America’s 20 Best Cities for Solar Power

As solar power continues to grow throughout the United States, there are now more than 27,000 megawatts of solar electric capacity in the country. Making up a significant portion of this capacity are the hundreds of thousands of home owners who have installed solar panels on their homes, and many of them are located in major metropolitan areas.

In a new report, Shining Cities 2016: How Smart Local Policies are Expanding Solar in America, we see that 20 cities account for 6 percent of all solar photovoltaic capacity in the United States. This is remarkable considering they represent just .1 percent of the total U.S. land area. These leading cities have more than 1,700 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity, a figure that is nearly as much solar power as the entire United States capacity in 2010.

America’s leading solar cities are growing their solar capacity quickly. Many of them have done so by adopting strong solar policies, making municipal utility power purchases, and expanding access with community solar policies. Whatever steps they’re taking, these solar cities are doing something right.

The 20 U.S. Cities with the Most Solar Power Installed

These cities lead the way in terms of the total amount of solar power they have installed. Many of them have a greater capacity than some solar farms at 20 megawatts or more:

  1. Los Angeles, CA: 215 MW installed, 55 watts per capita
  2. San Diego, CA: 189 MW installed, 136 per capita
  3. Phoenix, AZ: 147 MW installed, 96 watts per capita
  4. Honolulu, HI: 146 MW installed, 96 watts per capita
  5. San Jose, CA: 141 MW installed, 139 watts per capita
  6. Indianapolis, IN: 124 MW installed, 146 watts per capita
  7. San Antonio, TX: 108 MW installed, 75 watts per capita
  8. New York, NY: 84 MW installed, 10 watts per capita
  9. Albuquerque, NM: 64 MW installed, 114 watts per capita
  10. Las Vegas, NV: 58 MW installed, 94 watts per capita
  11. San Francisco, CA: 41 MW installed, 48 watts per capita
  12. New Orleans, LA: 35 MW installed, 90 watts per capita
  13. Austin, TX : 33 MW installed, 36 watts per capita
  14. Sacramento, CA: 32 MW installed, 66 watts per capita
  15. Riverside, CA: 38 MW installed, 88 watts per capita
  16. Jacksonville, FL: 24 MW installed, 28 watts per capita
  17. Newark, NJ: 21 MW installed, 75 watts per capita
  18. Portland, OR: 19 MW installed, 31 watts per capita
  19. Boston, MA: 15 MW installed, 23 watts per capita
  20. Washington, DC: 14 MW installed, 20 watts per capita

Los Angeles and the state of California are clearly leading the way in solar power. This is not at all surprising, considering California is well known as a sunny state and they have multiple major metropolitan areas for solar rooftop installations. California also has great motivation to go solar with a high average cost of retail electricity.

Another leader in solar power is Texas, which has sheer size and sunshine pushing its solar power installations. Though unlike California, Texas has below average costs for electricity, the Lone Star State has multiple metropolitan areas for urban installations and a sunny climate. Texas is no stranger to clean energy, either, as it’s a leader in wind energy production.

Joining California and Texas cities are other notable metropolitan areas including Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas, all situated in areas of the country that soak up considerable amounts of sun. It’s no surprise that these cities are taking advantage of their ability to install solar power and save with one of their greatest natural resources.

15 U.S. Cities with the Most Solar Power Per Capita

While large cities with extensive solar power installations are impressive, even more impressive are cities that really pack in the solar power. With a high per capita rate of installed solar power, more residents of these cities are installing solar power than anywhere else in the United States:

  1. Honolulu, HI: ranked 4th for total solar PV installation
  2. Indianapolis, IN: ranked 6th for total solar PV installation
  3. San Jose, CA: ranked 5th for total solar PV installation
  4. San Diego, CA: ranked 2nd for total solar PV installation
  5. Albuquerque, NM: ranked 9th for total solar PV installation
  6. Phoenix, AZ: ranked 3rd for total solar PV installation
  7. Las Vegas, NV: ranked 10th for total solar PV installation
  8. New Orleans, LA: ranked 12th for total solar PV installation
  9. Riverside, CA: ranked 15th for total solar PV installation
  10. San Antonio, TX: ranked 7th for total solar PV installation
  11. Newark, NJ: ranked 17th for total solar PV installation
  12. Sacramento, CA: ranked 14th for total solar PV installation
  13. Burlington, VT: ranked 45th for total solar PV installation
  14. Salt Lake City, UT: ranked 24th for total solar PV installation
  15. Los Angeles, CA: ranked 1st for total solar PV installation

Honolulu, the city with the highest per capita rate of solar power installed, is a leader in solar power installation. In recent years, the state of Hawaii has installed more than 100 MW of solar power each year. Nearly 1 in 8 homes in Hawaii have solar power. There’s no question why: Hawaiians pay more for their electricity than any other state. Honolulu residents also enjoy an excellent solar access law and an aggressive renewable portfolio standard.

California cities continue to lead not just in total solar power installation, but in per capita solar power installed. However, sprawling Los Angeles, which is ranked highest in total solar photovoltaics, is ranked 15th for per capita solar. San Diego, ranked second for total solar photovoltaic installation and fourth for per capita installations, is one of the leaders of adopting solar power in California.

Other cities that have impressive per capita solar photovoltaic installations, but were not ranked highly for total solar installations include Burlington, Vermont and Salt Lake City, Utah. Though they’re ranked 45th and 24th respectively for total solar photovoltaics installed, they are among the top 15 cities for per capita installations, indicating that they have a strong interest in installing solar power.

How America’s Solar Cities are Supporting Solar Power

While some solar cities are growing due to high electricity prices and lots of sunny days, nearly all of America’s leading solar cities have one thing in common: they’re taking steps to support the growth of solar power. That means it’s not typically luck or natural resources that have made these cities solar leaders, it’s access and availability often made possible by state and municipal governments.

The Shining Cities report highlights a few of the ways America’s solar cities are adopting strong pro solar public policies:

  • City facilities are going solar: In Las Vegas, 37 public buildings have a total of 6.2 MW of solar capacity. This includes community centers, fire stations, and parks, as well as a 3.3 MW generating station at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. Tampa, Raleigh, and Atlanta have also invested in solar photovoltaic systems for many of their city building, setting a great example for home owners in the city and beyond.
  • Municipal utility power purchases: Some municipal utility companies are adding solar power capacity to their grid. In Austin, Austin Energy supplies more than 60 MW of solar energy to the local region and is working to add 450 MW of solar power capacity to its grid.
  • Supportive solar community policies: In cities including New York City, residents who are unable to install solar panels on their buildings can purchase shares of solar power from electric utility accounts.
  • Strong net metering policies: A great way to encourage the adoption of solar power is through net metering, which pays home owners back for the solar energy they generate but don’t use. Many leading solar power cities have net metering policies that make it easy for home owners to get paid back for the power they generate — and give them one more reason to go solar and grow the city’s solar capacity.

This is exciting news for home owners who live in one of America’s leading solar power cities, but if you don’t live in one of them, don’t worry: cities and states across the United States are continuing to adopt better solar policies and grow their solar capacity all the time. You can help support the growth of solar power in your community by installing a resident solar power system in your home. If your city and state’s solar policies are less than inviting, consider working with local governments to improve them and make your community one of America’s solar power leaders.

Photo by Flickr user jwcoke