Los Angeles, Honolulu leading US cities in solar power generation: report
Los Angeles continues to lead the nation’s cities in total installed solar power capacity, but Honolulu far surpasses any other contender in terms of power generated per capita, a new report has found.
Solar power is expanding rapidly across the U.S., which now has a total of 121.4 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity — or enough to power more than 23 million homes, according to the eighth edition of the Shining Cities survey, published by the Environment California Research & Policy Center.
The amount of solar power installed in just nine U.S. cities now exceeds the total amount installed in the entire country a decade ago, the report found. And of the 56 cities included — the same 56 “biggest cities” surveyed in all eight editions of the survey — 15 demonstrated a tenfold increase in their solar capacities between 2014 and 2022.
“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. “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.”
Delving into which municipalities have the most total installed capacities and which have the most solar PV installed per resident, the report’s authors said they sought to explore where renewable solar energy has grown the fastest, and by how much.
In terms of total installed solar capacity, Los Angeles led by far, as it did from 2014-2015 and from 2017-2020, taking second place to San Diego for just one year in 2016. Los Angeles’s total installed capacity is 649.9 megawatts, followed by San Diego at 468.0, Las Vegas at 442.8, Honolulu at 397.8 and San Antonio at 354.9.
New York came in sixth place, at 354.4 megawatts, trailed by Phoenix at 342.0, San Jose at 290.9, Albuquerque at 166.8 and Washington, D.C., at 140.2.
A separate chart that ranked cities by per capita solar power generation — dubbed “Solar Superstars” — revealed a much different reality, however.
Honolulu, with 1,133.5 watts per person, generates almost two times more solar power per capita than its closest competitor: Las Vegas, which produces 689.9 watts per person, according to the report. San Diego came next with 337.4 watts per person, trailed by Albuquerque with 295.5 and San Jose with 287.1.
In sixth place was San Antonio, with 247.4 watts per person, followed by Burlington, Vt., at 222.9, New Orleans at 218.0, Phoenix at 212.7 and Washington, D.C. at 203.3.
To compare cities, the authors said they gathered data from municipal and investor-owned utilities, city and state government agencies, operators of regional electric grids and non-profit organizations.
Californian cities fared particularly well both in the total installed capacity and per capita solar power categories.
Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, Sacramento, San Francisco and Riverside all ranked among the top-20 cities nationwide for installed capacity, and with the exception of San Francisco, they were also all among the top-20 for per capita solar.
Martin Adams, general manager and chief engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, recognized solar energy as “a key component” of the utility’s renewable energy goals.
“The national recognition of our city as the #1 Solar City in America in solar rooftop capacity speaks to the Department’s efforts to continually improve and streamline our programs to make it easier for Angelenos to go solar,” Adams said in a statement. “We applaud the diverse and vibrant communities we serve for embracing and participating in our solar programs; they’re powering our progress toward a more sustainable future.”
But when looking beyond the 56 biggest U.S. cities surveyed for the annual report, the authors found that several smaller Californian cities fared even better.
Fresno, Calif. has the most solar per capita of any city in the state, while Bakersfield comes in second, surpassing both San Diego and San Jose at third and fourth.
While the Shining Cities report highlighted the solar success stories of cities around the country, it also identified the “immense untapped solar energy potential” in many of the country’s cities – particularly on their rooftops. Big cities, the authors explained, could further develop utility-scale solar installations above parking lots and on open land.
Much of the nation’s successes — and setbacks — the authors attributed to were state government and utility commission policies, which they said “can be as important as abundant sunshine.” The best policies, they argued, are those that “ensure a fair value for the energy that rooftop solar feeds back into the grid.”
The policies to which the authors were particularly referring are called “net metering,” or paybacks that rooftop solar customers receive for the excess power they generate.
Proposals to reduce net metering paybacks have recently gained traction in several states, including in California and Florida, with the support of state utilities but with staunch opposition from green groups like Environment California, the authors of the Shining Cities report.
Such policies, the authors argued, could “slow solar energy’s growth across the country. But lawmakers and utilities in favor of such reductions argue that current rules force those who cannot afford solar installations to shoulder higher electricity costs on behalf of wealthier neighbors.
As the report authors see it, however, fossil fuel companies and some utilities are simply “threatened by the advancement of solar power, and seek to roll back support for solar power.”
“In some cases, those interests have won changes in solar policies that have meaningfully changed the trajectory of solar deployment in cities featured in this report,” they added.
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