Shining Cities 2017: Driving the Growth of Solar Energy from the Local Level

Solar energy is booming across America. Our new report, Shining Cities 2017, is the fourth edition in our series ranking U.S. cities by installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity. On average, the cities in this report have nearly tripled their solar energy capacity just since 2014 when we began collecting data for this series. This rapid growth is astonishing, but makes sense given the declining cost of solar energy technologies, which allow us to make use of abundant, free, clean energy.

The top Shining Cities are not necessarily those with the most sunshine, but are those with smart local and state policies to encourage solar energy growth. This is reflected in the diversity and geographic spread of the top Shining Cities - from New York City to New Orleans, Indianapolis to Albuquerque, and Honolulu to Portland, Oregon.

U.S. Cities by Cumulative Installed Solar PV Capacity, End of 2016

The cities in this report offer examples for how communities can drive the growth of solar energy from the local level. The leading Shining Cities tend to be places that have set ambitious goals for renewable or solar energy development and have created plans to achieve them. San Francisco, for instance, has committed to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2020 and in pursuit of that goal, now requires that all new buildings be constructed with solar energy systems installed.

Non-hardware costs, like zoning and permitting, currently make up about two-thirds of the cost of residential solar systems, so reforming these local processes is essential for allowing solar energy to develop. Kansas City was recognized in 2016 for doing this by making its solar energy permitting process available completely online and for updating its building code to make sense for solar energy installations.

Making solar energy available to all residents allows it to take off as quickly as possible. In 2016, Baltimore created financing and loan programs that make solar energy accessible to low-income households, nonprofits and small businesses. New York and other leading cities have made solar energy available to customers that cannot install their own solar panels, like apartment dwellers, through power purchase agreements. In 2016, residents and local groups in Athens, Georgia, collectively purchased solar panels through a “Solarize” program, driving down the cost for everyone involved.

Communities across America are benefitting from solar energy growth through policies and programs like these, but some utilities and fossil fuel interests are working to slow this progress. In 2016 alone, 28 states proposed or passed changes to their net-metering [AD1] rules. These crucial policies ensure that solar energy customers are fairly compensated for the excess energy they send back to the grid. While most of these proposals were defeated, several of the cities highlighted in this year’s report have seen momentum toward solar energy slow due to recent policy shifts.

As Shining Cities 2017 demonstrates, citizens and communities are recognizing the value of generating clean, affordable energy right where they live. These leading cities are making smart changes, right at the local level, to make sure that nothing stands in the way of their citizens utilizing this valuable resource. Their inspirational example can serve as a model for cities and towns across America.