California Dominates Solar, With More Than 50 Percent of all U.S. Capacity

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The Golden State is quickly becoming America’s solar state, with a huge lead on the rest of the country due to favorable policy frameworks and innovative new energy companies.

According to the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), for both utility-scale solar photovoltaics and solar thermal, California has more capacity than the rest of the country combined, with 52 percent and 73 percent of the nation’s total, respectively. We all knew that California was ahead on solar, but these figures are just astounding.

Though California has certain natural factors that give it an advantage over other states — namely, many sunny cities and a large population base — that, obviously, is not enough. The chief driver has been a strong policy framework that gives incentives to solar energy on a utility-scale and also, crucially, on rooftops.

California will keep these advantages due to a decision last week by the state’s public utilities commission, the CPUC, to maintain net-metering — which allows rooftop solar households to be compensated for putting clean energy on the grid — until 2020. This is in stark contrast to California’s sunny neighbors, Nevada and Arizona, which restricted net-metering and rooftop solar in a blatant power-grab by big utilities.

California also benefits from its reputation as having a positive business climate for innovative companies. Silicon Valley is the most well known, but the rest of California is quickly becoming the base of choice for emerging solar companies as well. In fact, not surprisingly, several of the country’s fastest-growing solar companies call California home, whether it’s Oakland-based Sungevity, Visalia-based CalCom Solar, San Jose-based Sunpower or San Mateo-based SolarCity.

California isn’t finished here. SB 350, passed late last year, mandates the state to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2030, one of the most ambitious targets in the country. Some California cities are trying even harder, including its second biggest city, San Diego, which announced plans to become a world leader and go 100 percent renewable by 2035. You can bet that solar will be a huge part of both state and local initiatives.

At the same time, let’s hope this is a wake-up call to the rest of the country. There’s no reason Texas, Florida or other sunny Southern states can’t also become solar champions like California. If not solar, then another renewable, as studies show almost every part of the country has an untapped renewable energy resource, whether it be solar like California, wind like in the plains or geothermal in Hawaii. There really is no excuse.

Image credit: USA BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT via Wikimedia Commons

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.