The saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats, and when it comes to clean energy and technology in America, the tide certainly looks like it’s coming in.
California once again dominates the Clean Edge 2014 U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index, outpacing all other states by an order of magnitude and increasing the ranks of its major cities compared to all other metro regions.
While no state challenges California as epicenter of the U.S. clean tech market, a closer look at Clean Edge’s 2014 index shows clean energy technologies, climate policy, and green finance are increasing in almost every corner of the country, “becoming a popular energy choice for mainstream America.”
Clean Energy Growing Fast At The State And Local Level
If you’ve got doubts about clean tech’s growth across the U.S., consider a few Clean Edge statistics: 11 states now generate more than 10% of their power from non-hydro renewables (Iowa and South Dakota exceed 24%), 8 states now have more than 50% smart meter penetration (California surpasses 70%), electric vehicle sales tripled in 2013 to nearly 50,000, and 14 states now have over 500 LEED-certified green buildings.
Even more impressive, this growth comes from state and local government policy leadership, with little federal help – just consider the untimely Congressional death of the moderate Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, not to mention turmoil over the wind Production Tax Credit.
Clean Edge credits clean energy mandates, green banks like those in New York and Connecticut, the nation’s first energy storage mandate in California, and other innovative financing mechanisms driving the clean energy surge.
However, the future isn’t all sunshine and cool breezes Fossil fuel-funded challenges to renewable portfolio standards (RPS) still simmer in multiple states, and while clean energy interests have won most statehouse fights, Ohio’s RPS freeze shows how quickly the tide can turn. Net metering policies, which Clean Edge considers critical to solar energy’s 41% jump, are also in danger from the utility death spiral.
California Keeps Crushing The Clean Tech Economy
Enough doom and gloom, let’s get back to the good news, starting with California. The Golden State scored 93.7 out of a possible 100, ranking first for the fifth consecutive year and outpacing its closest challenger by more than 14 points. California ranks first in technology (including record-setting solar energy), second in policy and capital investment per capita, and places five of its cities in the top seven U.S. metro regions – including the top three of San Francisco, San Jose, and San Diego.
But California’s not the only clear-cut leader. Massachusetts balances out the western dominance by placing second for the second consecutive year with a 79.4 score, 12 points higher than third place. The Bay State ranked first among the U.S. in both policy and capital investment per capita, largely due to the nexus of academic and venture capital resources, as well as its dominance in energy efficiency measures and recently announced climate adaptation plan and electric vehicle incentives.
Oregon, Colorado, and New York State shuffled their places, but all retained their 2013 top-five ranks to round out the Clean Edge leaderboard. Oregon placed second in technology due to strong EV and green building integration, and has now ranked third overall for three consecutive years with a score of 67. Colorado jumped from fifth to fourth, barely missing Oregon with a 66.8 score, pushed forward by wide renewable energy integration and a vibrant clean-tech startup atmosphere anchored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. New York may have fallen from fourth to fifth with a score of 64.8, but support from the New York Green Bank and clean tech incubation centers suggest a possible resurgence.
West Is Best When It Comes To Cities
The state leaders may be reasonably balanced between America’s coasts, but when it comes to metro regions, there’s no debating West is best. The top five and seven of the top ten clean tech metro area are located in the Western U.S., dominated by San Francisco and San Jose.
San Francisco just keeps getting greener, leading all four categories of Clean Edge’s Metro Index, benefiting not only from its concentration of clean tech companies, but from an environmentally minded population and exceptional clean energy policies. The Bay Area (Clean Edge includes Oakland with San Francisco) increased its score from 89.2 in 2013 to 94.4 in 2014, and is “acknowledged worldwide as a leading hub of the clean-tech industry.”
Heading south, San Jose retained second-place despite an overall score drop from 80.3 to 79.7, largely from Silicon Valley’s influence on clean tech innovation, venture capital, and entrepreneurship. San Diego jumped four spots from 2013 and eight spots since 2012 to finish third nationally with a 66.3 score, ranking second overall in clean electricity and carbon management, and is now home to more than 840 clean tech-related companies.
Portland and Sacramento round out the top five, placing relatively high in all categories, but with Portland doing well on investment and innovation and Sacramento doing well on clean electricity and transportation as well as green buildings.
Economics Aren’t The Only Clean Tech Driver
Economic growth may be a driving factor in state and local clean energy leadership, but it’s hard to discount the decarbonization imperative being created by climate change in communities where local governments have to deal with tangible impacts.
“Climate disruption and the growing availability of market-competitive clean energy technologies are driving many states and cities to tackle climate issues head-on,” said Ron Pernick, Clean Edge founder. “More than ever, this year’s Leadership Index highlights how some top regions are taking climate action seriously.”
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