Over the past six years, solar energy capacity has more than doubled in 45 of the 57 largest U.S. cities, producing enough electricity to power nearly one in every 11 homes, according to an annual industry survey.
While Los Angeles and Honolulu are the leading urban areas on the study’s top 10 list, researchers found that solar energy production is not just a “sun coast” phenomenon but includes cities in Indiana, Colorado and Texas.
“The difference between cities leading on solar energy and those that are lagging is effective public policy at the state and local level,” said Abigail Bradford, co-author of the sixth annual report on U.S. solar energy capacity from 2013 to 2018.
A second nationwide study, released Tuesday, found that U.S. homes with solar-energy systems sold for an average of 4.1 percent more than non-solar homes.
Conducted by the real-estate firm Zillow, the research ranked 84 million homes over the past year. Zillow analysts noted that the solar-energy sales boost varied by market – 5.4 percent in New York, 4.4 percent in San Francisco and 3.6 percent in Los Angeles, for example.
“Homes with solar-energy systems often sell for more than comparable homes without solar power,” Zillow senior economist Sarah Mikhitarian said in an email. “This premium is largely reflective of the future energy cost savings.”
Solar still has its critics, who maintain that the energy source is intermittent – the sun does not shine every day or at night. They also contend that energy storage is expensive and can involve a manufacturing process associated with air pollution.
But its supporters argue that solar’s growth is undeniable, thanks to municipal, state and federal incentive programs that include tax rebates. Those, coupled with falling prices for panels and installation, have led to an explosion in solar usage.
According to the Denver-based Environment America Research & Policy Center’s six-year rankings of overall solar capacity across America, which was released last week, one-third of the cities surveyed have more than quadrupled their installed solar capacity from 2013 to 2018. The 58-page report noted a push by city officials to expand their renewable energy sectors.
“A dozen cities in our report have made commitments to use 100 percent renewable energy and many more have programs and policies that encourage residents to install solar panels,” Ms. Bradford wrote.
In 2015, Hawaii committed to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. The capital, Honolulu, was ranked as having the most solar capacity per person, followed by San Diego, San Jose and Burlington, Vermont.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, applauded his city for “making great use of one of our most abundant resources – beautiful Hawaiian sunshine.”
Beyond Hawaii, notable leaders in per capita solar capacity include Las Vegas, Indianapolis, San Antonio and Washington, D.C. In overall solar production, Los Angeles leads the nation in total installed solar capacity, as it did from 2013 to 2015 and in 2017.
The report included several policy recommendations at the municipal and state level: Chief among them is that “the soft costs” associated with installation – which include permitting, zoning and inspection processes – should be “easy, quick and affordable.”
Additionally, researchers argued that state governments should transition from an electric grid reliant on large, centralized power plants to a “smart” grid where electricity is produced at thousands of more localized solar locations.
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