News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Lancaster is California's Solar Capital

Lancaster, the sprawling desert city in the Los Angeles County portion of the Antelope Valley, has carved out a place of honor in the world of California Solar. According to the California Solar Statistics website, operated by Go Solar California, three of the top five ZIP codes as ranked by solar generating capacity installed are to be found in Lancaster, making up a total of 20.7 megawatts of generating capacity.

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The state's top five solar ZIP codes, as of Wednesday July 11:

  1. 93535, Lancaster: 8.7 mw
  2. 93536, Lancaster: 6.9 mw
  3. 93727, Fresno: 5.7 mw
  4. 93230, Hanford: 5.4 mw
  5. 93534, Lancaster, 5.1 mw

Ranked by municipal boundaries, Lancaster comes in third in the state after San Jose, with just under 38 MW of solar capacity, and San Diego, with 31.3 MW. Once you adjust for population, however, Lancaster clearly has the advantage on those two larger cities. San Jose is the third-largest city in California, with just under a million residents; San Diego is the second-largest, with 1.3 million people. Lancaster, by contrast, is the thirtieth-largest city in the state, with a population of just over 156,000 people.

That works out to a per capita solar generating capacity of just over 132 watts per Lancaster resident, compared to 24 watts per capita for San Diego and 40 watts per capita in San Jose. (The state's largest city, Los Angeles, doesn't even make the top 20. It's been edged out by places like Irvine and Temecula: none of L.A.'s ZIP Codes are among the top 20 for the state.) Lancaster's neighbor Palmdale comes in seventh among the state's solar cities with 11.1 MW, helping push Los Angeles County to the lead among California counties despite little help from the county seat.

It makes sense that the Antelope Valley would hold the lead in solar installations: it has that winning combination of strong sun, clear skies, and relatively high altitude so that less sunlight gets filtered out by atmosphere. It also has a lot of rooftops and ready access to suppliers and contractors.

Lancaster had better watch its back, though, as there are a lot of pending solar applications in other parts of the state, and the Antelope Valley may soon cede its lead to a Central Valley community: the rate of installations is increasing in the vicinities of Bakersfield and Fresno, and those two cities already rank at 4th and 5th in the state, respectively -- just behind Lancaster and gaining. And other parts of the state are hustling as well. The top five ZIP codes ranked by the total capacity of their pending applications, according to California Solar Statistics, include parts of Blythe, Delano, Corcoran, and Tehachapi -- and 90025, in West L.A., with six new megawatts of solar in the pipeline.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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