California’s Solar Cities 2012

Leaders in the Race Toward a Clean Energy Future

California’s solar market is thriving. Ten years ago, solar panels atop roofs were a rarity. Today, solar is taking hold in cities across the state, from coastal metropolises to agricultural and industrial hubs in the Central Valley. This report provides a snapshot of the development of California’s solar market partway through the year 2011, quantifying the amount of solar power installed by city and recommending further steps toward a clean energy future


California’s solar market is thriving. Ten years ago, solar panels atop roofs were a rarity. Today, solar is taking hold in cities across the state, from coastal metropolises to agricultural and industrial hubs in the Central Valley. In the past two years alone, the solar industry has installed more than 5,000 kilowatts of solar power in each of 10 different California cities.*

Solar energy makes sense for California. Each new solar panel helps to clean our air, fight global warming, improve the reliability of our electricity grid, boost the economy, and create much-needed jobs.

California has just begun to tap into the vast potential of solar energy. Governments, utilities and the public should continue to work together toward a clean energy future.

Solar cities are the heart of California’s thriving solar market.

  • San Diego leads all California cities in terms of the number of solar installations on residential, commercial and government buildings, with more than 4,500 projects installed. San Diego also leads the state in terms of overall solar generation capacity, with nearly 37 megawatts (MW). (See Table ES-1.) If San Diego were a nation unto itself, it would rank among the top 25 nations in the world in terms of solar capacity, with more solar power than the entire nation of Mexico.
  • Los Angeles ranks second, with more than 4,000 solar installations adding up to more than 36 MW of power generation capacity.
  • San Jose ranks third, with more than 2,700 solar installations and 31 MW of solar electric generation capacity.
  • In addition, San Francisco, Fresno, Bakersfield, Santa Rosa, Roseville, Clovis, Sacramento and Oakland all have more than 1,000 solar installations. In terms of generation capacity, Fresno, San Francisco, Bakersfield, Sacramento, and Santa Rosa all have more than 10 MW installed.

California’s solar market is geographically diverse. Solar installations are taking hold from coastal urban centers to mountain communities to towns in the Central Valley. (See Tables ES-2 and ES-3.)

  • Among cities with at least 50,000 residents, Santa Cruz, Clovis, Rocklin, Davis, Watsonville, and Roseville have the most solar installations per resident. Chico, Woodland, Rancho Cordova, Livermore, and Petaluma have the most solar generation capacity per resident.
  • Among large towns, with between 10,000 and 50,000 residents, Sonoma (Sonoma County), Grass Valley (Nevada County) and Auburn (Placer County) have the most solar installations per resident. Sonoma, Auburn and Oroville (Butte County) lead in terms of solar capacity per resident.
  • Solar has reached its greatest penetration per capita in the northern Bay Area, the Sierra foothills, and the Central Valley. The small towns of Sebastopol (Sonoma County), Newcastle (Placer County), and Nevada City (Nevada County) lead the state in terms of number of solar installations per resident. Herald (Sacramento County), Edwards Air Force Base (Kern County), and Lebec (Kern County) lead the state in terms of solar capacity per capita.

Despite the development of thriving solar markets in cities across the state, California has only just begun to capture its tremendous potential for solar power.

  • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the state could host more than 80,000 MW of rooftop solar in total – enough to generate more than a third as much electricity as California uses in a year.
  • Through 2011, California has installed more than 1,000 MW of solar capacity on residential and commercial rooftops. Despite this substantial progress, vast potential remains to be developed.

California should continue to build the strength of its solar energy market. Key steps include:

  • Ensure that the Million Solar Roofs Initiative reaches its goal by the end of 2016.
  • Increase the use of solar energy systems in new construction by requiring all new homes to include solar power or other on-site renewable electricity generation by no later than 2020, and all new non-residential buildings by no later than 2030, through a net-zero energy building code requirement.
  • Adopt a strong feed-in-tariff policy to encourage solar power installation on warehouses, parking lots and other sites with low on-site energy demands but high levels of sunshine.
  • Maintain or enhance the incentive value of net metering and lift the cap on its use to allow all California ratepayers to benefit from going solar.
  • Remove barriers to installing solar energy systems at the local and state levels by streamlining interconnection and permitting.
  • Finally, California should continue to set ambitious clean energy goals – such as Governor Jerry Brown’s goal of installing 12,000 MW of distributed electricity generation in California by 2020 – and adopt innovative policies to achieve them.

Calculating Cities’ Solar Installations and Generation Capacity

This report documents the number of grid-connected solar electric systems installed in California and their total electric generation capacity on a city-by-city basis. It focuses on solar photovoltaic installations that by and large are owned by ratepayers or third-party financing companies, as opposed to an electric utility, and are located on or near buildings throughout the state.

The report compiles solar energy installation data from the California Energy Commission, California Public Utilities Commission, the California Center for Sustainable Energy, and the state’s private and public utilities. The data represent the most recent available information from each source at the time of data collection, covering a time period through no later than the close of August 2011. For more details, see the Methodology section.

*All solar capacity figures in this report are presented in terms of alternating current watts, measured under California Energy Commission PTC test conditions, unless otherwise noted.