Cumulative U.S. Grid-Connected Solar Photovoltaic Capacity Cumulative U.S. Grid-Connected Solar Photovoltaic Capacity Environment California Research & Policy Center

A new report ranks the top solar states, with California once again taking the top place for installed solar capacity. The report emphasizes the importance of favorable policies in encouraging solar adoptions.

Today, Environment California Research & Policy Center released a new report, Lighting the Way: The Top Ten States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2013. The report ranks California as #1 in the nation for installed solar capacity and #4 for installed solar capacity per capita (up from 6th place in 2012).

What makes a state a solar leader? As we’ve seen time and time again, it’s not the amount of sunshine. What is more crucial for solar adoption, as the report affirms, is policies that support solar.

Good solar policies in California helped triple solar energy nationwide between 2011 and 2013. Last year, solar capacity in California grew an impressive 48%, bringing total installed capacity in the state to 5661 MW.

“Solar energy is emerging as a go-to energy option here in California and across the country,” said Michelle Kinman, clean energy advocate with Environment California, in a statement. “Thanks to the commitment of California’s leaders, this pollution-free energy option is poised to play a major role in helping us meet our carbon emission reduction targets and will position California as a leader at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.”

Solar has been exploding throughout the U.S., increasing more than 120-fold in the last 10 years. In the first quarter of 2014, solar energy accounted for 74% of all new electric generation capacity installed in the United States.

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Solar Energy in the Top 10 Solar States versus the Rest of the U.S. (Environment California Research & Policy Center)

While those are large numbers, the report points to the need to spread solar beyond our top solar states. The 10 states with the most solar installed per/capita, including of course California, have 89% of the solar installed in the country, while representing only 26% of the population and 20% of the electricity consumption.

“Solar energy is clean and it has no fuel costs,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association. “It’s smart to invest in an energy source that reduces pollution, creates local jobs and keeps energy dollars in our local economy.”

As the solar industry grows, the cost for installed solar decreases, making it more accessible. The price of installed solar systems fell 60% between the beginning of 2011 and the end of 2013.  Jobs in the solar industry are also growing rapidly. In 2013, there were more than 140,000 solar jobs in the U.S., including 47,000 in California.

Another major driver for solar energy is that its low carbon footprint. According the report, solar power produces 96% less global warming pollution than coal-fired power plants over its entire life-cycle and 91% less global warming pollution than natural gas-fired power plants.

So what can states do to promote more solar? According to the report, these are the strong policies adopted by the top 10 solar states that have helped homeowners and businesses go solar:

  • 9 states have strong net metering policies. In nearly all of the leading states, consumers are compensated at the full retail rate for the excess electricity they supply to the grid.

  • 9 states have strong statewide interconnection policies. Good interconnection policies reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.

  • All 10 states have renewable electricity standards that set minimum requirements for the share of a utility’s electricity that must come from renewable sources, and 8 of them have solar carve-outs that set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean, distributed electricity.

  • 9 states allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements, and 8 allow property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.

“California officials deserve tremendous credit for recognizing the environmental and economic benefits of solar and taking action to make it a reality,” said Michelle Kinman. “As more people see the benefits of solar energy, we’re confident clean, limitless energy from the sun will be a growing part of California’s future.”

Let’s hope that’s true for other states as well.