Top 10 Solar States

The New York Times recently published its top 10 solar states in the United States for 2010, ranking states based on installed solar power capacity. Most people will not be surprised to see a number of western states on the list but they might be surprised to see so many eastern states making noise on the list as well.

To begin, California came in first with 47% installed solar power capacity which amounts to 971 megawatts (MW). This isn’t particularly surprising as California still maintains the largest state solar rebate program in the U.S. While California still accounts for the largest share of the U.S. solar market, California’s solar market share has dropped dramatically over the years. As recently as 2004, California accounted for approximately 80% of the U.S. market but currently is around 30%.

In second place was New Jersey with 14% and 293MW. Outside of California, New Jersey has one of the strongest and most unique state solar rebate programs that can really make solar in New Jersey affordable. New Jersey offers Solar Energy Renewable Credits (SREC) which represents 1 megawatt-hour of electricity generated from an eligible renewable system. Think of it like a stock certificate where its value is based on the amount of electricity your solar system produces. And just like stocks, SRECs are sold on an open market at varying prices correlated to demand. A homeowner with a solar power system expect to see one SREC every 2 months over a 15 year period. These SREC’s can be sold for cash between $300 and $700 depending on the market and current regulations and can really offset the upfront cost of solar.

Colorado (5%, 108MW), Arizona (5%, 101MW) and Nevada (5%, 97MW) represented the west coast in the three, four and five spots. Florida, where sunshine apparently grows more than oranges, came in sixth at 4% and 73MW. Representing the end of the list was mostly the eastern part of the U.S.: New York (3%, 54MW), Pennsylvania (3%, 54MW), New Mexico (2%, 45MW) and North Carolina in the tenth spot (2%, 42MW). (Please note that installed solar capacity does not necessarily reflect solar growth in these states…for example, the total grid-connected photovoltaic capacity installed in Hawaii increased by 48% from 8.6 megawatts in 2008 to 12.7 megawatts in 2009 making Hawaii the sixth fastest solar PV growth state over this period, yet Hawaii is not on this list.)

While solar power in the U.S. continues to expand, as you can see from this list, is that installed solar capacity in the U.S. is concentrated in a few number of states. For example, North Carolina is tenth on the list which 2% which is very little yet there are still forty states left in the country that rank below it. While the U.S. offers a 30% tax credit for solar purchases in the U.S., it is the states that offer their own rebate programs that see the most success. So for solar power in the U.S. to truly take off, more and more states are going to need to help promote solar adoptions through individual state rebates or incentive programs.