Shining Cities 2019

Cities across America are rapidly adopting solar energy - read on to find out how highly your city ranks. Wherever you live, solar energy is helping to clean the air, lower costs for residents and tackle global warming. Solar energy is at a tipping point. The cost of solar energy is plummeting, poising solar energy for mass-adoption. But attacks by the fossil fuel industry and some utilties are threatening this promise. Cities, states and the federal government need to maintain and enact strong policies to allow solar energy to rise above the horizon.

Abigail Bradford

Policy Analyst

Jonathan Sundby

Policy Associate

Note: A more recent version of this report is available.

Solar power is expanding rapidly. The United States now has over 60 gigawatts (GW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity installed – enough to power nearly one in every 11 homes in America. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have invested in solar energy 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 production as well.

Our sixth annual survey of solar energy in America’s biggest cities finds that the amount of solar power installed in just 20 U.S. cities exceeds the amount installed in the entire United States at the end of 2010. Of the 57 cities surveyed in all six editions of this report, 79 percent more than doubled their total installed solar PV capacity between 2013 and 2018.

To continue America’s progress toward renewable energy, cities, states and the federal government should adopt strong policies to make it easy for homeowners, businesses and utilities to “go solar.”

The cities with the most solar PV installed per resident are the “Solar Stars” – cities with 50 or more watts of solar PV capacity installed per capita. In 2013, only eight of the cities surveyed for this report had enough solar PV per capita to be ranked as “Solar Stars,” but now 23 cities have earned the title.

Figure ES-1. The Number of “Solar Stars” (Cities with >50W of Solar PV per Capita) in Each Edition of Shining Cities

Honolulu leads the United States for solar power per person among cities surveyed, followed by San Diego, San Jose and Burlington, Vermont. All of the “Solar Stars” have experienced dramatic growth in solar energy and are setting the pace nationally for solar energy development.

Figure ES-2. Major U.S. Cities by Installed Solar PV Capacity Per Capita, End of 2018 (Watts per Person)

Table ES-1. The “Solar Stars” (Cities with 50 or More Watts of Solar PV per Person, End of 2018)

Per Capita Rank City State Per Capita Solar PV Installed (Watts-DC/person)ǂ Change in Per Capita Rank 2017 to 2018 Total Solar PV Installed (MW-DC) Total Solar PV Rank
1 Honolulu HI 646.4 0 226.5 4
2 San Diego CA 247.5 0 351.4 2
3 San Jose CA 194.9 0 201.7 5
4 Burlington VT 187.3 +1 7.9 37
5 Las Vegas NV 162.2 +1 104.1 9
6 Phoenix AZ 145.3 +1 236.2 3
7 Indianapolis IN 143.5 -3 123.8 8
8 Riverside CA 138.3 +1 45.3 16
9 Denver CO 129.6 -1 91.4 10
10 Albuquerque NM 128.9 +2 72.0 11
11 Salt Lake City UT 126.9 -1 25.5 21
12 San Antonio TX 123.6 -1 186.9 7
13 New Orleans LA 107.3 0 42.2 18
14 Los Angeles CA 105.0 +1 419.9 1
15 Washington DC 91.7 +2 63.6 12
16 Newark NJ 88.6 0 25.3 22
17 Sacramento* CA 84.4 -3 42.3 17
18 Charleston SC 75.5 N/A 10.2 34
19 Jacksonville FL 62.1 +2 55.4 13
20 San Francisco CA 57.8 -2 51.1 14
21 Boston MA 54.6 -2 37.4 19
22 Austin* TX 53.2 +1 50.6 15
23 Hartford CT 50.1 +4 6.2 42

ǂ Throughout the report, includes all solar PV capacity (rooftop and utility-scale solar installations) within the city limits of each city. Does not include solar power installed in the extraterritorial jurisdictions of cities, even those installed by or under contract to municipal utilities. See Methodology for an explanation of how these rankings were calculated. See Appendix B for city-specific sources of data.
* Due to an improvement in methodology or data sourcing for this city, total and per capita solar PV capacity reported in this table are not directly comparable with estimates for this city in previous editions of this report. See Appendix B for details on specific cities.

One-third of the 57 cities surveyed in all six editions of this report more than quadrupled their installed solar PV capacity from 2013 to 2018.

Los Angeles leads the nation in total installed solar PV capacity among the 69 cities surveyed in this report, as it did from 2013 to 2015 and in 2017, after briefly being topped by San Diego in 2016. Since 2016, Los Angeles has added over 150 MW of solar capacity. (See Table ES-2.)

