Huge Potential: Rooftop Solar Could Power 39% of America


Rooftop photovoltaic (PV) solar panels could generate 1,118 gigawatts (GW) of energy — more than a third of America’s current energy needs — if installed throughout the most solar-rich regions of the country. These latest figures from the U.S. Energy Department  show the staggering potential of decentralized renewable energy.

Already, rooftop solar is booming in certain states like California, which have favorable policies such as net metering — a policy the Golden State preserved earlier this year. In fact, California accounts for the majority of U.S. solar installations and is on pace to meet its goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2035.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in California’s sunny neighbors, Nevada and Arizona, which restricted net metering last year — essentially stunting rooftop solar growth. This was a blatant power-grab by big utilities that prefer to control energy generation at the cost of renewable expansion. Florida, the so-called Sunshine State, is even worse, as anti-solar initiatives led by the Koch Brothers have kept the state tied to dirty fossil fuels. Without better action from those states and others, there’s no chance we’ll even get close to the solar potential the Energy Department says we’re capable of.

In fact, the best part about this study is that it might be an underestimation, said Robert Margolis, senior energy analyst for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and co-author of the report, in a statement.

“It is important to note that this report only estimates the potential from existing, suitable rooftops, and does not consider the immense potential of ground-mounted PV,” Margolis said. “Actual generation from PV in urban areas could exceed these estimates by installing systems on less suitable roof space, by mounting PV on canopies over open spaces such as parking lots, or by integrating PV into building facades. Further, the results are sensitive to assumptions about module performance, which are expected to continue improving over time.”

In fact, the last such assessment from the Energy Department estimated solar potential at just 664 GW. You can bet that as technology get cheaper, better and more efficient, the projected potential for solar will get larger and larger. Now, it’s time for the main actors in this field to take notice.

“Armed with this new data, municipalities, utilities, solar energy researchers and other stakeholders will have a much-improved starting point for PV research and policymaking, both regionally and nationwide,” said Pieter Gagnon, an engineering analyst of solar policy for NREL and lead author of the report, in a statement.

This means breaking the stranglehold that backwards-thinking utilities and dirty fuel lackeys like the Koch Brothers have on our energy systems. It’s getting increasingly urgent, as Arctic ice is at record lows and we just experienced the hottest February on record. We don’t have any time to waste to shift to a renewable-first economy driven by decentralized rooftop solar. Hopefully this report points more households, businesses and energy producers in the right direction.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

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