Today, Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center released Lighting the Way: What We Can Learn from America’s Top 12 Solar States, a new report highlighting a solar energy boom across the country. The report ranks New Jersey 4rd in the nation per capita for solar installations. Although this makes New Jersey one of a dozen states that have led the nation in solar energy with supportive policies and a commitment to continued expansion, we have slipped from first in the country. Last year, solar capacity in New Jersey grew by 43%, bringing it to a total of 971 Megawatts.
“The sky’s the limit on solar energy,” said Doug O’Malley, director with Environment New Jersey. “New Jersey’s progress should make us confident that we can do much more. But we can’t glide on our past success, and the continued clean energy funding raids by Gov. Christie put our progress in peril.”
Solar is on the rise across the country. America has more than three times as much solar photovoltaic capacity as it did in 2010, and more than 10 times as much as it did in 2007. Not only that, but the price of solar panels fell by 26 percent in 2012 and there were over 415 megawatts of solar PV installations installed in New Jersey. Environment New Jersey attributes the solar boom to the leadership of past New Jersey governors and state leaders and those in other leading states profiled in the report.
“Solar power is a great fit for Jersey City,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. “Solar can create both clean, renewable energy for our city and is a real home-grown industry with green jobs.”
Solar is especially critical for states like New Jersey. A National Academy of Sciences study this summer found that increased use of solar power in the Mid-Atlantic states would sharply reduce unhealthy emissions, including nitrogen oxides, which help create smog in the summer months. The study found there was 15 times more health benefits for New Jersey solar compared to a panel in Arizona. New Jersey – including Hudson County – has never met the federal health quality standard for smog.
The installation on Wayne Street in Jersey City is a good example of how solar can be used on roof-tops across New Jersey’s urban areas, and is one of state’s now over 23,000 solar installations. The photovoltaic panels, eight in total, help power the residence.
“The solar industry has taken off in New Jersey,” said Robert Chong, head of Prime Solar Power. “But we need to sustain solar by having the state promote policies to expand solar across all sectors.”
The report emphasizes that it is not availability of sunlight that makes states solar leaders, but how much state and local governments have created effective public policy for the development of the solar industry.
“More and more, homes and businesses are turning to solar as a pollution-free energy source directly from the sun,” said O’Malley. “With the increasing threat of global warming, we must maintain momentum.”
Other states profiled in the report include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Vermont. While these twelve states account for only 28 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 85 percent of the nation’s installed solar energy.
The report highlights the strong policies adopted by the top solar states that encouraged homeowners and businesses to “go solar.” Most notably:
- 11 of the 12 have strong net metering policies, including New Jersey, which allow customers to offset their electricity bills with onsite solar, and receive reliable and fair compensation for the excess electricity they provide to the grid.
- 11 of the 12 states have renewable electricity standards, including New Jersey, requiring utilities to provide a minimum amount of their power from renewable sources; and nine of them, including New Jersey have solar carve outs, which set specific targets for solar or other forms of clean onsite power.
- 10 of the 12 have strong statewide interconnection policies, including New Jersey. Interconnection policies reduce the time and hassle required for individuals and companies to connect solar energy systems to the grid.
- The majority of the states, including New Jersey, allow for creative financing options such as third-party power purchase agreements and property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing.
Solar installation have also increased because the cost of installed solar energy systems fell by 27 percent in 2012 alone on top of a 20 percent decline between the beginning of 2010 and the end of 2011. Price can go down even further because the kilowatt price of solar is half what we see in Germany.
A study by the solar energy industry estimated that solar PV in PA and NJ delivered value equivalent to 25 to 32 cents per kilowatt/hour. Grid parity is coming, and has already been reached in Hawaii – and a study from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance estimates that 100 million Americans will live in areas where solar power is cheaper than electricity from the grid over the next decade.
While New Jersey remains a national leader, its strong growth is cooling off in 2013. The highest peak installation month for New Jersey was in January 2012 at a peak of 84 megawatts. This July and August, New Jersey installed only 11 and 8 megawatts collectively, where it previously was averaging additions of anywhere from 20 to well over 30 megawatts a month.
“We can’t put New Jersey’s solar market on a boom and bust cycle. Gov. Christie’s continued raids of clean energy funding, totaling over $800 million, are hurting our clean energy pipeline,” said O’Malley. “We can’t allow New Jersey to lose the momentum we have built up on solar.”