In the midst of worldwide solar incentive cuts, one U.S. state has remained committed to the expansion of solar energy. Second in solar production only to California, the state of New Jersey has emerged as a solar energy pioneer in the United States. According to a 2010 Solar Energy Industries Association report, New Jersey alone constituted 14 percent of the cumulative installed solar capacity in the U.S., with 293 MW already in place. This number is surprising, considering that the state ranks just 47th in total area.
Many factors have contributed to New Jersey's solar boom, including effective land use, strong legislation, and a bold renewable energy portfolio. A recent Reuters article references the benefits of 2006 state legislation which requires energy suppliers to get 20 percent of their power from renewables by 2020, including 2 percent from solar. New Jersey also has a carbon offset program, which allows polluting companies to buy certificates from renewable energy producers to offset their own emissions. This provides not only a source of revenue for those who produce renewable energy, but also an incentive to invest in solar power.
Current New Jersey government authorities are working to expand on the above policies. In the same Reuters article, New Jersey Senator James Whelan was quoted as saying, "I used to say renewable energy is going to be an issue of the future, but I think it is the issue of now." New Jersey residents are experiencing this switch to solar firsthand. 180,000 solar panels are popping on utility poles on residential streets throughout the state as part of an initiative by the Public Service Enterprise Group, the state's largest utility company. The panels are expected to collect enough light to supply power to 13,000 homes.
The future is bright for New Jersey's solar industry. New Jersey company American Clean Energy is partnering with Envision Solar in an attempt to "modularize the [solar] business" by addressing the commercial and financial constraints to rooftop solar installation. According to ZDNet, the two companies are teaming up to create a lease program for customers that covers the installation of innovative "Solar Tracking Trees" on existing parking lots.
Also underway is the construction of the largest rooftop solar power project in North America - on top of a Toys ‘R' Us distribution plant in Flanders, New Jersey. When completed, the 37,000 panel system will produce 5.38 MW of energy, meeting 72 percent of center's electricity needs in one year. Believe it or not, that's enough energy to power 570 average American homes for a year, as stated in this report by getsolar.com.
Other US states must take note of New Jersey's remarkable progress in solar energy. Though the U.S. economy is doing no favors for solar innovation, one thing is for sure: a combination of policy and ambition is giving New Jersey the chance to make it work in tough economic times.