Environment America Research and Policy Center recently released Lighting the Way, a fascinating hard numbers–based take on the US solar energy boom, the top states that fostered it last year, and what the others are up to.
The research organization finds that the top 10 solar energy states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and North Carolina—have initiated strong, cutting-edge policies that are enabling increasing numbers of homeowners, businesses, communities, and utilities to go solar. Environment America also touts rising stars like New York, Vermont, and Georgia.
Policymakers and developers in other states can use this type of information to help plan their own efforts. The Environment America report notes that solar photovoltaics produce 96% less global warming pollution per unit of energy than coal-fired power plants over their entire life cycle and cause 91% less global warming than natural gas-fired power plants.
Solar PV also benefits consumers by reducing the need for expensive investments like long-distance transmission lines. By providing power at times of peak local demand, solar energy can lower electricity costs. Also, it creates local clean energy jobs that cannot be outsourced.
Solar energy is on the rise, and its cost is declining rapidly. The researchers find solar good for the environment, consumers, and the economy. They worked out and present the top 10 states with the most solar electricity installed per capita. It’s interesting that these jurisdictions produce 87% of the nation’s total installed solar electricity capacity, but they account for only 26% of the US population. Look to the graphic below for some other stats on the solar energy states.
By emulating the leading states, say the authors, the United States can work toward getting at least 10% of our energy from the sun by 2030. That may even be a conservative estimate. There’s a dark side, though, the report points out:
Unfortunately, the success of solar power in these and other states has been threatened by recent attacks by fossil fuel interests and electric utilities on key solar policies such as net metering. Despite those attacks, many states have reaffirmed and expanded their commitments to solar energy over the past year by increasing solar energy goals and implementing new policies to expand access to clean solar power.
The ten states that have the highest per-capita solar electricity capacity in the nation are leading America’s solar energy revolution, say the researchers. At a glance, the chart below, constructed with data from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), tells why. The report gives more details for each state.
Among the top 10 solar energy states:
- 9 have strong net metering policies, almost all using the full retail rate.
- 9 have strong statewide interconnection policies, giving individuals and companies to connect swiftly to the grid.
- All have renewable electricity standards, and eight have solar carve-outs that set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean, distributed electricity.
- 9 allow for creative financing options (like PACE financing).
As we noted, Environment America believes that strong public policies at every level of government can help unlock America’s potential for clean solar energy. It presents some detailed recommendations for local governments, state governments, and the federal government.
Download the report here.