California leads clean-tech index for fourth year

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California continues to dominate the development of renewable energy based on key indicators such as technology, policy and capital, according to the CleanEdge US Clean Tech Leadership Index published today.

“A gridlocked Congress, presidential election-year politics, panic over the so-called fiscal cliff, and continued fallout from high-profile bankruptcies like Solyndra and A123 Systems resulted in yet another year of little significant progress on federal clean-energy policy,” the report says. “Yet despite these negative factors, clean-tech deployment in the US showed notable, and even historic, market momentum during the year.”

Ron Pernick, the report's author said: “The biggest trend is around deployment. Renewables are becoming mainstream if you look at added capacity to the nation's electricity grid, for the first time ever 49% of that came from renewables. Two years ago, there were around six states getting 10% of electricity from renewables now we've got two states getting more than 22%.”

Spurred by continued price drops and financial innovation, solar had its second straight banner growth year. Installed PV capacity grew by 3,313MW or 76%, with California becoming the first state to install more than 1,000MW in a single year, the report noted.

“Solar is still such a small fraction of overall penetration, but it's growing rapidly,” Pernick told PV-Tech. “Wind is getting a bit saturated in some states and the exciting thing for solar is that it's where wind was about a decade ago in terms of its deployment cycle. Solar could see those double digit growth rates that we saw in wind for the last decade. There's a lot of room here for the US to get from less than 2% solar to 10% solar.”

For the fourth consecutive year, California took the top place in its leadership role for clean electricity deployment, energy efficiency, policy innovation and investment attraction. Massachusetts and Oregon took second and third places overall.

However, Massachusetts took first place for its policy mandates and incentives in the sector and capital, which measures state-level investment activity, as well as the presence, concentration, and vibrancy of human and intellectual capital. Massachusetts beat California on venture capital dollars per capita spent on clean energy, but the western state saw the largest amount invested overall – US$2.225 billion versus US$500 million in the eastern state.

“California is the state equivalent of an early adopter,” said Pernick. “It's fortuitous for California and not by accident but by design. It's a behemoth of an economy and it can make decisions that supersede federal standards. Once California initiates a policy, other states can follow suit.”

California also attracted the most energy patents of any state, largely in solar, which was also the market segment that also attracted the second largest proportion of venture capital investment [see slides] behind transportation.

For the first time, the index also looked at city-level clean-tech leadership and found that California was home to five of the top seven metro areas for clean-tech leadership: San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego.

“In the US this is a state and metro level game,” said Pernick. “Federal policy matters but all energy is local and in the US that means it depends on the utility district, policy and support mechanisms and includes everything from NEM [net energy metering] to incentives to how easy they make it to install solar.”

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