America’s Shining Cities 2016

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Originally published on the ECOreport.

Cities are a driving force behind the U.S. adoption of solar energy. According to Environment California, the United States currently has 27 GW of installed solar capacity, and much of that comes from more than 780,000 rooftops around the nations. Cities are not just centers of demand, but are also potentially major providers of electricity. Those are a few of the facts found in America’s Shining Cities 2016.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 10.43.20 AM

Shining Cities Leading America To 100%

If its “solar farms both inside and outside city limits” were included, San Antonio would easily surpass Los Angeles (215 MW) and head the list with 500 megawatts of solar energy. Instead, the Texas city is #7.

San Diego, second for the third year in a row with 189 MW, has set a target of 100% renewable energy use citywide by 2035.

“Rooftop solar will contribute nearly 20 percent of that goal. We can’t get there without it. Thus, we support any and all policies and programs to let the sun shine through and let solar beam from every rooftop and parking lot possible throughout our region,” said Nicole Capretz, Executive Director of the Climate Action Campaign.

Las Vegas, #10, is leading by example by installing “a total of 6.2 MW of solar electric capacity on 37 public buildings, community centers, fire stations and parks, including a 3.3 MW generating station at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.”

Table 1: Top 20 Solar Cities by Total Installed Solar PV Capacity, End of 2015 - Courtesy Shining Cities 2016

Setback in Nevada

This is also the scene of a recent setback to the industry. Last December, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission gave state utilities the go ahead to triple their fixed charges for solar customers and slash net metering credits by three-quarters. The average customer could be facing another $8,000 to $9,000 in charges during the life of their system.

The number of solar applications consequently dropped 93% in Southern Nevada. Summerlin Energy Las Vegas has gone out of business. Solar City, Sunrun and Vivint have all announced they are ceasing operations in Nevada.

Solar Energy Is At A Tipping Point

Table 2: The “Solar Stars” (Cities with 50 or More Watts of Solar PV per Person, End of 2015) - Courtesy Shining Cities 2016

“American solar energy is at a tipping point. We are nearing the threshold where solar power is cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels, and the conditions are in place for mass adoption of solar energy. Across the country, utilities and fossil fuel interests are fighting to slow the progress of solar energy. The outcome of those battles – taking place now in cities and states across the country – will determine how rapidly our cities and the rest of the nation can reap the benefits of the solar revolution.”

The key to advancement is policies, on the local, state, and national levels.

Solar Potential Of America’s Cities

A recent study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory gave us a glimpse of the true solar potential of America’s cities:

California has the greatest potential to offset electricity use—its rooftop PV could generate 74% of the electricity sold by its utilities in 2013. A cluster of New England states could generate more than 45% because these states’ low per-capita electricity consumption offsets their below-average solar resource. Washington, with the lowest population-weighted solar resource in the continental United States, could still generate 27%. Some states with below-average solar resource (such as Minnesota, Maine, New York, and South Dakota) have similar or even greater potential to offset total sales compared to states with higher-quality resource (such as Arizona and Texas).

Though Los Angeles presently leads the nation with 215 MW of installed capacity, its rooftops offer the potential for  9 GW. New York follows close behind, with a potential capacity of 8.6 GW. Chicago and  San Antonio have room for over 6 GW, and there are nine other U.S. cities whose rooftops have room for 2 GW of capacity.

America Needs To Adopt Strong Solar Policies

Screen-Shot-2016-04-10-at-8.23.52-AM-e1460310269551The authors of Shining Cities 2016 state that for this potential to be reachable, America needs to adopt strong solar policies.

  • On the local level, counties and communities should implementing programs like “installing solar energy systems on government buildings, and urging state and federal officials and investor-owned utilities to facilitate that expansion.”
  • State governments need to set ambitious goals “and adopt policies to meet them. It is critical that states have strong policies, such as net metering, to fairly compensate owners of solar energy systems for the energy they supply to the grid. States can also enact strong renewable electricity standards with solar carve-outs, community solar legislation, tax credits for solar energy, and public benefits charges on electricity bills to raise funds for solar energy programs, as well as promote solar programs for low-income households. State governments should also use their role as the primary regulators of electric utilities to encourage utility investments in solar energy and implement rate structures that maximize the benefits of solar energy to consumers.”
  • The federal government should open up federal tax credits for solar energy so that nonprofit organizations, housing authorities and others presently not eligible can benefit from those incentives. The Government also needs to provide more funding for research, development and deployment programs that will speed up the option of solar.

Photo Credits: All images taken from Environment California’s study of America’s Shining Cities 2016

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Roy L Hales

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

Roy L Hales has 441 posts and counting. See all posts by Roy L Hales

2 thoughts on “America’s Shining Cities 2016

  • Let’s come clean and ask for total MW used by the city as well.

    • Getting a percentage for RE in a city would give a better idea of the opportunity. Nevada has the theoretical capacity and empty land to supply enough solar power for the entire electrical grid demand of the USA. Capacity does not equate to anything. Making it cost-effective to put PV on your roof makes it happen.

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