News and analysis about renewable energy in California.

L.A. Using Only a Fraction of its Rooftop Solar Potential

Los Angeles' most climate-vulnerable communities. Click to enlarge | Image: Luskin Center | EDF

Los Angeles has installed only two percent of the rooftop solar that's feasible in the city, and raising that figure to just ten percent would create 47,000 new jobs. That's according to a new report from UCLA's Luskin Center for the Environment and Environmental Defense Fund.

The Los Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report, or LASER, was released today as a response to the White House's Climate Data Initiative. It estimates that bringing L.A. up to ten percent of its rooftop solar potential would prevent about 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

That's like taking about 477,000 cars off the road, or burning around 2.4 billion fewer pounds of coal.

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LASER also maps the projected increase in average temperatures by mid-century for the L.A Basin, as well as the relative vulnerability to climate change of people in local census districts. Probably unsurprisingly, it's the region's poorest communities that face the biggest challenges adapting to a warming climate, as we've discussed here before. In fact, densely populated L.A. County is home to about half the people in the state whose economic status makes them more vulnerable to climate change.

And as some of those less-affluent communities are in the San Fernando Valley's eastern urban core, where temperatures are expected to rise by about 4°F by 2050, that makes going solar in Los Angeles all the more pressing.

The potential for going solar is enormous, according to the report. More than 1.4 million roofs in Los Angeles could be generating in excess of 19,000 megawatts of solar power during the day, three quarters of that from single-family residential roofs. And the densest areas of untapped potential are some of the same places where the locals are the most vulnerable to climate change: the above-mentioned parts of the Valley, El Monte, and the communities from central Los Angeles through Compton and Carson. LASER includes details on suitable rooftops mapped at the "parcel" level, or in other words, rooftop by rooftop.

Which is certain to prove invaluable in those communities most ripe for solar deployment. The report's lead author, the Luskin Center's deputy director Colleen Callahan, points out that state law requires at least 10 percent of the state's proceeds from its greenhouse gas cap and trade auction be spent in disadvantaged communities. "With new state funding sources becoming available, LASER can help inform how the region invests resources to address pressing environmental challenges while providing job opportunities in its most impacted communities," said Callahan.

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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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