive the price of NG up dramatically. The price of NG has historically been volatile.
            Clearly electric vehicles are the way to go. It is nonsense that we cannot pick winners and cannot subsidize companies in the early stages to kick the solutions we need along sooner. Will that be 100% successful. Nope, never is. That’s the nature of new businesses and startups. Will some be successful. Yep, that’s what we are seeing.
            I don’t really want higher prices for gasoline. I recognize that our economy still runs on fossil fuels. It will not help us transition to solar, wind, and EVs/PHEVs if we crash the economy. I’m very much an “all of the above” guy …for now.
            Still there are some intelligent choices we can make though. Certainly the oil business is very profitable and they do not need our government financial support. I don’t think money spent on ethanol is a good idea either. Butanol would be a better choice. Nuclear is too expensive and there is not a clear path to safe operation or reduced cost. (Bill Gates is a software guy. SMRs with liquid coolant? You don’t think that is going crack open and leak into water table in a few cases? Mr Bill lives in the “Fiery Crescent” just like me. I don’t see SMR as any kind of fix.) There are some places we can make cuts in spending.
            I don’t think we’ll need to extend support for solar, wind, energy storage, or EVs/PHEVs past the end of this decade. I do think we could over-support them. They are doing very well under Obama’s care. Pun intended.

          • Steeple

            We probably agree on more than you think. Ultimately, I believe that govt should help incubate new technologies and ideas. Where govt typically goes wrong is when it tries to scale up either an idea who’s time has not come (early solar, fo ex) or a bad idea (ethanol). Unlike private industry, govt is not very good at admitting its mistakes and correcting them.

          • mds

            We don’t disagree on everything, that’s true, …but you just identified the significant point we disagree on.

            You said: “Where govt typically goes wrong is when it tries to scale up either an idea who’s time has not come (early solar, fo ex) or a bad idea (ethanol).”
            About ethanol, yes I agree, although Kohsla is right it has kicked off other, better biofuel efforts.
            About solar, I totally and completely disagree. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the German people for push solar so far down the path of development. I voted for Obama twice, specifically because of his support for solar, wind, and EVs/PHEVs. His support has paid off beautifully …and the exponential graph above shows. There is a clear learning curve with solar of about 18% reduction in price per doubling of production volume (although this seems to increased recently). That is not shown graphically here, but those costs have dropped to the point where solar can no longer be stopped.
            Early solar development is an exceptionally poor example of government support going wrong. The level of solar tech we are at today is simply amazing. All but the very blind should be able to see that this is a disruptive energy tech. It’s obvious to me and others, the data speaks, what the hey is wrong with some of you people?

          • Steeple

            My point of view comes from someone who wants to exercise capital discipline. Given that most other industrialized countries have much higher energy costs, my point of view is that we should let others do the development work. Then we can wait to choose from the best results and then scale up rather than trying to scale up less effective early stage technology that will have a longer payout. Perhaps that is too conservative approach to this opportunity, but its what I would do if this were all my money being used.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I understand that. Now, let’s look at our lower energy costs.

            Some of it comes from nuclear reactors we built and paid for in the past. No time machine, so we can’t go back build and pay off more.

            Some of it comes from coal. But that energy is only cheap if we ignore the health and environmental damage and pay those costs with tax and health insurance dollars. If you think we should be subsidizing industry in that fashion, at least be up front with it.

            Some of it comes from existing, paid off dams. That old time machine problem again.

            Some of it comes from natural gas. If you’re in the fossil fuel business you know the price of NG will rise.

            OK, going forward. We’re not going to build any more coal plants and we are going to close a lot. That may not be a good idea in your desire to put cost of energy to industry ahead of everything else, but it’s what is going to happen. And that means we need new capacity.

            Not nuclear or dams. Too expensive.

            Our currently cheapest ways to make electricity are wind (6c/kWh) and natural gas (5c/kWh). Median price from the EIA.


