As it turns out, 2016 was a banner year in terms of sun-powered energy.
Across the U.S., the amount of installed solar capacity doubled that of 2015, bringing the total installed capacity to 42.4 gigawatts, which is enough to supply power for 8.3 million homes. Compare that to the 1.2 gigawatts of installed capacity in 2008, which shows a stunning 97 percent growth for solar in eight years.
One reason for the significant increase is that solar panels are much more affordable now than in years past, with the cost of materials coming down by more than 60 percent on average.
On top of that, Congress approved an extension of the solar tax credit until 2019, giving homeowners a renewed reason to explore the possibilities of solar to supplement their energy needs.
Besides the affordability, solar is one renewable energy source that offers several advantages to urban homeowners. The solar panels sit silently on rooftops, turning sunshine into electricity without making any emissions.
Here’s a snapshot at what’s happening solar-wise in some of the top-producing solar states in the U.S.
Texas is a well-entrenched energy state, thanks to its deep supplies of natural gas and oil, as well as its investment in wind energy.
Last year, the Lone Star State ranked third in the U.S. for its number of solar jobs, and in the top 10 for overall solar growth. As of 2016, its total installed capacity was 1,214.8 megawatts, enough to power 136,000 homes. Over the next five years, Texas will see solar grow by almost fourfold, earning it a ranking of second in the U.S., with a forecast of 5,730 megawatts installed.
Given its vast, sun-soaked landscape, Texas’ solar potential at the utility scale extends even farther, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:
- 20 percent from concentrated solar power facilities.
- 14 percent from utility-scale photovoltaic panels installed on rural landscapes.
- 12 percent from utility scale photovoltaic panels installed in urban areas.
California is difficult to ignore when it comes to solar prowess. A full 13 percent of its electricity is solar powered. With enough capacity to power 4.7 million homes, the state has plenty of sun resources and a state-backed Renewable Energy Program that aims to grow renewable energy offerings by offering incentives to builders that install solar on new construction. If California were a country, it would rank seventh in photovoltaic production.
North Carolina is something of a quiet solar powerhouse, with nearly 3 percent of its total electricity sourced from solar and nearly 340,000 homes powered by solar. In terms of growth in capacity over the next five years, it ranks fourth.
Arizona is one of the sunniest states in the country, with enough solar capacity established to power 444,000 homes. However, industry groups and solar supporters say some policies, such as its net metering rules, are holding back solar’s potential growth in the state.
Massachusetts is tucked up and away from the Sun Belt, but that doesn’t stop its leaders from adopting some pro-sun policies. With enough panels to power 244,000 homes, the state has given lenders incentives to make it easier for lower-income and low-credit-score borrowers to borrow money to install home solar panels. It ranks seventh in the overall solar ranking. In addition, Massachusetts is one of 10 states that offers a state tax credit for homeowners with solar.
New Jersey meters a high percentage of its solar production from residential panels, and overall, enough sun power is manufactured here to power 308,000 homes, generating 3.33 percent of its electricity.
Solar energy will likely continue to grow for years to come, and the United States is not slowing down on the solar race.