Clean-tech index highlights renewable surge

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, May 20, 2016

In 2015, California became the first state to generate 10 percent of its in-state electricity from solar power.

Vermont, meanwhile, doubled its utility-scale solar generation last year. And half of the top 10 U.S. states for utility-scale clean electricity voted Republican in the last presidential election.

Those were some of the key findings of the latest U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index from Clean Edge, a research firm. It annually ranks the clean energy and technology activities of all states and the 50 largest metro areas in the United States. The new listings — which focus mainly on 2015 activity — are based on more than 100 metrics on electricity, transportation, green buildings and state incentives.

For the authors, the results provide a snapshot of a broad trend toward renewable power, electric vehicles and green buildings in many states fueled by dropping prices for technologies like solar panels, as well as new state incentives. Fourteen states now get 10 percent or more of their power from utility-scale renewables, they said.

“When we issued our first state index in 2010, just one state (Iowa) exceeded 10 percent in-state electricity generation from non-hydro renewables,” said Clean Edge Managing Director Ron Pernick in a statement. “The transition to a clean-energy economy over the past seven years is remarkable, with 14 states now exceeding 10 percent renewable electricity generation, and the top three states (Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas) at 31 percent, 25 percent and 24 percent.”

Part of the reason for the shift is new policies in states like Vermont, which turned heavily to utility-scale solar after Entergy Corp. shuttered its Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in 2014. Last year, the state also established the nation’s second-highest renewable portfolio standard target, requiring 75 percent alternative power by 2032, Clean Edge said. Last year, Hawaii also became the first state to establish a 100 percent renewable goal, according to the report.

As has been the case for years, California led the rankings among states because of numerous clean energy incentives, while the San Francisco Bay Area led metro areas, partly because of the influence of Silicon Valley tech activity. California is the first state with more than 1 million hybrids and electric cars in operation, for example.

San Francisco and San Jose have led the metro area index for the past seven years. San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose are the only three cities that satisfy a new report metric assessing cities aiming for a 100 percent renewable standard, according to Clean Edge market analyst Andrew Rector.

In 2015, utility-scale wind and solar accounted for a record 62 percent of all new electric generation capacity in the United States, according to the report. “The U.S. followed a global trend which saw wind power as the largest contributor of new generation capacity worldwide,” the report says.

On the other hand, several states dropped more than five places in the rankings, including Nevada, Kansas, Missouri and Tennessee. Nevada was affected by changes to its net-metering standard that increased fees for rooftop solar customers.

Kansas’ ranking was influenced by legislation last year turning the state’s renewable portfolio standard into a voluntary, nonbinding goal, according to Rector. That legislation, however, received praise from some renewable advocates and the Kansas chamber after the wind industry said it would meet the existing RPS standard early.

Missouri’s drop resulted from several factors, including a decline in clean-tech venture capital dollars in 2015, Rector said.

The U.S. Clean Tech Leadership Index is a partnership between Clean Edge and several nonprofits, companies and governments, including Wells Fargo, Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., New York City Economic Development Corp., Sierra Club and World Resources Institute. The rankings consider baselines such as the number of electric vehicle charging stations and Energy Star buildings per 1 million people, as well as incentives on policies like net metering.

In general, the report covers calendar year 2015 data, although 2014 numbers were used for some metrics with sparse data, Rector said.

Click here to read the report.