The State(s) of Distributed Solar — 2019 Update

Date: 16 Apr 2020 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

The transition to clean energy has many states prioritizing investments in solar, with solar photovoltaic capacity already playing a significant role in reaching 100 percent renewable and carbon-free power generation. States and cities have made leaps in solar capacity over the past year and distributed solar installations — on individually owned rooftops as well as community solar projects — have soared. ILSR continues to support this growing movement by advocating for energy democracy via policies that give communities the opportunity to break free of utility monopolies, make their own energy decisions, build wealth locally, and save residents and businesses money.

We’re happy to report that there was good news in 2019. New solar legislation and the sunset of federal solar tax credits had solar developers rushing to get projects online. The federal solar tax credit decreased from 30% in 2019 to 26% in 2020, giving developers an incentive to go for the 2019 rebate. By the end of the year, 4,080 MW of small-scale solar projects were installed, barely behind the 4,979 MW of large-scale solar installed. While distributed solar installations soared in 2019, large-scale solar installations faltered, only exceeding 2018 installations by 57 megawatts. The installation of community and distributed solar projects allows everyone to benefit from clean energy generation and displaces monopoly utility power.

The map below illustrates the size of each state’s solar market at the end of 2019, with pie charts showing the corresponding share of smaller distributed solar systems (1 megawatt and smaller). The state-by-state landscape has changed since our 2018 update, with more states expanding their solar capacity. The map also displays the community solar programs in Colorado, New York, Minnesota, and Massachusetts to provide an alternative model to large-scale solar projects.


Interested in reading more about community solar programs around the country? See ILSR’s National Community Solar Programs Tracker.


As of 2019, 11 states claim more than 1,000 megawatts of total solar capacity (shown in red), and 38 have more than 100 megawatts (shown in red, orange, and yellow). The map now includes Wisconsin and New Hampshire, as they increased their solar capacity to over 100 MW (shown in yellow). Missouri and Ohio both increased solar capacity to over 250 MW (shown in orange), moving up from their yellow category status in 2018. Lastly, Maryland increased its solar capacity to over 1,000 MW (shown in red), moving up from the orange category in 2018. (Note: EIA did not have updated data for Alabama or Georgia, so we reported last year’s data for those two states).

Of the 11 states that each contribute more than 1,000 megawatts of solar power, four states boast shares of distributed generation greater than 50%. Three states have dominated the top of the leaderboard for three years:

  • New Jersey (2,531 megawatts of total solar, with 66 percent from small-scale sources)
  • Massachusetts (2,421 megawatts, also with 66 percent from small-scale), and
  • New York (1974 megawatts of total solar, with 77 percent from small-scale).

This year, newcomer Maryland joins these states, with 1086 megawatts of total solar, with 72% coming from small, distributed sources.

In 2019, states across the country considered more than 30 bills related to community solar, with three states updating existing laws.

  • New Hampshire enacted legislation to increase access to solar in low-income communities.
  • Maryland enacted two community solar bills, one prohibiting limits on the number of subscribers to community solar projects, and the second expanding project-generating capacity and extending a pilot program until 2024.
  • Lastly, Colorado passed legislation to increase allowable generating capacity for community solar projects.

Read a full analysis on the generating power that came online last year in New Power Generation Quarterly — Annual Update.


Not all states have enacted policies that make it easy to invest in distributed solar systems, one of several criteria to receive an “A” grade in ILSR’s 2020 Community Power Scorecard. Only two states earned top marks, New York and Massachusetts, for their suite of policies to encourage thriving, equitable communities.

Despite the room for improvement, states and cities continue to invest heavily in renewable energy generation. Thanks to a growing focus on distributed solar, Americans are advancing toward a clean energy future that reduces pollution, creates jobs, supports the local economy, and empowers residents to make energy decisions that make sense for themselves and their communities.

 

This States of Distributed Solar analysis is updated annually. For a historical snapshot, explore our archived analyses of distributed solar by state in 2018, 2017 and 2016. Stay-tuned for a future in-depth comparison between states’ distributed solar capacity and their scorecard performance, as well.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter or get the Energy Democracy weekly update.

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Lilli Ambort
Follow Lilli Ambort:
Lilli Ambort

Lilli Ambort is an Intern with the Energy Democracy initiative, where she contributes to blog posts and interactive features.

Lilli Ambort
Follow Lilli Ambort:
Lilli Ambort is an Intern with the Energy Democracy initiative, where she contributes to blog posts and interactive features.