Los Angeles Could be Solar Powered (Sort of), UCLA Study Finds

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rooftop solar potential los angeles

On the same day that the catastrophic 9.0 earthquake hit Japan, March 11, UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation announced the publication of its “Los Angeles Solar Atlas.” Needless to say, it didn’t get much attention at that time. But it is a very useful and interesting publication, so I thought I’d share some of its key aspects and findings with you today.

Los Angeles Solar Atlas Aims

As the Luskin Center reports, “the atlas is designed to help further the development of Solar in Los Angeles by providing industry professionals and policymakers with fine grained data about sun exposure in their local areas.” It is meant to help both cities and electric companies better understand their rooftop solar potential and provides information for a variety of jurisdictions (40 maps in total).

Each map presents the geographical distribution of solar potential across neighborhoods and parcels. The maps are accompanied by a description of how the solar potential varies across single- and multi-family residences, commercial and industrial parcels, and non-profit and government parcels since the economic benefits and policy incentives may vary accordingly.

Rich with detail, the atlas even includes breakdowns of the probable top grossing addresses by district and by utility. Because cost-effectiveness increases with the size of a solar installation, the atlas also presents, for each jurisdiction, the number of potential solar projects by size as well as the total rooftop potential.

City of Los Angeles Could be Solar-Powered (Sort of)

Some of the key findings from this project were as follows:

  • Nearly 1.5 million rooftops throughout Los Angeles County could be used as solar power generators.
  • On the whole, there’s currently enough potential roof space to create 19,000 MW from rooftop solar.
  • The total rooftop solar potential for the city of Los Angeles is over 5,500 MW, which could power the city on most days. (The highest-ever peak in Los Angeles was 6,177.) Of course, the city must have more power capacity than is needed at peak times.

Update: CleanTechnica reader Bob Wallace adds a very useful point or two to these findings worth reposting here:

“Add parking lot acreage to available rooftop space and LA has way more available PV space than it needs. It can sell some of that extra solar north via the Pacific Intertie and get hydro-produced energy back at night from the Pacific Northwest.”

Limitations of the Solar Atlas

This analysis did not include a detailed study of each individual site. The researchers note that since information about the roofs (i.e. age, materials used, unusable portions, shade from trees) were not collected or analyzed, the results are a general estimate. However, while every rooftop may not be optimized for solar power right now, rooftops need to be replaced and renovated and the estimate created could very closely fit rooftop solar potential 10-15 years out. Thus, the researchers note that it provides a good long-term estimate.

Plus, as a reference point, the atlas provides useful information for people, government agencies, and the solar industry in these areas.

Hopefully other areas will create similar resources and they will induce stronger solar power policies and development.

Available Solar Maps

The full atlas can be downloaded here [PDF — 92 MB], or you can download just the jurisdictions you’re interested in:


Cities and Zones


h/t CalFinder Home Solar

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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