Figure ES-3. Major U.S. Cities by Total Installed Solar PV Capacity, End of 2018 (MW)

Table ES-2. Top 20 Shining Cities by Total Installed Solar PV Capacity, End of 2018

Total Solar PV Rank City State Total Solar PV Installed (MW-DC) Rooftop Solar PV Potential on Small Buildings (MW)ǂ Per Capita Rank Per Capita Solar PV Installed (Watts-DC/person)
1 Los Angeles CA 419.9 5,444 14 105.0
2 San Diego CA 351.4 2,219 2 247.5
3 Phoenix AZ 236.2 2,981 6 145.3
4 Honolulu HI 226.5 N/A 1 646.4
5 San Jose CA 201.7 1,639 3 194.9
6 New York NY 200.0 1,277 36 23.2
7 San Antonio TX 186.9 3,721 12 123.6
8 Indianapolis IN 123.8 N/A 7 143.5
9 Las Vegas NV 104.1 946 5 162.2
10 Denver CO 91.4 677 9 129.6
11 Albuquerque NM 72.0 1,252 10 128.9
12 Washington DC 63.6 344 15 91.7
13 Jacksonville FL 55.4 1,715 19 62.1
14 San Francisco CA 51.1 672 20 57.8
15 Austin* TX 50.6 1,443 22 53.2
16 Riverside CA 45.3 612 8 138.3
17 Sacramento* CA 42.3 777 17 84.4
18 New Orleans LA 42.2 1,277 13 107.3
19 Boston MA 37.4 341 21 54.6
20 Portland OR 31.2 1,397 24 48.2

ǂ Reflects the maximum technical solar PV capacity that could be installed on appropriate small building rooftops in each city. These figures were calculated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE): U.S. DOE, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy State & Local Energy Data, available at Data were unavailable for cities with “N/A” listed.

* Due to an improvement in methodology or data source for this city, total and per capita solar PV capacity reported in this table are not directly comparable with estimates for this city in previous editions of this report. See Appendix B for details on specific cities.

Leading solar cities can be found in every region of the country. Leaders in per capita solar capacity by census region include Honolulu in the Pacific region, Las Vegas in the Mountain region, Indianapolis in the North Central region, San Antonio in the South Central region, Washington, D.C., in the South Atlantic region and Burlington, Vermont, in the Northeast region.

Many smaller cities and towns are also going big on solar energy.

  • Santa Fe, New Mexico, had 19 MW of cumulative solar PV capacity installed as of the end of 2018, equivalent to 225 watts per person. That’s more solar PV capacity per capita than any city on our list other than Honolulu and San Diego.
  • Tallahassee, Florida, has enough solar PV capacity installed (30 MW total and 157 watts per person) to be ranked as a leading “Solar Star.”
  • Trenton, New Jersey, also has enough solar PV capacity installed to be ranked as a “Solar Star.” With New Jersey’s new Community Solar Energy Pilot Program, residents who cannot install their own solar panels will now be able to “go solar” by purchasing electricity from community solar projects.

Fossil fuel interests and some utilities are working to slow the growth of distributed solar energy. Over the past few years, many states have considered or passed cuts to net metering – the critical practice of crediting solar energy customers for the excess energy they supply to the grid. Additionally, some states and utilities are now targeting solar customers with special fees, charges and rate designs in order to reduce the appeal and financial promise of installing solar panels. These changes, such as imposing demand charges and other electric bill fees only on solar customers specifically, could cause solar panel owners to pay as much for electricity as other customers, even though they consume less electricity from the grid.

U.S. cities have only begun to tap their solar energy potential. Some of the cities in this report could generate hundreds of times more solar power than they do today. A National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study estimated that small building rooftops alone are technically capable of hosting enough solar energy to cover the annual electricity needs of more than 121 million American homes – about as many as exist in the U.S. Cities can go even farther by encouraging solar installations on large buildings and stand-alone utility-scale installations.

To take advantage of the nation’s vast solar potential and move America toward an economy powered by 100 percent 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 solar energy adoption and programs to meet those goals.
    • Implement solar access ordinances to protect residents’ right to generate solar energy on their own property.
    • Make permitting, zoning and inspection processes easy, quick and affordable.
    • Expand access to solar energy to apartment dwellers, low-income residents, small businesses and nonprofits through community solar projects and third-party financing options, such as power purchase agreements (PPAs).
    • Implement policies that support energy storage, electric vehicle smart charging and microgrids.
    • Require new homes and buildings to be built with solar panels, or at least be constructed to be “solar-ready.”
    • Support and push for strong state-level solar policies.
  • State governments should, among other things:
    • Set or increase renewable energy targets for utilities to supply 100 percent of their electricity using renewable energy, and adopt specific requirements for solar energy adoption.
    • Adopt and preserve strong statewide interconnection and net metering policies.
    • Ensure that electric rate designs encourage solar adoption.
    • Encourage solar energy installations through rebate programs, tax credits and financing programs such as low or zero interest loans and Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing.
  • The federal government should, among other things:
    • Continue and expand financing support for solar energy, particularly the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which provides a 30 percent tax credit for the cost of installing solar panels. The credit should be extended to apply to energy storage systems, such as home batteries.
    • Continue to support research to drive solar power innovations, such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office.

Abigail Bradford

Policy Analyst

Jonathan Sundby

Policy Associate

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