The Best Places For Solar Power If You Want To Clean The US Grid

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Solar power is useful everywhere, and it’s been big news lately that solar power has accounted for so much of US power capacity growth — 27% in the first half of 2020 and 60% in June. However, solar power growth is better some places than others.

I don’t mean it’s growing more in some places than others (which is obvious). What I mean is — 1 megawatt of new solar power capacity in some places is better than 1 megawatt in other places. Potential electricity generation potential from that location — due to solar insolation and a few other matters — is part of the equation, but the other big thing to take into account is which other generation source(s) the new solar power replacing. Again, that’s sort of obvious, but it’s also something I had never really thought much about.

ClearloopDownstream Strategies, and WattTime have thought a lot about it, though. They conducted an in-depth analysis on this topic for the United States in order to map out where solar power helps to most cut carbon emissions. They’ve published a white paper, “Solar in the Shadows: Expanding Access to Clean Energy in Forgotten America,” in order to bring more light to this topic. (No pun initially intended.)

Interestingly, and unfortunately, “the communities getting left behind today from the clean energy revolution have the greatest potential for investment in new clean energy infrastructure.”

The data in the article are not fully up to date. “Despite the 100%+ growth in renewable energy from 2000 to 2018 in the United States, only 8% of the electricity consumed in the United States comes from wind and solar power,” a press release about the new report states, “with less than 2% of electricity produced from solar power.” As I reported yesterday, the figure for wind and solar is now up to 12%, and solar itself is up to 3.4% in the first 7 months of the year.

Going on, the trio of Clearloop, Downstream Strategies, and WattTime note that the vast majority of solar power in the United States is in 10 states, and why that is the case. (Admittedly, much of the US population is in a relatively small number of states as well, and that’s not noted as a reason.)

“Today, more than 85% of solar development in the United States is concentrated in 10 states, including some common-sense sunny states like California, Nevada, and Texas, but also unusual states like Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey. What’s driving this uptake in new clean energy capacity is not the availability of the sun for electricity generation, but rather structural incentives — like regulations or an open wholesale electricity market — that make it easier for companies to invest in clean energy infrastructure.”

Getting to the focus of the study that caught my attention, though, the news is that WattTime created a system to evaluate the impact of a potential new clean energy investment through emissionality.

“The idea is straightforward: Although renewable energy itself is emissions-free, where such projects get built greatly influences their true net impact on overall grid emissions — because it matters what existing generation they’re displacing. For example, yet another wind farm in a region of the country already saturated with — and perhaps even curtailing surplus — wind energy isn’t going to reduce total electricity sector emissions as much as a solar farm built in a region of the country where its output will displace coal-fired electricity.”

It’s logical — build or help fund solar power in a state with dirtier energy — if you want to have the greatest possible impact on our atmosphere and the world as we know it. So, let’s see — where is it best to put up solar power if you have the choice? Oh, that’s the map above.

Where Should the United States Invest in New Clean Energy Infrastructure?

Naturally, a homeowner looking to go solar doesn’t have much opportunity regarding the state they’ll do it in, but many corporations do. “With companies looking to build a cleaner economy in the wake of COVID-19, there is a great opportunity to open up clean energy markets to investments from businesses of all sizes with a focused goal: decarbonizing our grid and expanding equitable access to clean energy across the United States.” The table below ranks states by how much 1 megawatt of solar power capacity removes CO2 from the grid. More details on how that is determined are explained in the report.

“Snapshot of marginal emissions by electric grid, provided by WattTime. Emissions change as often as every 5-minutes. The emissions intensity here is shown within a colored range, low in green to high in red. Interval image: WattTime, courtesy of the white paper “Solar in the Shadows: Expanding Access to Clean Energy in Forgotten America.”

There you go. “Flyover states” largely have the most potential for cutting emissions and costs, but not only — California and Oregon are in that top portion of the table as well.

One exciting development this year is that Tesla has started offering a straightforward record-low rooftop solar PV price. If you’d like to check out the offer on your home or business, you are free to use my Tesla referral code — — for $100 off the Tesla solar power system.

To read the entire white paper on this new study, click here.

Featured image courtesy of Clearloop.

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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