"When the sun shines, it shines for everyone," said Ziggy Marley, but that doesn't mean all states in the U.S. live up to or even get near their potential for solar energy production. One state is so far out in front that it ranks among entire countries where clean energy is a national priority. Nine other states also post strong solar numbers. As for the rest, they needn't struggle to invent their own policies—they should learn from these 10 examples and adapt the success factors to their local needs.
The factors that drive solar energy adoption are:
Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS)
Cost of electricity
State tax credits
Sales tax exemption
Property tax exemption
"After the growing pains of the 2000s and early 2010s, the solar industry has now arrived on the national and international stage as a major force" writes the solar energy advocate Solar Power Rocks (2020 State Solar Power Rankings Report).
Many states perform far below their potential, though. A lack of straightforward rules and laws is a primary culprit, but so is pushback from utility companies and local governments. Greer Ryan points to solar obstructionism in the report "Throwing Shade". "The 10 states with the best policy landscapes for supporting solar market growth … have been driving the solar energy boom." But many states "are actively preventing it through policy barriers and restrictions."
? Most policies and incentives for renewable energy: California, Minnesota, Texas, Oregon
? Least policies and incentives for renewable energy: West Virginia, Kansas, North Dakota, Nebraska
Solar Power Rocks lamented in the aforementioned report that the industry could be growing so much quicker, and prices would be so much lower, "with some solid political leadership behind it. The industry is still hamstrung by a patchwork of state laws and Public Service Commission rules, many of which are written by former employees of utility and fossil fuel companies …."
Top 10 Solar States
It will come as no surprise to find some of our sunniest states on the list, but soaring solar adoption isn't all about sunshine. New Mexico doesn't rank in the top 10, for example, yet they feature the sun on their state flag. Meanwhile, Massachusetts comes in at number seven despite only enjoying an average of 98 clear days a year.
The figures in the list come from a 2018 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report from Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
Between 2019 and 2020, the nationwide picture changed little, according to an in-depth analysis by Solar Power Rocks. While the federal solar investment tax credit stepped down in that period, the reduced incentive was mostly offset by natural reductions in the price of installed systems.
Georgia places 10th when it comes to cumulative solar capacity, with more than 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar. Georgia has enough solar energy to supply the equivalent of 174,014 homes.
With a capacity of over 1.6 GW, Utah can power almost 314,000 homes with solar. The state has 30,500 solar installations, and more than 6,000 people there work in the solar industry.
According to mid-2018 figures, Florida has about 2 GW of solar power. That's enough to power the equivalent of 227,340 homes.
Ranking seventh place for 2.2 GW of solar capacity is Massachusetts. Almost 369,000 homes here are powered by solar, and 11,530 jobs are in the solar industry.
6. New Jersey
The SEIA puts New Jersey, with 2.5 GW of capacity, sixth on its list of states with the best solar adoption. More than 7,000 workers in the Garden State work for the solar industry as of mid-2018. At that point there were also 417 solar businesses in New Jersey.
State sunshine levels
? Most sunny days: Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, California
⛅ Least sunny days: Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Alaska
The solar power sector in the Lone Star state keeps about 9,000 people employed. Texas places fifth on the SEIA list with 2.6 GW of solar capacity, enough to power over 300,000 homes.
With 2.66 GW of capacity, solar is no gamble in one of our sunniest states. The SEIA says that Nevada boasts "numerous utility-scale, residential, and commercial solar projects." According to the mid-2018 tally, the state has 82 solar companies, 30,207 installations, and 6,564 jobs in the solar industry.
With nearly a full gigawatt more of solar capacity than the previous high-ranking state, sunny Arizona places third. Arizona's 3.6 GW in installed solar capacity supplies power to 530,000 homes. Just over 6% of the state's electricity is solar generated.
2. North Carolina
Bounding over the third-place state to dominate second is North Carolina, with 4.5 GW of installed solar. The SEIA calls North Carolina a "leader in utility-scale solar." More than 7,600 people work in the solar industry, where there are 8,381 solar installations.
With a solar capacity that ranks it alongside such countries as Germany and Denmark, the Golden State has no rivals in the U.S. California's capacity is almost 23 GW, according to the SEIA. Almost 17% of the state's electricity is generated by solar, and more than 86,000 workers here have solar-related jobs.