The Surprising List of States Leading U.S. on Renewable Energy

New report ranks states on their recent clean energy momentum, and leaders emerge among both blue and red states, although California is No. 1 overall

A solar farm in Nevada
Despite political backlash in some states, renewable energy projects have thrived in some surprising places. Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Share this article

Which states are driving the nation’s clean energy boom? A new analysis, which ranks states in a dozen different ways, offers some intriguing results.

Depending on what’s measured, many different states can claim laurels, according to the report published Thursday by the science advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists. And there are high performers among states led by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Kansas led the nation in largest increase in renewable energy generation between 2011-15. Hawaii ranked No. 1 in residential solar power. In California, electric vehicles made up the highest percentage of new car sales last year. And in Iowa, in-state companies could most easily procure renewable energy from utilities and third-party providers in 2016 than anywhere else.

There’s a misconception that clean energy “is something only a few states are doing,” Scott Clausen, a policy expert at the American Council on Renewable Energy who was not involved in this report told InsideClimate News. “It’s really not. It’s becoming much more widespread.”

For this analysis, the authors developed a dozen metrics to gauge a state’s participation in the clean energy industry over time. They measured a state’s existing and planned adoption of renewable energy sources, the impact of the industry on jobs and reviewed  policies designed to grow the industry. Every state was ranked in each category, and overall.

“No. 1 overall is California,” said UCS energy analyst and study author John Rogers. “It tops in one of our metrics”—electric vehicle adoption—”and it really gets to the top spot overall by being a stellar all-around performer on clean energy.” The state was also among the leaders in total installed residential solar through 2016 and the slice of in-state power generation that came from renewable sources in 2015.

But some smaller states also excelled. Rhode Island and Massachusetts, for example, both ranked high in categories relating to energy efficiency.

Perhaps the most surprising rankings involved Republican-led states more typically known for their fossil fuel production. For example, South Dakota ranked first for how much of its 2015 in-state power generation came from renewables, largely due to its hydro and wind resources. Wyoming and North Dakota were the top two states in new renewable energy capacity planned through 2019. These same three states also made the top 10 in total clean energy jobs per thousand people.

While this report paints an optimistic picture of the U.S. clean energy industry, it faces new obstacles even in states when there has been progress. For example, in Oklahoma the governor just signed a bill rolling back a popular state tax credit that helped grow the state’s wind industry.