Author: Maria McCoy           Published:  3/16/2021            ILRS

Many things fell stagnant in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but not the U.S solar industry. In fact, the first three quarters of 2020 saw the most new utility-scale solar ever installed in those respective quarters, as compared to previous years. That’s 6.4 gigawatts of large solar capacity installed in 2020. The pandemic took more of a toll on the distributed solar market, but it still had a fairly strong showing: 4.5 gigawatts of new capacity. These expansions in centralized and distributed solar generation capacity will help to power the ever-growing list of states and cities that have set ambitious 100 percent renewable energy goals.

The map below illustrates the size of each state’s solar market at the end of 2020, with pie charts showing the corresponding share of smaller distributed solar systems (1 megawatt and smaller). The pie charts also display the community solar programs in Colorado, New York, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, to provide an alternative model to large-scale utility solar projects.

Since community solar systems are typically larger than 1 megawatt of rated capacity, we subtracted our own figures on state community solar capacity from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s figures on state large-scale solar projects. We plan to track this data for more state community solar programs as the programs grow and data becomes available.

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

The state-by-state landscape has changed since our 2019 update, with more states expanding their solar capacity. Only nine states fall short of our 100 megawatt reporting threshold, down from 11 last year.

As part of a 2020 spending and relief package, the federal government extended the 26 percent solar investment tax credit until 2022. Given the extension, it will now phase out in 2024 for residential solar and 2025 for utility-scale solar. Thanks to this credit, other incentives, and the plummeting cost of solar technology, 42 gigawatts of large-scale solar and 27 gigawatts of small-scale solar have been installed in the U.S. as of 2020. Much of this installation can be attributed to state solar leaders that continue to shine. However, some blossoming solar states saw gains that put them on the map.

Here are some of the biggest changes since our 2019 update:

  • Wyoming and Maine have crossed threshold to 100 megawatts
  • Arkansas, Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin crossed the 250 megawatt threshold
  • Colorado and Minnesota crossed the threshold to over 1,000 megawatts

16 states now claim more than 1,000 megawatts of total solar capacity (shown in red), and 39 have more than 100 megawatts (states shown in yellow, orange, and red).

Of the 16 states that now contribute more than 1,000 megawatts of solar power, five leaders boast shares of distributed generation greater than 50 percent:

  • New York (2,458 megawatts of total solar, 74 percent from small, distributed sources)
  • Hawaii (1,011 megawatts of total solar, 72 percent from small, distributed sources)
  • Maryland (1,170 megawatts of total solar, 71 percent from small, distributed sources)
  • New Jersey (2,816 megawatts of total solar, 66 percent from small, distributed sources)
  • Massachusetts (2,710 megawatts of total solar, with 65 percent from small, distributed sources)

Read about Why Utilities in Minnesota and Other States Need to Plan for More Competition and stay tuned for a 2021 50 state distributed solar model.

The following graphic highlights the top four states of distributed solar.

Though they don’t reach the 1,000 megawatt benchmark, seven states on our map have impressive distributed solar shares of 75 percent or more:

  • New Hampshire (121 megawatts of total solar, 100 percent from small, distributed sources)
  • Washington (227 megawatts of total solar, 90 percent from small, distributed sources)
  • Iowa (165 megawatts of total solar, 89 percent from small, distributed sources)
  • Illinois (631 megawatts of total solar, 82 percent from small, distributed sources)
  • Connecticut (768 megawatts of total solar, 79 percent from small, distributed sources)
  • Missouri (299 megawatts of total solar, 79 percent from small, distributed sources)
  • Pennsylvania (608 megawatts of total solar, 75 percent from small, distributed sources)

State energy policies are crucial in support of local decision-making and promoting the adoption of distributed solar. Some essential policies include net metering, simplified interconnection, property assessed clean energy, a renewable portfolio standard carve out for solar or distributed energy, and solar or solar-ready mandates for buildings. We track these policies and others in our Community Power Map.

Six states could generate half or more of their annual energy use with rooftop solar. Click to find out how much solar potential is in your state.

One policy with growing popularity is community solar. Community solar, enabled in 19 states and the District of Columbia, brings many of the benefits of clean energy to those who have traditionally been left out of solar ownership. Community solar gardens — which are larger than residential solar installations, but smaller than utility-owned solar fields — are the most cost-effective size for solar and reduce electric bills for members of the community.

The following graphic (new this year) highlights the four community solar-enabling states — Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New York — that we are able to track at this time.

Distributed solar, and especially community solar, is cost competitive and can be deployed at scale. It also has many benefits besides clean energy generation, which include job creation, economic stimulation, and the potential to build wealth – all of which are essential as we face our current climate and economic crises.

Support the 30 Million Solar Homes campaign, which proposes rooftop & community solar to help address climate change, the economic downturn, & social injustice.

This States of Distributed Solar analysis is updated annually. For a historical snapshot, explore our archived analyses of distributed solar by state in 201920182017, and 2016.

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