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Where America Really Stands with Solar

On Earth Day 2010, the United States still gets less than one percent of its energy from solar power. Why? What's taking so long? For decades American leaders have been saying we'll invest more in solar, but we're still waiting.

Rhone Resch, the CEO and President of the Solar Energy Industries Association, says solar possibilities are still bright. He says things are looking up because government policies are becoming more favorable than ever before.

When pressed on why we still don't even get one percent of our energy from solar, Resch said "in 1916 the oil industry received lifetime subsidies and land donations from the U.S. government. But solar subsidies have been slashed. We've never really received full government support." Until now.

New rules adopted during the global economic downturn ended the $2,000 cap on tax deductions for residential solar upgrades in the United States. That helped the residential solar industry double in the last year alone. It also created 17,000 new jobs. The commercial solar industry, energy produced for power installations from solar sources, grew by 37 percent in the last year. Overall the solar industry brought in $4 billion last year and now employs 46,000 Americans.

Resch spent $15,000 to put solar panels on his home in Washington, DC. He now gets $2,800 back each year by selling power back to the grid. His top electricity bill during the year is only $40 a month. It used to be $200. He'll get his full $15,000 investment back in just a few years.

Green Tech - A CNBC Special Report
Green Tech - A CNBC Special Report

Investors clearly still have their doubts. The largest publicly traded residential solar installer's stock is down about eight percent in the last year, Akeena Solar . But outlook for the year ahead is positive, the stock is expected to rise. Resch says while Akeena shares are lower, several other privately held solar players that are currently privately held will go public soon.

In a state by state breakdown California leads the U.S. in solar capacity. New Jersey ranks second, Florida third followed by Arizona, Colorado and Hawaii.

Other major solar stocks include, First Solar, MEMC Electronic Materials, Suntech Power, and Yingli Green Energy.

Comments? Send them to bythenumbers@cnbc.com