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Solar Hot Spots and Clean Energy Potential Pinpointed in New Maps

Climate

How will Los Angeles County prepare for a warmer future? And what role could clean energy investments play?

A joint project of Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and UCLA Luskin Center for InnovationLos Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report (LASER)—provides new data designed to help the public and policymakers prepare for the effects of climate change, from current environmental health risks to estimated temperature increases and climate change vulnerability throughout the region. It can also be used by communities to help identify opportunities to invest in projects that will create renewable energy jobs and cut electricity bills.

Source: UCLA Luskin Center, “Los Angeles County

Solar Atlas” (2011). UCLA used and modified data from the Los Angeles County Chief Information Office, the
Los Angeles County Solar Map. http://solarmap.lacounty.gov. Disadvantaged communities are outlined in grey lines and identified per California Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, “California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool Version 2.0” (2014). http://oehha.ca.gov/ej/ces2.html.

“The project is timely because with new state funding sources becoming available, LASER can help inform how the region invests resources to address pressing environmental challenges while providing job opportunities in its most impacted communities,” said Colleen Callahan, lead author of the study and deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.

The data-driven mapping tool, by parcel-level analysis, illustrates the area’s renewable energy potential through rooftop solar energy generation and energy efficiency measures. L.A. County presently has about 98 percent of its solar capacity untapped. The tool points out that if the county achieved only 10 percent of its rooftop solar potential, it would generate 47,000 jobs and cut almost 2.5 million tons of CO2 emissions each year.

The release today of the newest version of LASER is part of UCLA's "Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles" project, which sets a goal for the region to use solely renewable energy and local water by 2050, and a response to President Obama’s Climate Data Initiative, which calls for leveraging public data to stimulate collaboration and innovation in support of national climate change preparedness.

LASER was highlighted in a White House announcement emphasizing ongoing efforts to broadly advance the initiative. “Through his Climate Data Initiative, President Obama is calling for all hands on deck to unleash data and technology in ways that will make businesses and communities more resilient to climate change,” said John P. Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor. “The commitments being announced today answer that call.”

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

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"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."