Today, the states with the highest solar photovoltaic (PV) generation potential are the ones that provide the best business environments for companies that design, manufacture, install or lease PV systems. The subject of PV generation potential is too often associated only with the amount of sunlight each state receives instead of their policy and investment climates. Germany, for example, has yearly sunlight similar to Anchorage, Alaska, but has more than ten times the installed solar PV capacity of the entire American desert southwest.
It is because Germany made the use of PV a top priority in its national energy policy years ago, giving generous government incentives for individuals and businesses to install and use their own systems. Since the United States federal government has yet to implement a comprehensive national policy that provides long-term market signals for solar and other renewables, as it did for oil, coal and gas this past century, the solar industry’s growth today tends to concentrate in states whose legislatures have enacted policies and programs that attract solar investment.
In return, these states have received the majority of solar jobs. The Solar Foundation’s recent “Solar Jobs Census” shows that as of August 2010, the U.S. solar industry employed 93,000 workers, with 50 percent of employers expected to add jobs in the next 12 months. Of those employers, more than half are located in the Western United States, with places like California, New Mexico and Colorado leading the way with smart, effective solar incentives. The solar industry is growing in the eastern U.S. as well. New Jersey, for instance, is the second largest solar market in the country behind California. States like Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are also moving up the ladder, too, with new policies in recent years that are fostering vibrant solar markets.
Though solar companies in any state have access to short-term federal incentives, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit, most are attracted to jurisdictions that have additional incentives that compliment federal supports. For example, the Garden State, New Jersey, has less sunlight than other places in the United States (NM, AZ, CO), but it offers solar energy incentives for residential systems that can pay for themselves in as little as three years. As previously mentioned, the state is second only to California in the amount of solar installed. Recently, the state drew so many applicants for its rebate program that the Board of Public Utilities temporarily suspended the new applications. Due to state and federal incentives, New Jersey has a strong consumer base that has created, and attracted, solar PV manufacturers, installers and leasers that provide low prices, quality jobs and increasing investment opportunities for communities in the state.
Many of the workers and companies are happy the country as a whole is moving forward, but are more impressed by the work of local residents and public officials to get solar on its feet in their states and municipalities. As Bryan Butler, a CEO of a solar company in Solana Beach, CA, explains, “Our company is employing our neighbors to provide energy and jobs to our community. Our success depends on people wanting solar, and we are winning slowly. The country is starting to get the notion that the consequences of not using solar are real.
PV solar works in all 50 states, though without the necessary public and private support in place, like our fossil fuel competitors have enjoyed for decades, a state’s solar industry will have only incremental growth. Today, the solar industry is working tirelessly to build local and national policy support structures that will ensure our success in every state, which will boost PV generation nationwide and help the United States regain its leadership in a technology it first invented. At some point soon, we hope that solar is cost-competitive in every state, offering families and business owners more choice in where and how their energy is generated.
Written by Rhone Resch, Solar Energy Industries Association
Rhone Resch is the president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association.
Tags: california, Colorado, investment climates, Massachusetts, new jersey, New Mexico, pv, PV capacity, Rhone Resch, SEIA, Solar Foundation, solar investment, solar Investment Tax Credit, Solar Jobs Census, solar photovoltaic generation potential, sunlight, U.S. solar industry