Which US cities are leading in solar power adoption? Which are leading on a solar power installed per capita basis? We’ve got answers to both questions thanks to a report from Environment America earlier this year.
Solar Power Growth per Capita in Top US Cities
First, though, let’s take a look at the chart below, which shows the growing tally of US cities that have installed 50W of solar PV power capacity per capita. These “Solar Stars” went from 8 in 2014 to 15 by 2016 to 26 by 2020, and they rose to 34 in 2022. This is based on an annual survey of the 56 biggest cities in the country. The report adds that “15 recorded a tenfold increase in their solar capacity between 2014 and 2022.”
Okay, now let’s get to the top cities!
Top US Solar Cities — Solar Power per Capita
Environment America also shows the top cities in terms of total installed solar power capacity. However, I’m always a big fan of relative rankings and I’m primarily interested in the solar power per capita data. Here’s a chart of the leaders:
It’s not surprising to see Honolulu topping the ranking. Hawaii has long been a solar power leader. However, the gap between it and #2 Las Vegas is HUGE. That was not expected. Furthermore, the gap between Las Vegas and #3 San Diego is also HUGE. Apparently, it’s a whole different ballgame in those two cities than in the rest of the United States.
Naturally, a few more Western cities are sprinkled throughout the top 10 — another Californian city, one in New Mexico, one in Texas, and one in Arizona. There’s not a single city from the Sunshine State, however. Instead, Vermont’s got a city on the board. Vermont. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me, though, is that New Orleans made the top 10. New Orleans, and Louisiana more generally, is not a place I think of when I think of solar power leadership.
You can actually have a look at the top 19 cities in terms of solar power capacity per capita via the following table from the report:
If you’re curious about the city ranking for total installed solar power (not per capita), here’s a table on that ranking and related data:
Oh, wow, we’ve got a Florida city on that ranking! Kudos to Jacksonville.
A top highlight from the authors of the report is as follows: “Our eighth survey of solar energy in America’s biggest cities finds that the amount of solar power installed in just nine U.S. cities exceeds the amount installed in the entire United States 10 years ago.”
Here’s one more: “Of the 56 cities surveyed in all eight editions of this report, 15 recorded a tenfold increase in their solar capacity between 2014 and 2022.”
US solar power has certainly grown by leaps and bounds in the past decade, and these cities have been a large part of the story.
Environment America also provides some useful input on how to keep the solar revolution going or even accelerate it, from the perspective of a city or county municipality, from the perspective of a state government, and from the perspective of a federal government: “To take advantage of the nation’s vast solar energy potential and move America toward 100% renewable energy, city, state and federal governments should adopt a series of strong pro-solar policies.
Local governments should, among other things:
- Establish goals for 100% renewable energy and create roadmaps and programs to meet those goals.
- Adopt Solar Automated Permit Processing (SolarAPP+), a fast, automated online permitting system developed by the Department of Energy and available free of charge for local governments.
- Expand access to solar energy to apartment dwellers, low-income residents, small businesses and nonprofits through community solar projects, virtual net metering and third-party financing options such as power purchase agreements (PPAs).
- Implement policies that support energy storage, electric vehicle smart charging and microgrids.
State governments should, among other things:
- Adopt and preserve strong interconnection and net metering policies that support, not punish, solar adoption.
- Set a target of using 100% renewable energy, put a plan in place to reach that goal, and encourage utilities to pursue a 100% renewable energy supply.
- Encourage solar energy installations through incentives such as rebate programs, green bonds, Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) financing, tax credits and financing programs such as low- or zero-interest loans.
The federal government should, among other things:
- Continue and expand financing support for solar energy, particularly the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which currently provides a 26% tax credit for the cost of installing solar panels. The credit should be restored to 30% and extended to apply to energy storage systems, such as stand-alone batteries.
- Continue to support research to drive solar power innovations, such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.”
Solar Change is People Powered
We could close there, but it may be useful to write a bit more. The leading solar cities above are not on the top of the charts due to luck, and not even because of great solar resources (hello, Burlington). Aside from some very helpful federal policies supporting solar energy, strong state policies in Hawaii, California, and other states helped some of their cities rise to the top of the list. Those policies were put in place by people working hard on the state level to support solar, or climate-friendly policies in general. Without a doubt, many of those people got hardly any acknowledgement for their work, yet helped tremendously to move the world forward. Similarly, on the local level, various policies can and do stimulate further growth.
One of my favorite solutions and opportunities on the local level in recent years was the introduction of SolarAPP+. There are still countless cities around the country that could adopt SolarAPP+ and see their solar installations increase as a result. Take the idea to your local policymakers and see what you can do.
Related story and podcast: Improving Solar Permitting — New Solution Makes It Quicker, Easier, & Much Cheaper
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