            The cost of wind generation is going down. The cost of NG is going up. Wind farms built now and producing for 6c will continue to produce for ~5c over the next 30-40 years. CCNG plants built now and producing for 5c will see their costs rise with the cost of fuel.

            The cost of solar is dropping. Solar is now being sold to the grid in the SW for around 10c/kWh. (That’s with subsidies removed from the contract price.) Peak power from gas turbines often runs far higher and due to merit order pricing pulls the cost of all power higher. Even building non-merchant gas turbines means a price of 7c/kWh. And that price will rise with the cost of NG. In the next few years the cost of gas will rise and the cost of solar will fall below that of NG turbines. And those solar prices will be locked in for 40+ years.

            Other countries are installing wind and solar. They are almost certainly going to have lower energy prices than will the US if we sit back and let them get further ahead of us.

          • Steeple

            Generally don’t disagree materially with your statement of the current state, although I don’t see nat gas going over $5 for a long time. It may go up but will stay affordable given that it is at the same price today that it was 30 years ago.

            Everything I read here says that the cost of solar continues to drop rapidly. So my question is why invest today in something with a 10 year or more payout when I can supposedly invest in something in 2-3 years that may have a five year payout? If those assumptions are correct, then disciplined investors will choose the second alternative all day long.

            Tell me what I’m missing.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m in a quandary about what will happen to the cost of NG. I read reports of wells in some of the fields losing production at an alarming rate. A productive lifetime of only a couple of years. I don’t know if that is true, but the EIA did lower their estimation of how much NG we had. However at the same time the NG industry raised theirs.

            I’m pretty sure that current prices won’t support the cost of new wells or refracking old ones. Prices will have to rise to that level. I don’t know what that number is, I saw an engineer post $8 but that seems high to me.

            I also realize that we are now burning NG much faster than we were in 2010. Let me copy over something I wrote sometime back…

            In 2010 the EIA reported we had 2192 tcf (trillion cubic feet). But only 842 tcf was in known and proven gas fields. Another 736 tcf is ‘possible’ – there are places where we would expect to find more gas. And the final 614 tcf is labeled ‘speculative’, whatever that means.

            I can’t see the sense in basing our future plans on the ‘speculated’ part, so let’s limit ourselves to the 1578 tcf that we are likely to find.

            In 2010 we were burning 24 tcf per year. If we continued to burn at that rate we would exhaust our supply in 66 years. But we’ve increased our burn rate.

            In 2010 the US generated 988 TWh (Terawatt hours) of electricity using natural gas. In 2012 that number increased to around 1,470 TWh. A 49% increase in burn rate. If we increased our annual burn rate by 50% over 2010 rates then our ‘known, probable and possible’ supply runs out in 44 years.

            If we export and start using NG on large scale for transportation isn’t it likely that we’ll burn/export at a significantly higher rate than 36 tcf?

            Then in January 2012 the US Department of Energy lowered the 842 tcf ‘known and proven’ to 482 tcf based on more detailed information provided by gas explorations in shale deposits in the preceding year. Wells are slowing production much faster than was expected. That’s a 43% drop.

            So, double the 2010 burn rate and you cut our supply from 66 to 33 years. Downgrade the supply by 43% based on recent well findings and we’re now at 19 years. That is not a long future for natural (and coalbed) gas.

            Two, three years from now we’ll know more about well lifespan. We’ll have experience with higher burn rates. Were I forced to bet, my money would be on NG prices rising significantly.

          • Steeple

            Very typical for first year decline rates of 60+%. But we have a lot more wells producing now after several years of shale development, so the residuals are piling up.

            DOE proven reserves are meaningless, and are a function of price. Price goes up; so do recoverable reserves.

            There are tons of dry gas wells that haven’t been completed in places like the Eagle Ford, Haynesville and Marcellus due to low prices or lack of pipeline takeaway.

            With power demand flat to declining (thanks LED lights etc) and renewables coming on line at the margin, nat gas demand could actually contract. LNG exports are a wild card.

