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Report: America could power itself 100 times over with solar energy

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 19: Solar panels cover the employee parking lot on the Patagonia corporate headquarters campus in Ventura, California on Friday, September 19, 2014. (Photo by David Walter Banks/For The Washington Post)

It is widely known that among all the sources of alternative energy, the one with the greatest potential is solar. How could it be otherwise? Staggering amounts of solar radiation strike the Earth each day; the only trick is capturing more of it.

In a new report, the Environment America Research and Policy Center seeks to visualize and quantify this potential as it pertains to the United States. The report argues that the U.S. "has the potential to produce more than 100 times as much electricity from solar PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) installations as the nation consumes each year." It adds that every single state could generate more solar electricity than its residents currently consume.

Here's a visualization, showing states that can get 1 to 5 times their current energy needs from solar, states that can get 5 to 25 times their energy, states that can get 25 to 100 times what they're using, and states that can get over 100 times their current needs:

The map above, notes the report, was created by comparing technical estimates of solar potential from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory with state level electricity sales data from the Energy Information Administration.

The report also suggests that 35 million homes and businesses could potentially install solar on their roofs:

Here again, the map is based on data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which laid out the percentage of potential rooftops that could host solar panels in various climates.

Granted, it is not that all of this solar potential will necessarily ever be exploited. But then again, we only need to exploit some of it. "It’s technically achievable, and we only have to capture a fraction of it, one hundredth of it to get all of our current electricity needs," says Environment America's energy program director Rob Sargent.

“It’s an ambitious goal, but achievable if Congress and the states continue to support smart, effective public policies such as the solar investment tax credit, net energy metering and renewable portfolio standards," said Ken Johnson, the vice president of communication at the Solar Energy Industries Association, of the new study. "By next year, for the first time, solar will be providing more than one percent of America’s total electricity needs, and our growth trajectory looks very promising."