These U.S. Cities Are Leading the Way on Solar Energy

Renewable Energy
Solar panels on the roof of the Los Angeles Convention Center
Solar panels on the roof of the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles has the most solar capacity of any U.S. city. Mario Tama / Getty Images

The Biden administration has set a goal of creating a carbon-free electricity sector in the U.S. by 2035, and expanding solar energy will play an important role in making that possible. 

Now, a new report from the Frontier Group, and the Environment America Research & Policy Center reveals which U.S. cities are leading the way on solar energy. 

“America’s major cities have played a key role in the clean energy revolution and stand to reap tremendous benefits from solar energy,” the report authors wrote. “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.”

The report, Shining Cities 2022, is the eighth report from the two groups to look at solar capacity in U.S. cities. Its findings reflect the major growth in solar energy nationwide. The U.S. now has 121.4 gigawatts of solar capacity, which is enough to supply electricity to more than 23 million homes. Fifteen of the 56 cities surveyed in the report have increased their solar capacity by a factor of 10 between 2014 and 2022. In 2014, only eight cities were considered “solar stars,” meaning they had more than 50 watts of solar capacity per person. Now, 34 cities have reached this milestone. 

“When I think back to when we first released [this report], solar energy was still in the cradle; it was in its infancy in the United States,”  report co-author and senior director for Environment America’s Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy Johanna Neumann told CNN. “And now, this report really just shows how far major cities have come to tapping the immense power of the sun.”

Some cities are shining brighter than others, however. A total of nine cities have more solar panels installed than the entire country did a decade ago. Those cities are Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Honolulu, San Antonio, New York, Phoenix, San Jose and Albuquerque, Grist reported.

The report ranked cities by both their overall solar capacity and their solar capacity per capita. For overall solar capacity, the top 10 cities are:

  1. Los Angeles
  2. San Diego
  3. Las Vegas
  4. Honolulu 
  5. San Antonio
  6. New York
  7. Phoenix
  8. San Jose
  9. Albuquerque
  10. Washington, DC 

“The City of Angels has once again earned the title of the United States’ top Solar Superstar,” Laura Deehan, state director for Environment California Research & Policy Center, said in a statement reported by The Hill. “As Earth Day approaches, I’m struck by how far we’ve come toward tapping the sun’s immense power since this environmental holiday first began back in 1970. L.A.’s leadership on solar to date means a cleaner environment, healthier community and more resilient future.”

For solar capacity per capita, the top 10 are:

  1. Honolulu
  2. Las Vegas
  3. San Diego
  4. Albuquerque
  5. San Jose
  6. San Antonio
  7. Burlington, Vermont 
  8. New Orleans
  9. Phoenix 
  10. Washington, DC 

While many of the top solar cities are located in sunny, warm states, the presence of northeastern cities in the top 10 lists show that climate does not have to limit a city’s solar potential. 

“One of the most critical things on this report,” Neumann told CNN, “is that solar power can meet our needs anywhere… you find cities leading the way on solar, even in the rainy Pacific Northwest or in the snowy Northeast. And the truth is the sun shines down on every city in America, and regardless of how sunny it is, any city can position itself to harvest that abundant, free, non-polluting solar power if they adopt pro-solar policies.”

The report offered suggestions for policies to support solar growth, including making the permitting process easier, expanding community solar projects for people who live in apartments or low-income housing, bolstering research and development and incentivising solar investment through tax credits, rebates and other means, according to Grist. 

Edwin Cowen, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University who was not involved with the report, told CNN that solar growth in the U.S. has been more or less linear so far, when it really needs to be exponential in order to tackle the climate crisis

“Given the geopolitical situation, Ukraine-Russia war, and the role fossil fuels have played currently and historically in geopolitical tensions, it is imperative that the U.S. does all in its power to accelerate the transition to renewables,” he told CNN. “The call for the continuation and expansion of financial support for solar energy, particularly the Solar Investment Tax Credit, is vital.”

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