Which states have the most solar power?

sun-questionmarkYou might expect the sunniest states, or the ones with the biggest populations, to have the most solar power installations. But according to the Wall Street Journal‘s MarketWatch, that’s not so.

California and Texas, for example, are first and second in population, and with just 205 hours’ difference in average hours of sunlight per year, so you’d expect them to be first and second in solar power. But while California’s first in solar installations, Texas is only eighth.

There are other surprises in the rankings, too.

Massachusetts, which has fewer annual hours of sunlight (2634), is number five on the list of solar leaders, while Virginia (2829) doesn’t even make the top ten.

Same for New Jersey (#3, 2499 hours of sunlight) and next-door neighbor Pennsylvania (2614 hours).

Here’s a rundown of America’s solar powerhouses and what makes them solar leaders:

  1. California led the nation with 2621 megawatts of solar power capacity installed last year, but that had nothing to do with the fact that it also leads the country in population. About 1900 megawatts of that capacity was for utilities.
  2. Arizona – Elimination of a utility fee charged to solar customers created a spike in year-end solar applications, so more Arizonans will be taking advantage of their state’s 3806 hours of sunlight per year.
  3. New Jersey installed enough solar capacity last year – 235.6 megawatts, enough to power 33,701 homes – thanks to a system of attractive state credits. The fact that solar installation prices for home and businesses have fallen slightly more there than elsewhere didn’t hurt, either.
  4. North Carolina gets less annual sunlight (2651 hours) than northern neighbor Virginia (2829), but that didn’t stop them from going solar big time. Tax credits for homes and businesses are generous, and utilities have built solar farms throughout the countryside. Even the 19th Century Biltmore Estate has gone solar, with a nine-acre installation that provides 20% of their energy needs.
  5. Massachusetts (2634 sunlight hours per year) was next, largely because of commercial and utility installations.

Even though they didn’t make the top ten, Maryland (2582 sunlight hours), Pennsylvania (2614), Virginia (2829) and West Virginia all have enough sunlight and enough incentives to make solar power a smart deal for homes and businesses.