"They're wanting to keep the money that they're spending in their own economies," he added.
Making solar power into a reliable export to populated states is "the biggest game in town," according to Abbas Ghassemi, an energy expert at New Mexico State University.
"For most of these states, they're looking at it for economic development and job creation," Ghassemi said, underscoring the reasons why solutions such as cost incentives and utility quotas haven't helped states like New Mexico catch up to California and New Jersey, an unlikely solar leader.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer recently said the success of the industry is a key asset to her state's economy. Her comments came after learning Arizona moved up in the national rankings, becoming second only to California for the number of photovoltaic panels installed at homes and businesses during the second quarter this year.
Nationally, the Solar Energy Industries Association reported more than 20 utility-scale photovoltaic projects were completed during the second quarter, marking the largest quarter ever for solar panel installations.
At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, scientists have modeled what the U.S. would look like in 2050, and they say it's possible for renewable energy to make up 80 percent of the electricity generated, even with existing technologies.
Whether that comes to pass will depend on the price of technology, transmission capacity and policies and regulations that encourage renewable energy development.
With more polls showing Americans favoring renewable energy and politicians looking desperately for ways to boost the economy, Adam Browning, executive director of the California-based nonprofit Voter Solar Initiative, said the will seems to be shifting.
"Renewables provide a powerful solution that's really about tapping into great American values of self-reliance, of technology mastery, of creating new industries that put people to work," he said. "I really feel there's a great political narrative to this."
Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Ariz., contributed to this report.
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