solar state policy growth

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City

The growth of solar power in the U.S. over the last decade has been simply mind-boggling. Since 2003, our country’s solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity has increased from a mere 97 megawatts to more than 12,000 megawatts at the end of 2013—a 120-fold increase. In the first quarter of 2014, solar energy accounted for 74 percent of all our new electric generation capacity. The story of how we’ve gotten to this point of exponential growth is told in compelling detail in an Environment America report released today, titled Lighting the Way: The Top Ten States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2013.Turns out, the path to rapid solar deployment leads right through state government, where strong and persistent political leadership has spurred much of the nation’s solar growth.

Lighting the Way looks at 32 states and highlights those with the most solar installed per capita. Interestingly, these 10 states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and North Carolina—account for only 26 percent of the nation’s population, but they’re home to 87 percent of our country’s installed solar capacity. The biggest contributor to solar’s success in each of these states is not the amount of sunshine each state receives. Nor is it the size of the electricity bills that utility consumers pay to run their homes or business. Instead, it is “the degree to which state and local governments have created effective public policy for the development of the solar industry,” the Lighting the Way authors observe.

These are policies that allow and create:

  • net-metering, which empowers solar owners to sell electricity back to the grid at a fair price;
  • easy interconnection, which helps solar prospective owners connect to the larger electric grid easily;
  • state renewable energy standards, which mandate how much of a state’s electric supply must come from renewable sources like solar and wind power;
  • and, creative financing options. Options like on-bill financing, PACE and 3rd party ownership are driving much of today’s solar growth.

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, an industry trade group, has strongly articulated in his response to the report the reasons why states are increasingly turning to public policy to drive solar energy deployment:

“…smart public policies have been key to the development of…143,000 America jobs and nearly $15 billion in annual investment. The 14,800 megawatts (MW) of solar currently installed in the United States can generate enough pollution-free electricity to displace 18 billion pounds of coal – that’s a win for state economies, Americans’ health and our environment.”

Let’s build on this success by promoting state action in support of solar. And let’s make certain that solar energy is very much front and center at the EPA as it gathers public comment on the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from our country’s power plants. Solar and other clean renewable energy options like wind and geothermal power show they can deliver clean energy to our homes and businesses, all while working to grow our economy and create new job opportunities for Americans.

With these benefits and more, it’s no wonder that Americans overwhelmingly love solar power. Lighting the Way shows that when states lead the way, we can deploy even more.

Photo Credit: Solar and State Policies/shutterstock