Photovoltaic solar power field at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TennesseeEnlarge Photo
Cities across the U.S. are working to limit their emissions of climate-change gases turning to solar power, among other tactics.
In 2016, programs focused on bringing the benefits of photovoltaic solar power to business and residents helped to expand that capacity with record-breaking growth.
Advances in solar technology, improved costs, and strong community support are now an integral part of shaping local, state, and federal policies for clean energy.
In fact, the report Shining Cities 2017 says that solar-energy policies are more critical to successful solar adoption than any other factor, even including the number of days of sunshine in a region.
One case in point: Snow-Belt city Indianapolis ranks fourth in solar photovoltaic power capacity installed per capita, beating out the two Sun Belt cities of Albuquerque and Phoenix.
San Diego is at the top of the charts for total solar power installed, displacing Los Angeles for the first time in 3 years.
BlueIndy electric-car sharing station and European Bollore BlueCar, Indianapolis, Indiana, May 2014Enlarge Photo
Honolulu came in third, although it won this year's award for the most solar installed per capita.
Kansas City and other municipalities have pursued updates to their existing policies with zero-cost initiatives that reduced red tape to make it simpler for residents to install solar panels on their homes.
Baltimore has increased its solar capacity by 60 precent through strong net-metering policies, under which homeowners receive credits for renewable energy returned to the grid, as well as loan programs for small businesses and non-profits that surmount the high initial costs.
The top 20 cities now account for nearly as much solar photovoltaic generating capacity as the entire country did back in 2010.
There remains room for growth, however.
It’s estimated that the majority of the cities researched have developed only 2 percent of their possible solar PV potential.
Plug-in electric cars at PSE+G facility in Newark, New JerseyEnlarge Photo
Newark led that particular statistic; the largest city in New Jersey now uses 15 percent of its technical solar capacity.
The report suggests different ways to sustain the momentum of solar photovoltaic installations as costs of the panels continue to decline.
Local governments can implement ordinances to ensure new buildings and homes are prepared for simplified solar installations, or coordinate group purchases of solar panels for discounted rates.
At the state and federal levels, policy could be introduced to mandate net-metering rates, low rate financing, and further technological research.
Cities that have implemented clean energy policy have proven that they will see results.
Cost savings, cleaner air, and ultimately, improved health will await those who implement clean energy policy.
— Matt Pilgrim