By Julia Young
The United States is witnessing a solar energy revolution with a massive, 120-fold increase in solar capacity over the last decade.
The solar market in the U.S. had its second largest quarter in 2014. A huge 1,330 megawatts of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity was installed in the first quarter, enough to power 3 million homes. This is the result of increasing awareness among Americans, as each year tens of thousands of them opt to install solar panels in order to reap the benefits of clean, natural and renewable energy from the sun.
Why is solar energy on the rise?
Solar energy is not only good for consumers, but it is also extremely beneficial for the environment and the economy in the long run. Following are a few reasons which highlight the rise in the demand for solar energy in the U.S.:
- The installation cost of solar energy systems has decreased considerably — by as much as 60 percent since 2011.
- Solar energy is helpful in downsizing expensive investments in long-distance transmission lines.
- Solar photovoltaic cells produce much less (91 to 96 percent) global warming pollution than coal-fired and natural gas-fired power plants.
- Solar power plants have played an important role in providing clean energy jobs to local Americans. Approximately 140,000 people are currently employed in this industry, and around half of these jobs, such as installation, are in close proximity to their hometowns.
Local governments, businesses and everyday homeowners in a growing number of U.S. states are taking note of these benefits and adding solar to their energy mixes. Here’s a look at the top 10 states for solar energy in the U.S. and what we can learn from their example.
Top Ten Solar States
The top 10 solar states, based on their ranking of solar capacity, are depicted in the following table:
|State||Population||Cumulative Solar Electric Capacity per Capita (Watts/person)||Rank||Total Solar Electric Capacity Installed during 2013(MW)||Rank|
What makes these states leaders in solar energy?
The adoption of strong policies by these states has differentiated them from others in the drive to go solar. By employing these policies, they have encouraged businesses and homeowners to opt for a much cleaner, cheaper and renewable source of energy. A few of those policies are:
- All of these states have set renewable electricity standards, which help in keeping the minimum requirements that must come from renewable sources of energy like solar energy. Apart from this, eight states even have solar carve-outs that help in setting specific targets for each of the clean forms of electricity.
- Among these states: Nine of them offer flexible financing options like third-party power purchase agreements, while eight of them have allowed PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing.
- Some of the states have quite powerful net metering policies. Through these policies, consumers are compensated at full rate for all the extra electricity they help in supplying to the grid.
- These states have good interconnection policies, which reduce the hassle and time required for companies and individuals to connect to the grid.
The ranking of policy leaders of solar energy as per the new solar power per capita is as follows:
|State as per Policy Ranking||Corresponding Ranking as per Total Solar Capacity per Capita|
U.S. solar market key statistics
The Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research forecast another strong year for the U.S. solar market with an estimated 26 percent growth in 2014. Some of the important findings of their 2013 report are:
- A total of 918 MW of CSP and 12.1 GW of PV was operating in the states in 2013.
- More than 4,700 MW of solar photovoltaic capacity was installed in 2013 — a nearly 41 percent rise since 2012 and about 15 times 2008 figures.
- Around 140,000 individual solar panel installations were done in 2013 and, as a result, about 440,000 systems operate today.
- The total concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity of the states has increased by 80 percent with 410 MW of CSP installed only in 2013.
- Solar power has become the second largest source of renewable energy behind natural gas because of a 19 percent rise in new electricity generation capacity in 2013.
- Average PV system prices have fallen by 15 percent, reaching a new low of $2.59 per watt.
Despite the recent threat by fossil fuel interests in the success of solar power, these states have reaffirmed and shown keen interest in expanding their commitment to solar energy by increasing their goals and implementing new policies to access cleaner solar power. If the scenario in the states continues to follow this path, the country would surely reach their goal of getting at least 10 percent of their energy from the sun by 2030.
Julia Young is a green movement activist and believes in advancing sustainability. She was taught to value and conserve natural resources by her parents and has grown up with a mindset which reflects the same. Currently, she is working as an online marketing manager for Vista Solar, a bay area based commercial solar power installation firm. She is also an avid blogger on topics related to environmental sustainability and solar energy.