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Solar power grew at a record-breaking pace in 2015. The United States now has more than 27,000 megawatts (MW) of cumulative solar electric capacity, enough to power more than 5.4 million American homes. Hundreds of thousands of Americans – especially in our cities – have invested in solar panels on their roofs or solar projects in their communities, and millions more are ready to join them.
America’s major cities have played a key role in the clean energy revolution and stand to reap tremendous benefits from solar energy. As population centers, they are major sources of electricity demand, and with millions of rooftops suitable for solar panels, they have the potential to be major sources of clean energy as well.
As of the end of 2015, 20 cities – representing just 0.1 percent of U.S. land area – accounted for 6 percent of U.S. solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity. The 64 cities in this report have installed over 1,700 MW of solar PV capacity – nearly as much solar power as the entire country had installed at the end of 2010. Los Angeles leads the nation in total installed solar PV capacity, followed by San Diego, Phoenix, Honolulu and San Jose. (See Table ES-1.)
Table ES-1: Top 20 Solar Cities by Total Installed Solar PV Capacity, End of 2015*
*This includes all solar PV capacity (rooftop and utility-scale solar installations) within the city limits of each city. It does not include solar power installed in the extraterritorial jurisdictions of some cities, nor does it include solar power installed by or under contract to municipal utilities outside of city limits. 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 2015 (MW)
The cities with the most solar PV installed per capita 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 Albuquerque are the top five cities in the nation for installed solar PV capacity per person. (See Figure ES-2 and Table ES-2.) Between 2014 and 2015, Burlington, Riverside, Las Vegas and Los Angeles joined the ranks of the Solar Stars.
Table ES-2: The “Solar Stars” (Cities with 50 or More Watts of Solar PV per Person, End of 2015)
Figure ES-2: U.S. Cities by Per Capita Installed Solar PV Capacity, End of 2015 (Watts Per Person)
Regional leaders for per capita solar capacity include Honolulu in the Pacific region, Albuquerque in the Mountain region, Indianapolis in the North Central region, New Orleans in the South Central region, Wilmington, Delaware, in the South Atlantic region and Newark, New Jersey, in the Northeast region.
America’s leading solar cities are those that have adopted strong pro-solar public policies or that are located within states that have done so. Among the most important steps cities have taken to advance solar energy are:
In addition, cities with strong policies to compensate consumers for the solar energy they supply to the grid – such as net metering – are often leaders in solar development. Like rollover minutes on a cell phone bill, net metering gives renewable energy customers fair credit on their utility bills for the excess clean power they deliver to the grid. This simple billing arrangement is one of the most important state policies for clearing the way for customer investment in solar. Many of the leading solar cities and three out of four new “Solar Stars” have net metering policies that rank among the nation’s best.
Attacks by utilities and fossil fuel interests on net metering have the potential to remove some cities from solar leadership. For example, the controversial December 2015 decision by the Nevada Public Utility Commission to weaken net metering policies jeopardizes Las Vegas’ status as a solar energy leader.
U.S. cities have only begun to tap their solar energy potential. Cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and San Antonio have the technical potential to generate tens to hundreds of times more solar energy than they currently do, according to a recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analysis of rooftop solar potential. By maintaining strong pro-solar public policies, these and other cities can continue to lead America toward a future of 100 percent clean, renewable energy.
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 electricity generation. To achieve the nation’s full solar potential: