Chart: Here’s where utility-scale solar is located in the US

Though a few states are leading the way, big solar installations are spread all around the country — and many more will get built in the years to come.
By Dan McCarthy, Maria Virginia Olano

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A photo of a large solar farm. A graphic that says "Chart of the Week" is overlaid on the image.

Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

The recipe for a fossil-free future includes a big dollop of solar — and in recent years, that solar has started popping up all around the U.S.

But where, exactly, are the country’s major solar installations located? The map below, created from the U.S. Large-Scale Solar Photovoltaic Database, shows the sites of ground-mounted solar installations in the country with a capacity of 1 megawatt or more. The most recent data available is current through the start of 2022, meaning even more solar is deployed across the country than is shown here.

Each dot on this map represents one solar installation, but the dots don’t communicate the size of a given solar project. That’s why you might glance at this map and think North Carolina and Massachusetts are leading the charge on solar in the U.S., when from an actual generation-capacity standpoint, California and Texas are far ahead of the pack.

As of September, Texas had over 18 gigawatts of utility-scale solar capacity, surpassing California’s total of more than 17 gigawatts of commercial solar. Florida is also rising to the top of the photovoltaic pack — it’s adding more solar than any other state — thanks in large part to utility-scale installations.

But as this map shows, sizable solar installations are spread all around the country — and a whole lot more are expected to come online in the years ahead. Right now, the U.S. has nearly 160 gigawatts of installed solar capacity, more than half of which is utility-scale. More than double that amount of new solar — 358 gigawatts — is forecast to be installed in the U.S. by the end of 2030.

So far this year, solar has provided about 6 percent of U.S. electricity. Five years ago, in 2018, that figure was just over 2 percent.

That’s impressive growth, to be sure, but much more is needed for the U.S. to make good on its climate goals — including President Biden’s lofty goal of completely decarbonizing the power grid by 2035. A 2021 Department of Energy report suggests that mostly decarbonizing the grid by that date would require solar to make up as much as 40 percent of electricity generation.

For that to happen, the map of U.S. solar installations will need to keep filling in. 

Dan McCarthy is news editor at Canary Media.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.