Top Cities for Solar Energy in California (2021)
California is setting the pace for converting to solar energy in the U.S., but some parts of the Golden State lean more toward solar than others. So, what are the top cities for solar in California?
According to a recent report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), California is the top state for solar installation in the U.S., producing nearly 45% of the country's estimated small-scale residential solar energy generation in 2019. Additionally, the total solar investment in the state topped $73.7 billion through the first quarter of 2021.
In this article, we'll break down which California cities are at the forefront of that charge.
Top 10 Cities for Solar in California
When ranking the top cities for solar in California, we considered sources including EIA data on solar power generation; the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's annual solar irradiance report and Solar For All maps; and Environment America's latest Shining Cities report.
Based on the data we collected, the following cities are leading the solar charge in California:
- Los Angeles
- San Diego
- San Jose
- San Francisco
- San Bernardino
- Palm Springs
1. Los Angeles
The City of Angels leads the U.S. in total installed solar PV capacity. According to Environment America, the city has a total installed capacity of 483.8 megawatts, which is enough clean energy to power 134,000 homes and eliminate 280,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. For perspective, that would be like taking more than 60,000 gas-fueled cars off the road.
2. San Diego
Known as one of the most moderate and pleasant climates in the country, there is a reason why San Diego is No. 2 on our list of top cities for solar in California. With consistent sunshine year-round, this city is an attractive location for homes to have solar panels, which explains why it has the second-most total installed solar PV capacity of any place in the U.S., right behind LA.
3. San Jose
Ranking at No. 3 within the state and No. 7 in the nation, San Jose residents have embraced solar energy. Not only is solar cleaner than traditional energy offerings from the leading local utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), but it is also cheaper. Plus, since summers are long, arid, warm and mostly clear, the city is ideally suited to truly harness the power of solar.
As the capital of California, the majority of renewable energy policy comes out of this city, so it's no shock Sacramento has landed itself a spot on our top 10 list. The state also ranks No. 16 in the country for total installed solar PV capacity, likely due in part to the city's Mediterranean-like climate with plentiful sunshine, dry summers and mild winters.
5. San Francisco
Currently, San Francisco is pursuing the robust goal of achieving a 100% renewable energy supply by 2030. And while most people associate San Francisco as an area besieged by fog, the City by the Bay actually became the first major locale to mandate rooftop solar panels on any newly constructed building.
Located in California's Central Valley, Fresno is popular for its agricultural prowess and its extensive farmland. One reason this area is so prosperous in fruit and vegetable production is that sunlight abounds, which also makes the city well-positioned to benefit from solar energy. In fact, according to NREL maps, it has one of the highest potentials for residential solar capacity in the state.
7. San Bernardino
Saddled due east of Los Angeles alongside one of the most famous roads in the U.S. — Route 66 — San Bernardino is known for its wealth of water, contained in underground aquifers. But it also has plenty of sun. What's more, NREL maps show the area has an above-average number of buildings suitable for solar installation.
Southeast of San Bernardino is Riverside. The city is known for its robust citrus industry and was built around the production of the sweet and zesty navel orange. Sunshine lends its hand to the growing of this delicious fruit, which explains why Riverside takes its place in the top 20 solar cities in the nation and the top 10 in California.
9. Palm Springs
Recognized as the Golf Capital of the World, Palm Springs offers visitors and residents alike abundant sunshine year-round. Of course, some seasons in Palm Springs are easier to manage than others. As Palm Springs is in the desert, the hot sun bakes the area during summertime. While the heat can be brutal, the upside is that residents can save big on utility bills by turning the sun's energy into usable electricity for their homes.
Just north of Los Angeles, Bakersfield soaks up the Southern California sunshine year-round. In fact, the city boasts an average of 272 sunny days throughout the year. Thus, the city's potential for solar energy generation is sky high, as shown on NREL's Solar For All maps.
Where Solar Panels Work Best
Overall, cities that are well-suited for solar energy typically share a few commonalities. Firstly, for solar power to be advantageous, the region must receive plentiful sunlight. In California, sunshine prevails throughout most of the year; this explains why the Golden State is a leader when it comes to having so many solar energy-producing cities.
What's more is that energy costs tend to be significant in California, which gives residents more benefit when considering switching to solar energy. Ultimately, when energy costs are high, solar power value is enhanced. Where electrical costs are moderate, homeowners don't get as large a return on their solar energy investment.
Average California Electricity Costs
According to the EIA, the average monthly electric bill for a California resident is $101.92, with average monthly consumption totaling 532 kWh. The price per kilowatt equals 19.15 cents. When compared to other states in the Pacific Contiguous region, California tops both Oregon and Washington. However, it falls under the national average of $115.49 per month.
California Solar Tax Incentives
When deciding whether solar panels are worth it for your home, you should be aware of the tax credits, rebates and other financial incentives offered by both California and the federal government. Golden State homeowners may be eligible for the following incentives:
|California Solar Incentive||Details|
|Local Solar Rebate||Across the state, homeowners have access to rebates that pay either up to $500 total or $0.95 per watt of installed solar capacity.|
|Net Metering Program||California homeowners can sell any excess solar power generated by their systems back to their utility company (excluding customers of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power).|
|Disadvantaged Communities — Single-Family Solar Homes (DAC-SASH)||
This program provides upfront rebates to single-family homeowners living in one of the state's top 25% most disadvantaged communities. Participants must meet income qualifications and be a customer of either Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE) or San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E).
Federal Solar Tax Credits
No matter where you might happen to live across the U.S., all Americans can receive a 26% federal solar investment tax credit (ITC). This is one of the key incentives for going solar and can be combined with California's statewide incentives to help homeowners save even more on the cost of solar panels.
California Solar Regulations
In 2018, an important solar mandate was introduced in California. It requires solar photovoltaic system installation on all new single-family homes built in 2020 and beyond. It also requires that multi-family homes such as condos and apartments up to three stories high have solar systems installed.
Specific requirements are based on the state's climate zones as well as homes' floor areas. There are also a few exceptions to the mandate — for instance, if the property is heavily shaded or if the roof is too small to accommodate solar panels.
Final Thoughts: Top Cities for Solar in California
Solar energy presents an incredible opportunity for homeowners, including the ability to lower electric bills, reduce their impact on the environment and become less dependent on traditional utilities and forms of energy. With that being said, it is also true that certain areas of the country offer greater prospects for solar when compared to others — and the Golden State certainly stands apart in that category.
The higher cost of electricity, as well as usage within the state, makes California well-positioned to receive optimal solar benefits. If you didn't see your city on this list (and even if you did), there are plenty of ways individuals can push for more solar power in their areas. Here are some ideas to get you started: