Chart: The top 10 solar states include some unexpected contenders

Markets and policy matter more to solar success than geography and politics.
By Eric Wesoff, Maria Virginia Olano

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Solar developers don’t care whether your state is red or blue, or even whether it’s bathed in lots of golden sunlight. The only color they’re focused on is dollar-bill green.

Yes, solar insolation is important, but renewable energy policy and consistent markets are just as important when it comes to making a solar project pencil out economically.

That’s borne out by this map of the 10 states with the most solar power capacity, which shows that the standouts are spread across geographies and political leanings.

Terawatt Texas

California tops the list, a foregone conclusion due to its favorable sunlight, climate, terrain and policy. It added 1.6 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2020 and accounts for the most installed capacity on a cumulative basis with 32 percent of the U.S. total.

But the surprises start to happen lower on the tally.

No. 2 Texas added 2.5 gigawatts of solar in 2020, surpassing California as the leader in utility-scale solar growth, according to research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. And in the first quarter of 2021, Texas outpaced all other states by a Texas mile, bringing in 1.5 gigawatts of new solar capacity.

Texas is perfect for big solar. Although the state has no renewable portfolio standard, it has Texas sun, lots of available land, and a competitive energy-only marketplace driven by corporate clean energy buyers and utility customers who are happy to take advantage of the low price of solar (or solar-plus-storage) compared to other generation sources.

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Not just the usual suspects

Top-10 ranked states such as North Carolina are adopting practical net-metering policies. New York just finalized contracts for a transmission project that includes 1.8 gigawatts of solar. Florida recently embraced a plan to more than double the solar power capacity of its largest utility (even while simultaneously attempting to abolish net metering).

Looking beyond the top 10, solar and renewable power developers are raising capital and developing record-size projects at an unprecedented clip in not-so-predictable states such as Arkansas, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.

In 2020, George Hershman, CEO of the engineering, procurement and construction firm Solv Energy, emphasized solar’s growth trajectory beyond early-adopter markets: This is no longer just a Western market or a Southwest market. Our biggest market will be in West Texas in the Permian Basin. And we are starting projects in Illinois, in the upper Midwest. It’s a nationwide industry and job creator — and more than ever, rural.”

Eric Wesoff is the editorial director at Canary Media.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.