The use of solar power is expanding rapidly across the United States. By the end of 2014, the United States had 20,500 megawatts (MW) of cumulative solar electric capacity, enough to power four million average U.S. homes. This success is the outcome of federal, state and local programs that are working in concert to make solar power accessible to more Americans, thereby cleaning our air, protecting our health, and hedging against volatile electricity prices.
America’s major cities have played key roles in the clean energy revolution and stand to reap significant benefits from solar energy adoption. As population centers, they are home to the largest electricity markets and can have an important influence on the way we power our grid. Many cities are already benefitting from smart policies that encourage investment in solar energy.
As of the end of 2014, 20 cities – representing just 0.1 percent of U.S. land area – account for 6.5 percent of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in the United States. The 65 cities in this report have installed 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV capacity – more solar PV than was installed in the entire country at the end of 2009. Los Angeles leads the nation in total installed solar PV capacity, followed by San Diego, Phoenix, Indianapolis and San Jose. (See Figure ES-1 and Table ES-1.)
Table ES-1: Top 20 Solar Cities by Total Installed Solar PV Capacity, End of 2014*
* This includes all solar PV capacity (rooftop and utility-scale solar installations) within the city limits of each city. See methodology for an explanation of how these rankings were calculated. See Appendix B for city-specific sources of data.
Figure ES-1: U.S. Cities by Cumulative Installed Solar PV Capacity, End of 2014
The cities with the most solar PV installed per person are the “Solar Stars” – cities with 50 or more watts of installed solar PV capacity per person. These cities have experienced dramatic growth in solar energy and are setting the pace nationally for solar energy development. Honolulu, Indianapolis, San Jose, San Diego and Wilmington, Delaware, are the top 5 cities in the nation for installed solar PV capacity per person. (See Figure ES-2 and Table ES-2.)
Figure ES-2: U.S. Cities by Per Capita Installed Solar PV Capacity, End of 2014
Table ES-2: The “Solar Stars” (Cities with 50 or More Watts of Solar PV per Person, End of 2014)
Cities were also divided into U.S. Census sub-regions and ranked by solar PV capacity installed per person. New cities stand out when categorized and ranked by U.S. region. Regional leaders are Honolulu in the Pacific region, Denver in the Mountain region, Indianapolis in the North Central regions, New Orleans in the South Central regions, Wilmington, Delaware in the South Atlantic region, and Newark, New Jersey in the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions.
Table ES-3: Top Two U.S. Cities by Region by Per Capita Installed Solar PV Capacity, End of 2014
Solar power makes sense for cities. Solar power reduces the threat to cities posed by global warming, cuts down on toxic air pollution, fortifies cities against severe weather events and boosts local economies:
Cities can reap the benefits of clean, solar energy by adopting pro-solar policies and taking actions that will encourage innovation and investment in the solar industry. Many leading cities have successfully built their solar energy markets with local government policies. Some leading cities are in states that have taken state-level action to promote solar energy adoption. Some of the most effective drivers of solar energy development include:
Strong public policies at every level of government can help the United States continue to harness clean solar energy and overcome legislative and regulatory barriers to distributed generation. To achieve the nation’s full solar potential:
Local governments should follow the lead of top solar cities by setting strong goals for solar energy adoption, implementing programs that promote the rapid expansion of solar energy, and urging state and federal officials and investor-owned utilities to facilitate that expansion.
State governments should set ambitious goals for solar energy adoption and adopt policies to meet them. It is critical that states have strong net metering laws in order to make solar installations accessible and affordable. States can also pass strong renewable portfolio standards with solar carve-outs, community solar legislation, tax credits for solar energy, promote solar programs for low-income households, and establish public benefits charges on electricity bills to raise funds for solar energy programs. 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 continue to provide long-term support for solar power through tax credits, grants to non-profits for solar energy development, and grants to support solar energy deployment on low income housing developments, in addition to other incentives. The federal government should continue to support research, development and deployment efforts designed to reduce the cost of solar energy and to speed the integration of renewables, storage and smart grid technologies into the grid.
It has come to our attention that our report overestimated the solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity within the city of Wilmington, Delaware. We have revised our estimate, leaving Wilmington with the cumulative solar PV capacity of 4.9 megawatts (MW), instead of 7 MW as previously reported, and the per capita solar PV capacity of 68 watts/person, instead of 101 watts/person as previously reported.
This puts Wilmington 9th in our report for solar PV capacity per person, instead of 5th as we had previously reported. It puts the city 35th in cumulative capacity rankings, instead of 28th as previously reported. In the South Atlantic region, Wilmington is still ranked first for per capita solar PV capacity, but the city falls from 4th to 6th for cumulative installed solar PV capacity in the region.