L.A. Leads American Cities in Solar

Solar parking lot in California | Photo: Wayne Hsieh/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Los Angeles has more installed solar power capacity in its city limits than any other American city, according to a report released Thursday by Environment California.

According to the report, which ranks 57 American cities by both their total solar power generating capacity and their solar capacity per capita, Los Angeles leads the pack with a grand total of 132 megawatts' worth of solar within the city limits. That's according to data provided to Environment California by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The number two spot for total solar capacity goes to San Diego, with 107 total megawatts of solar in the city. San Jose takes fourth place with 94 total megawatts, and San Francisco's 26 total megawatts put it in ninth place.

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According to the report, "Shining Cities At the Forefront of America's Solar Energy Revolution," San Jose beats all other California cities surveyed in terms of solar capacity per capita: its 97 watts of solar panel per resident places it at second only to Honolulu among American cities. (Honolulu has 265 watts per resident, likely a result of the fact that solar power is cheaper than grid power in Hawai'i.)

"I'm proud that L.A. is leading the nation on installed solar, but with the release of the disturbing new IPCC report on climate change and the increase of severe weather events around the world, it is clear we need to do more, faster, to address the climate crisis and move away from fossil fuels," Councilmember Paul Koretz said. "From the top of City Hall, I want to see solar panels built across the rooftops of Los Angeles and I want us to put Angelenos to work building them."

Alert ReWire readers with excellent memories may be confused by this bit of news, seeing as Los Angeles doesn't even register in a "top five California solar cities" list we mentioned Tuesday in our coverage of new solar projects in Palmdale. That list was derived from the California Solar Statistics website, which tracks only solar that feeds power to the state's three investor-owned utilities and a few nonprofit agencies. That website doesn't include solar hooked up to most public utilities' grids, so Los Angeles, supplied by the public utility Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, doesn't show up in the California Solar Statistics site's totals. (Just to be on the safe side, we've clarified that a bit more in Tuesday's post.)

The Environment California report's numbers are drawn from a much wider variety of sources, including some figures from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Open PV Project, where individual homeowners can self-report their own solar panels. That means the report's figures are going to be both higher than California Solar Statistics' and a bit less reliable in some cases.

That's a potential source of error the report's authors readily acknowledge. Another complicating factor: the data for some California cities may well include utility-scale installations as well as residential and commercial distributed solar panels.

The report's authors credit a number of factors for Los Angeles' relative success in solar capacity-building: geography, sunlight and abundant roof space are important, but so is the LADWP's fledgling feed-in tariff program, which will add 100 megawatts to the city's total by the time it's fully subscribed.

And there's room for a lot more solar in Los Angeles: when it comes to solar watts per capita, Los Angeles comes in 13th nationwide, behind such notably less-sunny cities as Wilmington, Delaware, and Burlington in Vermont.

"The sky's the limit on solar energy," said Environment California's Michelle Kinman. "But, we've barely scratched the surface of the potential to capture this pollution-free energy source. By committing to bold goals and expanding on the good policies we've adopted, we can take solar to the next level and ensure that Los Angeles remains the nation's solar leader."

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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