Most of the solar-energy projects completed in New Jersey are located in the central part of the state, according to data from the New Jersey Clean Energy Program.
Home owners, businesses, schools and others have built nearly 33,000 solar installations throughout the state through the end of January, the NJCEP data shows. These systems have a capacity of more than 1.4 million kilowatts -- enough energy to power 14 million 100-watt light bulbs for an hour apiece.
Middlesex County, which had 3,104 solar projects, had the most capacity -- 199,487 kilowatts, or almost 14 percent of the total statewide. Two other Central Jersey counties ranked second and third in capacity: Burlington, with 3,008 installations and 9 percent of the statewide total kilowatts, and Mercer, with 1,359 projects representing 8 percent of the total.
The county with the greatest number of projects was Ocean, with 5,416. But those projects are much smaller, with a total capacity of about 85,000 kilowatts, or less than 6 percent of the statewide total.
According to Cy Yablonsky, vice president of PowerLutions Solar in Lakewood, Middlesex County's rank as having the largest solar-power capacity indicates that "a number of large commercial facilities" there are using solar. The county is a prime location because it has a large concentration of low, well-spaced commercial buildings able to accommodate solar panels, he said.
Ocean County has the most installations, but only the fifth-highest solar capacity, because there are more residential systems, including many located in senior-citizen communities, "where solar is very popular," wrote Yablonsky in an analysis of the state's data.
The smallest solar-energy system totals were at either end of the state -- Cape May County in the south had 868 projects with a capacity of 18,413 kilowatts, or 1.3 percent of the state total, and Sussex County in the north had 507 installations, with 1.7 percent of the statewide capacity.
"Overall, solar is more popular in the central parts of the state than the north and the south," Yablonsky wrote.
Commercial projects generate the most capacity -- nearly 1 million kilowatts, or almost 70 percent of the total. But there are far more residential installations -- 28,167, or 85 percent of all projects in the state. About 760 schools, municipalities and other government facilities have solar-energy systems.
Those who installed solar panels received about $364 million in rebates, but almost 90 percent of these were given through the Customer On-Site Renewable Energy Program that ended Dec. 31, 2008. Today, the greatest incentive is through the use of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates. These provide home owners and businesses with payment for the solar energy their systems generate.
Yablonsky said solar-energy systems in New Jersey would get a further boost if the state set a floor for SRECs and offered a tax incentive. New York provides bonus rebate incentives for solar in areas where the electricity grid is overstressed, in an effort to help stabilize the grid and reduce costs for repairs and expansion.
As of the end of January, another 7,200 solar-energy projects, with a total capacity of 356,000 kilowatts, were pending statewide. Only 34 of those are to supply power directly to the grid, but those projects comprise the lion's share of additional capacity -- 245,000 kilowatts.