The New Jersey solar market hit a new milestone recently when it eclipsed the 1GW mark for total installed solar electric capacity. This is enough solar electricity to power 139,000 homes. New Jersey now ranks third in the nation in solar energy installations, according to a new study, thanks to declining system prices and the strong, consistent support from the state’s policymakers, including its robust net metering policies and the United States’ first Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) program, an innovative market-based incentive for solar generation.

“U.S. Solar Market Insight: Year-in-Review 2012,” released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research found that New Jersey was responsible for nearly one-third of the nation’s nonresidential (government, business, and nonprofit) solar installations last year. In total, more than 415MW of solar was added to the state’s power grid in 2012, a 33% increase over 2011 (313MW). New Jersey is the third state in the nation to the hit the 1GW solar mark, after California, and Arizona.

New Jersey’s robust net metering laws combined with its solar requirement are the main drivers behind its successful solar market. Add to this the continued dramatic declines in the installed cost of photovoltaics (PV), and New Jersey’s solar industry is providing both in-state jobs — on the order of more than 5,700 — and much needed in-state electricity generation.

“New Jersey policymakers and regulators have consistently been at the forefront, driving the state’s solar market,” said Carrie Hitt, senior VP of state affairs for the SEIA. “Although the New Jersey solar market has seen volatility, we are confident that New Jersey will continue to be a leader, both in innovating policy mechanisms to grow the industry and in installing solar to power homes and businesses.”

Solar is the fastest-growing energy source in the United States. The Solar Market Insight annual edition shows the U.S. installed 3,313MW of solar PV in 2012, a record for the industry.

Due in large part to the falling cost of solar for consumers, the market size of the U.S. solar industry grew 34% from $8.6 billion in 2011 to $11.5 billion in 2012 — not counting billions of dollars in other economic benefits across states and communities. At of the end of 2012, there were 7,221MW of PV and 546MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) online in the U.S. — enough to power 1.2 million homes.