California's Solar Cities

Leading the Way to a Clean Energy Future
Released by: Environment California Research & Policy Center

Executive Summary
California’s Solar Roofs
 
Solar power is a no-brainer energy resource for California. Cleaner than fossil fuels, safer than a nuclear power, and one of the most reliable sources of electricity, solar power is a critical part of California’s clean energy future.

At the beginning of 2009, California was home to approximately 51,000 solar roofs, totaling more than 500 megawatts of solar power capacity.  California has seen tremendous growth in the amount of solar power installed since 1999 when just 500 rooftops hosted a solar system, as illustrated in the chart below.

If California’s solar market experiences a similar rate of growth over the coming ten years, approximately 45-50% of compound annual growth, the state will be on track to meet its million solar roofs goal by the start of 2017, as shown in the following chart. Assuming the industry is able to achieve greater economies of scale, due to increased experience from a growing market, the price of solar power should drop by half, creating “grid parity” for the solar photovoltaic market, meaning the cost of investing in a solar system is on par with the cost of purchasing retail electricity.

The vast majority of California’s solar electric systems are on single family homes, typically as a retrofit project to an existing home. However, the number of California businesses, farms, schools, and government buildings hosting solar photovoltaic systems is on the rise, as is the number of new housing developments incorporating solar power into the home during construction.

This report combines data from all the state’s solar photovoltaic rebate programs to determine which cities have the greatest amount of solar power. Data comes from the Public Utilities Commission’s California Solar Initiative and Self Generation Incentive Program, the California Energy Commission’s New Solar Homes Partnership and Emerging Renewables Program, and data from the state’s municipal utilities such as Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (See About the Data section at end of this report for more details on the numbers analyzed for this report).
 
California’s Top Ten Solar Cities
 
This report analyzes this which cities host the largest amount of solar power, measured in terms of numbers of solar installations (e.g. roofs) and amount of solar power (e.g. installed capacity) as well as those cities that host the highest concentration of solar power based on population.

California’s solar power market is broad, as supported by the findings of this report. A healthy and growing solar power market is taking hold in the state’s large coastal cities, tiny mountain hamlets, and suburban communities of the Central Valley. The cities with the greatest amount of solar power today include San Diego with 2,267 solar roofs totaling 19,452 kilowatts, San Francisco with 1,493 solar roofs totaling 12,763 kilowatts, and Los Angeles with 1,432 solar roofs totaling 13,442 kilowatts, and, surprisingly not far behind, are the cities of Fresno, Bakersfield and Clovis with more than 700 solar roofs each.
 
When population is taken into account, the top ten list shifts to smaller cities such as Trinidad along the north coast, to remote and rustic Nevada City, and to one of the state’s fastest growing cities, Lincoln. The data for Nevada City, for example, shows that nearly one in every five households hosts a solar system. In the City of Industry, for every resident more than one kilowatt of solar power is installed. This impressive statistic is due to several large solar installations in a city that has a very small number of residents.
 
Solar Benefits
 
There are many benefits to the expansion of solar power in California. High among the list is job growth. Applying Electric Power Research Institute 2001 estimates for the number of jobs created per megawatt of solar power installed to California’s projected solar roof growth through 2017 has California creating 20,000 person years of employment. The chart below illustrates the sustained growth in solar industry jobs as a result of the state’s million solar roofs program.
 
Promoting Solar at Municipal Level
 
Government incentives in the form of rebates and federal tax credits are powerful forces driving consumers to invest in solar power. As California aims to make history by building a million solar roofs, totaling 3,000 megawatts of solar power, by 2017, it is critical that California’s cities – small and large – as well as counties embrace solar power and play a leading role in realizing a mainstream, cost-effective solar power market.
 
Policy Recommendations
 
To build a million solar roofs in ten years, all levels of government must embrace this promising clean energy technology and play an active role in bringing about a mainstream, self-sufficient solar power market.  California’s cities, both those with and without a municipal utility, can make a significant contribution to the state’s million solar roofs goal and in so doing help build thriving, sustainable communities.

  •     California’s county and municipal leaders should:
  •     Invest in solar power on municipal and county buildings.
  •     Provide city and county residents and businesses with additional financial incentives such as zero or low interest loans.
  •     Adopt on-bill financing programs through local utilities or property-secured financing mechanisms such as those enabled by AB 811.
  •     Remove barriers to solar investments such as streamlining the permitting process, standardizing permitting requirements among jurisdictions and, in some instances, lowering or waiving permit fees.
  •     Ensure a well educated and trained city and county staff including building inspectors and permitting staff.
  •     Educate and encourage local residents and businesses to invest in solar power.In addition, there are many things that state and federal decision makers can do to promote more solar power in California, including:
  •     Ensure continuity of rebate and tax credit programs through the ten-year (2006-2016) California Solar Initiative  program at the Public Utilities Commission and the corresponding rebate programs at the state’s municipal utilities per the Million Solar Roofs bill (SB 1).
  •     Support and provide rebates for solar hot water systems in addition to solar electric systems.
  •     Provide ratepayers with additional financing options such as on-bill financing through utility bills.
  •     Enforce SB 1, which requires that all new homes come with solar power as standard option beginning in 2010.
  •     Mandate that all new homes and businesses be built with solar power by 2020 and 2030, respectively.
  •     Extend net metering beyond the current 2.5% cap.
  •     Establish feed-in-tariff policy to further spur solar investments.
  •     Encourage existing homes to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies at or near time of sale.

Conclusion

Cities and counties throughout California are playing a leading role in promoting and installing solar power. This report shows that California’s top “solar cities” are diverse in geography and demographics and that California has enormous potential to meet its million solar roofs goal should government, utilities and the public work together to achieve this important vision. Ultimately, solar power is an energy resource that is here to stay, and grow. California’s local governments should embrace this technology and allow it to grow sooner rather than later.