News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

New Jersey Doing Better Than California When it Comes to Solar Power

And Colorado's catching up | Photo: Dennis Schroeder, NREL

California has long boasted the lead spot among its fellow states in terms of solar power generating capacity. But according to a new report by a solar advocacy group, that lead vanishes when you correct for the fact that the Golden State is the country's most-populated. Five states beat California in both solar capacity per capita and per capita installations in 2012.

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The study, "Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America's Top 12 Solar States," was released Tuesday by the group Environment California.

The states with better solar per capita figures:

  1. Arizona, with 167 watts per person installed, an astonishing 108 of those insalled in 2012;
  2. Nevada 146 watts per person (72 in 2012);
  3. Hawaii 137 watts per person (78 in 2012);
  4. New Jersey 110 watts per person (47 in 2012);
  5. New Mexico 91 watts per person (11 in 2012);
  6. California 76 watts per person (27 in 2012)

Following close on California's heels is the state of Delaware, with 69 watts of solar per capita. Delaware actually beat California in 2012 installations, at 28 watts of new solar installed per capita.

The remaining states on the Top 12 for solar per capita are, in descending order, Colorado, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Maryland. All together, the top 12 states have installed 85 percent of the nation's solar energy generating capacity.

Without correcting for population, California unambiguously leads the pack with a total 1,033 megawatts of new rooftops solar in 2012, for a statewide total of 2,901 megawatts.

Hawaii's third place is no real surprise: the Islands have long relied on expensive diesel fuel for their electrical power, and it long ago became cheaper in the long run to go solar.
As the report points out, and as we've reported here in the past weeks, Arizona is in danger of losing its lead spot seeing as the state's largest utility is trying desperately to fiight back against the state's solar surge.

Sixth place isn't bad for California -- though the state could do far better -- and the report's authors credit a number of factors for those states that lead the pack in solar including strong net metering laws, regulations that make it easy for solar panel owners to connect to the grid, and laws protecting homeowners' right to install solar panels, among other things.

"The sky's the limit on solar energy," said Michelle Kinman, clean energy advocate with Environment California, in a press release Tuesday. "California's progress should make us confident that we can do much more. Our message today is clear: If you want your state to be a leader in pollution-free solar energy, set big goals and get good policies on the books."

And if California could get on the stick and try to knock New Jersey out of its number four spot, so much the better.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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