Which States Produce the Most Solar Energy?

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In the first few months of his administration, one of President Joe Biden’s top policy priorities has been addressing the threat of climate change — while also improving infrastructure and creating jobs to generate economic growth.

Biden has stated a goal of reaching 100% pollution-free electricity by 2035, which means dramatically scaling up renewable energy production in the US. To that end, Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan would include extensive tax credits, grants, and other investments in clean energy.

One of the potential beneficiaries of this focus is the solar power industry, which is seeing rapid growth as the costs associated with solar decline. For many years, solar power was too expensive to be adopted at scale as a major source of energy production, but this has changed in recent years.

One of the biggest reasons for the decline in costs has been technological innovation. Solar technology has become more reliable and more efficient over time, which lowers the cost of generating energy.

As those costs decrease, adoption becomes more common, which allows solar cell manufacturers to achieve economies of scale and lower prices even further.

Government support has also been a major factor. Billions in federal investment for renewables during the Great Recession helped spur the technological advances seen in the last decade, and the federal government — along with many states and localities — has long offered tax breaks and other incentives to subsidize household solar adoption.

These factors reached an inflection point in the mid-2000s, and solar production in the US has been growing exponentially ever since.

In 2006, solar generated around 507,000 megawatt-hours of energy and represented .01% of US energy generated by the electric power industry. By 2019, solar thermal and photovoltaic accounted for 71,936,822 megawatt-hours — around 140 times more than in 2006 — to represent 1.74% of the total.

The use of solar power continues to grow rapidly in the US

Solar is still a relatively small part of the US’s overall energy mix but will become an increasingly significant source as solar production continues to accelerate — particularly if the Biden Administration’s climate policies and clean energy investments come to pass.

For now, however, renewables overall (17.7% of total electricity generation) still lag behind natural gas (38.4%), coal (23.4%), and nuclear (19.6%). Within the renewable category, solar (9.9% of renewable production) trails wind (40.6%) and hydroelectric (39.5%).

Renewables still lag behind natural gas, coal, and nuclear

Despite its small but growing role in overall US energy production, solar is a major part of the energy mix in a number of states. The undisputed leader of these states is California, which leads all others both by total solar energy production and the share of electricity derived from solar.

California’s total solar energy production is nearly four times that of the runner-up state, North Carolina. Many of the market factors that have made solar more popular nationwide hold in California, too, but the Golden State also has geographic features and a political climate that have made it a solar leader.


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California leads the US in solar energy production

In terms of geography, California is one of the US states with the highest levels of insolation (exposure to the sun). Insolation is a factor for many other leading states for solar production, including Sun Belt locations like Texas, southwestern states Nevada and Arizona, and Southeastern states North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Politically, California’s policymakers have created an environment that all but guarantees heavy reliance on solar energy. For instance, California has one of the most ambitious renewable portfolio standards of any US state, with a goal of generating 60% of energy from renewables by 2030 and 100% of energy from renewables by 2045.

Additionally, in 2020, the state began requiring most new homes to include rooftop solar panels.

To find the states where solar production is highest, researchers at Commodity.com used data from the US Energy Information Administration’s Electricity Power Data. States were ranked by annual solar production for electric power (in megawatt-hours) for 2019.

The researchers also calculated the year-over-year change in total solar energy production from 2018–2019, as well as what percentage of total energy production and renewable energy production solar accounts for.

Here are the states producing the most solar energy.

States Producing the Most Solar Energy

Mountain Solar Farm

15. South Carolina

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 858,546
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +68.2%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 0.9%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 14.3%

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Virginia Solar Field

14. Virginia

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 949,111
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +24.4%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 1.0%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 15.3%
Solar Panels in Williamstown Massachusetts

13. Massachusetts

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 1,163,776
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +19.0%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 5.4%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 34.7%
Solar Panels in New Jersey

12. New Jersey

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 1,164,721
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +17.6%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 1.6%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 57.9%
Denver Colorado skyline with solar panels

11. Colorado

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 1,218,220
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +14.7%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 2.2%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 8.7%
solar panels mounted on exterior wall of parking garage in saint paul minnesota

10. Minnesota

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 1,248,833
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +19.8%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 2.1%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 8.6%
Solar panels on field against sky

9. New Mexico

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 1,365,900
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +1.3%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 3.9%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 16.1%
Appling, GA: Field of rows of solar panels

8. Georgia

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 2,160,770
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +8.3%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 1.7%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 18.8%
Bryce Canyon National Park at Utah

7. Utah

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 2,186,424
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY):  -1.7%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 5.6%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 51.3%
Solar Panels  Florida

6. Florida

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 3,901,445
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +61.7%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 1.6%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 45.6%

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Texas Solar Farm

5. Texas

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 4,365,125
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +36.2%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 0.9%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 4.8%

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Nevada Solar One at Boulder City

4. Nevada

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 4,810,511
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +1.9%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 12.1%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 42.4%
Photovoltaic arrays Arizona

3. Arizona

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 5,278,019
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +2.7%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 4.6%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 43.0%
North Carolina Solar

2. North Carolina

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 7,451,338
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +21.9%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 5.7%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 44.6%
Photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines, San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, Palm Springs, California

1. California

  • Annual solar energy production (megawatthours): 28,331,513
  • Change in solar energy production (YoY): +5.0%
  • Solar share of total energy production: 14.0%
  • Solar share of total renewable energy production: 29.1%

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Detailed Findings and Methodology

The data used in this analysis is from the US Energy Information Administration’s Electricity Power Data.

To determine the states producing the most solar energy, researchers ranked states by their annual solar energy production for the electric power industry, measured in megawatt-hours, for the year 2019.

The researchers also calculated the year-over-year change in total solar energy production from 2018–2019, as well as what percentage of total energy production and renewable energy production solar accounts for.

Photo Credits: Alamy Stock Photo

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