Solar power is rapidly expanding in the U.S. — by 2015, there was enough solar capacity to power 5.4 million American homes. And the nation’s major cities are leading the revolution to power their metropolises with clean energy and sustainable lifestyles.
Thanks to innovative policies, progressive legislation, and cheaper technology, a handful of cities are pushing for solar energy as their future. A 2016 report from the Environment America Research and Policy Center found that 6% of the country’s solar power comes from just 20 cities, which represent 0.1% of U.S. land area. Here are five cities that are leading the way in solar power:
1. Indianapolis, Indiana
The Hoosier State isn’t known for sunshine — Indianapolis has 187 sunny days per year, and only 88 of those provide full sun. In spite of this, Indy has become a solar powerhouse. Indianapolis is home to the world’s largest airport solar farm and has an impressive number of photovoltaic (PV) cells installed per capita.
Progressive utility companies and government initiatives helped the clean energy landscape in Indianapolis thrive. Many utility companies charge solar users additional rates for their solar panels. Indianapolis Power & Light, however, welcomed residential solar cells by offering a feed-in tariff — 24 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar panel systems of 20–100 kilowatts. State government leaders have also championed solar power. The Indiana Office of Energy Development provides incentives that include a property tax exemption on solar energy systems and an income tax deduction on solar-powered roof vents and fans.
2. Honolulu, Hawaii
Though Hawaii primarily relies on petroleum and coal for its electricity, the Aloha State is making huge waves in the solar movement. When it comes to electricity per capita from solar panels, Hawaii is the leading state in the nation. Solar panels are a cost-effective investment in Hawaii, partially because the state’s electricity rates are the highest in the nation — three times the national average.
Hawaii lawmakers are big supporters of clean energy. A new law requires that all of Hawaii’s energy come from renewable energy sources by 2045 — Hawaii was the first state in the nation to pass such a law. Hawaii also offers a 35% tax credit, and Hawaiians can see a return on investment within just a few years because of the state’s solar policies.
3. Los Angeles, California
One of the biggest cities in the country, Los Angeles is also one of America’s solar giants. Los Angeles has installed the most solar PV capacity in the nation, and is home to the largest urban rooftop solar program, Clean LA Solar. This program helps businesses and property owners develop solar projects. Its first project was in 2013, when the program installed 336 rooftop solar panels on an apartment building in North Hollywood.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has a highly lauded feed-in tariff program that pays residents up to 17 cents per kilowatt-hour for electricity generated, up to 100 megawatts. Los Angeles is the largest U.S. city to offer such a feed-in tariff program. Supporting these efforts, California Governor Jerry Brown announced an ambitious goal to power half the state with renewable energy by 2030.
4. San Diego, California
With 263 days of sun in San Diego, it’s no wonder the city is referred to as the epicenter of the solar movement. Solar power in San Diego is growing 30–50% a year, and the city has the fourth-highest concentration of home solar customers in the country, With the ambitious Climate Action Plan, policymakers set a goal of powering the entire city with renewable energy by 2035.
The government of California vigilantly supports the solar industry. The California Public Utilities Commission passed a resolution in January to preserve the state’s net metering policy, and hearty rebates through the California Solar Initiative cover a large percentage of a solar power system’s cost.
5. San Antonio, Texas
Though the solar industry struggles in Texas — the state has no net metering programs and limited solar power incentives — the city of San Antonio stands out. The Alamo City is the seventh largest solar market in the nation, and its growth is partially because San Antonio worked hard to develop a solar strategy without state support.
The San Antonio utility company — CPS Energy — now pays residents to install solar panels on their homes, a move they are hoping will make solar systems available to residents of all income levels. This is huge news coming from the utility company, which had previously implemented a net metering system for solar panel owners. Instead, CPS Energy is pushing its Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan and aiming to save 771 megawatts of electricity between 2009 and 2020.
These cities harness the power of economics, engineering, and sunlight to help fuel millions of households with clean energy. They lead a solar revolution that has the power to change the American landscape in the near future.