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.
Solar energy is expanding rapidly across the United States – increasing more than 100-fold over the past decade. But, there are still many untapped opportunities to harness the nation’s nearly limitless solar potential. The United States has the technical potential to produce more than 100 times as much electricity from solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) installations as the nation consumes each year. Given our abundant solar resources, America must take advantage of untapped opportunities to install solar technologies – like using rooftops of large superstores and “big box” retail stores as hosts for clean electricity generation.
Solar power is on the rise – nationally, installed solar capacity grew by 30% in 2014 alone. Environment Oregon is currently working to pass five-year solar installation targets in five cities (Eugene, Ashland, Corvallis, Lake Oswego, and Milwaukie) and the commensurate policies to aid in meeting these targets. So far, over 90 local businesses and hundreds of local residents have endorsed bold solar targets in their cities.
Solar targets proposed by Environment Oregon represent a combined 245% increase in solar power in the cities over five years, or the equivalent of more than 3,000 residential solar rooftops (city-specific data below). If Oregon increased installed solar capacity at the same rate, it would be the equivalent of 28,000 new solar rooftops statewide in the next five years.
As a result of global warming, young Americans today are growing up in a different climate than their parents and grandparents experienced. It is warmer than it used to be. Storms pack more of a punch. Rising seas increasingly flood low-lying land. Large wildfires have grown bigger, more frequent and more expensive to control. People are noticing changes in their own backyards, no matter where they live.
Pollution from burning coal, oil and gas is the primary cause of global warming. Without urgent action to reduce global warming pollution, children born today will grow up in a more dangerous world.
We can protect our children from the most harmful impacts of global warming by reducing carbon pollution and shifting to cleaner sources of energy. The United States has a critical window of opportunity to lead the world in this effort.
Environment Oregon Research and Policy Center is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to getting things done.