            We can find a lot of gas at $5.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If 60+% drop off over the first year is typical then we will have to drill many more wells to maintain supply. Unlike oil wells which decline slower.

            Drilling more = higher prices. And, as you say, it takes higher prices to get to the harder to reach stuff after the easy stuff has been burned.

            Today’s price for NG is $3.44. $5 means a 45% increase in the price of NG would be required to keep the flow going.

            Since fuel is the largest contributor to the cost of electricity from a CCNG the increase in NG-electricity should rise more than 50%. Correct?

            My understanding is that CCNG have relatively low overnight capital costs and come on line fairly quickly which helps hold down financing costs. And their operating costs are mostly fuel.

            If NG-electricity goes up from 6c to 9c then it’s about the same price as solar. Europe is now installing solar at prices which would give us electricity for well under 10c.

          • Steeple

            Tough to jump to conclusions on where gas cost is going. On one hand, the more prolific resources have probably been tapped first. On the other, extraction technology and cost continues to come down. Hopefully this can transfer to other parts of the world.

            But let’s say nat gas moves to $5 as an assumption. If we are still in need of building new gas turbines, our assumptions are likely good.

            But if the call on gas fired power stagnates or falls due to a combination of factors such as lower demand due to LEDs and other energy efficiencies or renewables creating additional generating capacity, then existing gas turbines can probably run at 5-6cts/kwh. That’s the beauty of free markets. The low cost solution may come from the Demand or the Supply side.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The futures market thinks that the price of NG is going up.


            We aren’t building new NG plants at any appreciable rate. That activity stopped a few years ago.

            If gas moves to $5, which the futures market thinks it will, it will produce more expensive electricity than wind, solar, geothermal and probably tidal.

            Gas plants, being dispatchable, will sit idle more of the time. And that will increase their LCOE. It will make stored renewable more competitive.

            Fossil fuels are going to get pushed aside.

            That’s the beauty of free markets.

          • Steeple

            If fossil fuels get pushed aside, so be it. Let the best source win in a market competition.
            The futures market prices nat gas in Contango as it has to price to incent storage for the seasonal winter peak periods. Given how strong the seasonal nature of nat gas demand is (nearly 2X of Spring/Fall trough demand), this is more a reflection of the economics to buy, hold and store gas than it is a prediction of future prices.

          • Bob_Wallace

            If that’s the case then shouldn’t there be a seasonal pattern in futures prices? (Maybe there is, I just eyeballed the column, didn’t graph it.)

          • Steeple

            Low price in April, high price in Jan, with time value of $ and storage costs adding slope over the prompt upcoming 2-3 years

          • Bill_Woods

            “I’m pretty sure that current prices won’t support the cost of new wells or refracking old ones. Prices will have to rise to that level.”

            It seems likely to depend on how much gas is produced from wells drilled for tight oil. Nobody is drilling wells for gas nowadays, but a lot of gas is produced in North Dakota and simply thrown away because there aren’t pipelines to transport it to market.

          • Bob_Wallace

            That suggests to me that NG prices are going to have to rise before we build those pipelines. So in terms of today’s energy mix that NG doesn’t exist.

            When the price of NG rises then someone will capture and sell that NG. Of course that gets right back to my point. Natural gas prices are likely to rise, that will make it more expensive to generate electricity using natural gas, and NG-electricity will become more expensive than solar.

    • Corbin Holland

      Bankruptcies? Have done your research or just watch the well informed fox news or just listened to mitt romney? Even if you’ve been living under a rock for the last six months you would know about the amazing things going on over at Tesla. The link for the list of companies that received doe loans is on this site. Check out the status’ on most of those loans and come back when you read correct info. As for ending petro subsidies that works for me. Ill go so far to say that we could end all subsidies for energy and implement a carbon tax and renewable energy capacity would grow tremendously. We re at the point in time where we need to take charge and make a change towards a cleaner energy future.

Back to Top ↑