Cities can lead the solar energy revolution

By Bret Fanshaw
Solar Program Coordinator

Imagine how much solar energy we could produce if we took advantage of all the sunlight beating down on the rooftops in our cities every day.

By one estimate, the U.S. has the potential to power our homes, schools, offices and even our cars, buses and trains 100 times over with solar energy. Another study shows that rooftop solar alone could provide nearly 40 percent of America’s energy needs.

Much of this virtually limitless solar potential resides in cities, and local leaders across the country can help us lead a major transition to renewable energy — a boon to the climate, public health and our pocketbooks.

You’ve probably seen evidence that solar is taking off in the U.S.

Last year, solar power had its best year ever, nearly doubling its previous annual record from 2015 and surpassing one million solar installations nationwide. It became the number one new energy source installed in America, outshining traditional sources of power like coal, gas and oil for the largest share of new energy.

According to our updated Shining Cities report, urban areas can help lead much of this charge, with the top 20 cities for solar power today containing as much solar as the entire country had in 2010.

That’s good news, because science shows us that we need to make a swift and steady switch to renewable energy in order to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

Solar power is also boosting local economies while helping consumers save on energy bills. The cost to install solar is down a staggering 60 percent over the past decade, making it easier than ever to choose renewable energy over fossil fuels, which are subject to market swings.

New data shows also that nationally, over 260,000 Americans hold jobs where the majority of their time is dedicated to solar. That number rises to over 380,000 when you count folks who spent some of their time working on solar.

And yet, despite all the benefits solar power can deliver to the American public, the current federal administration seems set on encouraging coal mining over clean energy.

It’s unfortunate, and frankly, wrong, that the Trump administration aims to dismantle the Clean Power Plan and instead emphasize fossil fuel extraction. We know that solar is not politically divisive in the public — recent pollsshow that 91 percent of Americans agree we should place the same or more emphasis on solar power.

In the absence of federal leadership, states and cities will need to pick up the slack. They can do it, and we’re already seeing it happen in communities across the country.

For example, cities like San Francisco, Lancaster and Sebastopol, Calif. now require that new buildings install solar panels. We also worked with city councilors in Albuquerque, N.M. to pass a resolution requiring that the city generate 25 percent of its electricity with solar by 2025. All across the country, there are countless examples of cities taking the lead.

While we encourage cities to keep pushing forward, it’s equally important not to slide backwards on the progress we’ve already made. State officials should resist efforts by fossil fuel interests and some major utilities to undercut solar power. These types of attacks, oftentimes carried out in deceptive ways, continue today in several states.

With leadership from cities across country, we can keep the solar revolution on track to help power our lives with 100 percent renewable energy. We know we can and must get there, but how quickly will depend on the will of leaders in our cities, states and institutions.

Let’s lean into solar and let the sunshine in.

Here are the top 10 cities for installed solar power, as of 2016:

  1. San Diego, Calif.
  2. Los Angeles, Calif.
  3. Honolulu, Hawaii
  4. San Jose, Calif.
  5. Phoenix, Ariz.
  6. Indianapolis, Ind.
  7. New York, N.Y.
  8. San Antonio, Texas
  9. Albuquerque, N.M.
  10. Las Vegas, Nev.

Here are the top 10 cities for installed solar power per capita, as of 2016:

  1. Honolulu, Hawaii
  2. San Diego, Calif.
  3. San Jose, Calif.
  4. Indianapolis, Ind.
  5. Albuquerque, N.M.
  6. Las Vegas, Nev.
  7. Phoenix, Ariz.
  8. Riverside, Calif.
  9. New Orleans, La.
  10. Sacramento, Calif.