With more than 8,000 companies now operating nationwide, solar energy has become one of the fastest-growing industries in America — thanks, in large part, to remarkable growth on both the West and East coasts. California, as expected, continues to lead the way with nearly 10 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity, but on the other side of the country, five Eastern states — New Jersey, North Carolina, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut — are now closing in on a total of 4 GW of installed capacity.
With so much solar activity taking place on both sides of our nation, what’s happening in the heartland is going almost unnoticed. But it shouldn’t. Solar is beginning to grow like a prairie fire across the Midwest.
In a wide area stretching from Missouri to Ohio, the heavily-traveled Interstate 70 corridor, solar is beginning to catch on in a big way. Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio now have a combined total of nearly 400 MW of installed solar capacity — enough to power about 80,000 homes. But here’s the real eye-opening statistic: solar in these states is expected to grow by nearly 50 percent this year, with roughly 180 MW of new projects coming online.
Let’s look at Missouri as a case study. Showing strong growth over the previous year, Missouri nearly tripled its amount of installed solar capacity in 2014, according to the recently-released U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review. What’s more, Missouri also had more than half, 55 percent, of its new electrical capacity last year come from solar energy.
In 2014, Missouri added 73 megawatts (MW) of solar electric capacity, bringing its total to 111 MW. That’s enough clean, affordable energy to power more than 12,000 homes. The report went on to point out that Missouri’s biggest solar gains came in commercial installations, but residential and utility-scale installations increased, too. Of the new capacity added, 37 MW were commercial, 20 MW were residential and 16 MW were utility scale. Together, these installations represented a $187 million investment across Missouri — a 63 percent increase over the previous year.
Today, Missouri also ranks #2 in the nation in the number of professional sports facilities with installed solar systems. Among Major League Baseball teams, both the Royals and Cardinals have gone solar, while the Rams and Chiefs are among NFL teams to do so.
To put the state’s solar growth in some context, the 111 MW of solar PV installed today in Missouri is nearly as much as the entire country had installed by 2004. And frankly, the state is just scratching the surface of its enormous potential.
The same, of course, can be said for Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Today, there are more than 500 solar companies at work throughout the 4-state area, employing nearly 10,000 people, and bringing $339 million worth of new projects online last year.
This steady growth across the heartland of America has helped the U.S. solar industry to grow to 174,000 workers nationwide — more than tech giants Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter combined — while pumping nearly $18 billion a year into our economy. This remarkable growth is due, in no small part, to smart and effective public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), Net Energy Metering (NEM) and Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). By any measurement, these policies are paying huge dividends for both our economy and environment.
But while media attention in the past has been focused on the growth of solar on the West and East coasts, the Midwest — in keeping with its unassuming ways — is the place to keep an eye on in 2015.