The Solar Opportunity Awaits

by John Farrell.

U.S. grid parity chart
U.S. population at grid parity chart.

The coming of solar grid parity offers an opportunity for millions of Americans to go solar affordably. But it also means a potential transformation, a democratization of an electricity system long dominated by centrally-controlled utilities and centralized ownership and production of electricity. When solar can undercut grid electricity prices, it may also undercut this 20th century system of centralized ownership, bringing economic sunshine and self-reliance to communities along with solar electricity.

This is the third of five parts of our Rooftop Revolution report being published in serial. Read Part 1 or Part 2. Download the entire report and see our other resources here.

Millions of People, Thousand of Megawatts

When solar grid parity arrives, it won’t mean that everyone can go solar. The most likely participants in the residential sector will be folks who own their own home. Even then, there will be some homes whose roof is unsuitable for solar power for one reason or another (e.g. shading). The following analysis takes the year of solar grid parity for the nation’s largest cities and translates it into megawatts of solar power potential.

We used the following assumptions to calculate the residential solar rooftop potential for each metropolitan area:

  • Only non-vacant, owner-occupied properties were considered. Nationally, about two-thirds of homes are owner-occupied and not vacant, with major metropolitan areas varying from 50 to 70%.1
  • We estimated approximately 1,000 square feet of total roof space per home.
  • We assumed that only 27% of this space (in the aggregate) would be suitable for solar, based on national studies of rooftop solar potential.2
  • We assumed that 1 kW of solar could be installed for every 100 s.f. of suitable roof space.

With these assumptions, we can use our previous analysis of the year of solar grid parity (based on the average residential retail electricity rate) to estimate the potential capacity of solar power that could be installed on home rooftops at grid-beating prices each year until 2027.

A very conservative solar megawatt grid parity estimate

The above chart is quite conservative. For one, the data only reflect the 50% of Americans that live in the largest 40 metropolitan areas. Additionally, we used average grid prices and did not factor in time-of-use pricing or “economic grid parity.” Finally, residential solar is only a fraction of the total solar market. In California, the largest U.S. solar market, residential solar represents approximately 30% of the installed capacity in the California Solar Initiative program.3 Thus, the grid parity potential numbers above are a fraction of the actual solar potential when considering commercial and public sector property as well as communities smaller than the 40 largest cities.

Additionally, rooftops aren’t the only place for solar, and the availability of other locations could further expand the grid parity opportunity. The following infographic illustrates the opportunity for solar over parking lots, near highways, and underneath existing transmission lines. It still doesn’t factor in solar placed on the ground near existing buildings.

solar land space

Jobs and Economic Development

Solar provides an unparalleled economic opportunity for local power generation and local economic benefits. Each megawatt of solar power generates as many as eight jobs and $240,000 in economic activity, and most solar power projects can be built right next to or on top of the building that will use the electricity.

Previous studies by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory indicate that locally owned renewable energy projects multiply the job and economic benefits of renewable energy projects.

With a potential for 30,000 megawatts of residential solar in the next 6 years, communities across the country could gain over a quarter of a million jobs and create over $18 billion in economic activity.

Value to the Electricity System

There’s also ample evidence that distributed solar power has much greater value to the grid than simply electricity output. The delivery of power during peak periods (covered by time-of-use pricing) is just one element. The ability of solar to avoid transmission access charges, supplant long-distance power sources, reduce stress on the distribution system during peak power events, and hedge against fossil fuel price fluctuations can vary from $0.03 to $0.14 per kWh. Solar also has environmental benefits (relative to existing power production) that provide additional value.4

Local Ownership Boosts Economic Benefit of Renewables

The following chart illustrates how utilities are recognizing the value of solar power, illustrating the willingness of a municipal utility to pay more for local solar power because of its various grid and local economic benefits.

Value of Local Solar Power to Palo Alto MUNI

Key to PA

Democratizing the Electricity System

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the solar grid parity opportunity will be its political impact. As millions of Americans become self-reliant energy producers, it will create an enormous constituency for continued support of distributed renewable energy development and distributed solar in particular. As an illustration, the following residential rooftop solar installation might have the capacity to produce 3 kW of electricity, but the two adults likely to live in the residence represent two solar voters.

solar 3kw roof


  1. 2010 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. (Census Bureau, 2010). Accessed 12/8/11 at
  2. Paidipati, Jay, et al. “Rooftop Photovoltaics Market Penetration Scenarios.” (Navigant Consulting, Inc., for NREL: February 2008). Accessed 8/13/08 at
  3. Applications by Sector. (California Solar Statistics, 1/10/12). Accessed 1/11/12 at http://tinyurl. com/86a7awr.
  4. Farrell, John. Distributed Solar Power Worth Far More Than Electrons. (Institute for Local Self-Reliance Energy Self-Reliant States blog, 4/12/11). Accessed 1/13/12 at

This article, The Solar Opportunity, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Advantages and Disadvantages Of Solar Power

Originally published on Cost of Solar by Zachary Shahan

Everything has its advantages and disadvantages, its pluses and minuses. So, naturally, there must be a number of solar power advantages and solar power disadvantages too, right? It’s been awhile since I ran down a list of solar power advantages and disadvantages, so I figured this topic was ripe for a refresher.

Annual energy potential of renewable energy resources vs. total known recoverable reserves of non-renewable energy sources.
Annual energy potential of renewable energy resources vs. total known recoverable reserves of non-renewable energy sources. Perez & Perez 2009a

Solar Power Advantages

There are many solar power advantages worth noting. In no particular order, here are some of the top advantages:

clean energy sources
Energy sources and their respective footprints.

Solar power helps to slow/stop global warming. Global warming threatens the survival of human society, as well as the survival of countless species. Luckily, decades (or even centuries) of research have led to efficient solar panel systems that create electricity without producing global warming pollution. Solar power is now very clearly one of the most important solutions to the global warming crisis.

Solar power saves society billions or trillions of dollars. Even long before society’s very existence is threatened by global warming, within the coming decades, global warming is projected to cost society trillions of dollars if left unabated. So, even ignoring the very long-term threat of societal suicide, fighting global warming with solar power will likely save society billions or even trillions of dollars.

Solar power saves you money

Putting solar PV panels on your roof is likely to save you tens of thousands of dollars. The average 20-year savings for Americans who went solar in 2011 were projected to be a little over $20,000. In the populous states of New York, California, and Florida, the projected savings were over $30,000. In the sunny but expensive paradise known as Hawaii, the projected savings were nearly $65,000!

Beyond solar PV panels, it’s worth noting that solar energy can actually save you money in about a dozen other ways as well — with proper planning and household design choices.

Solar power provides energy reliability. The rising and setting of the sun is extremely consistent. All across the world, we know exactly when it will rise and set every day of the year. While clouds may be a bit less predictable, we do also have fairly good seasonal and daily projections for the amount of sunlight that will be received in different locations. All in all, this makes solar power an extremely reliable source of energy.

Solar power provides energy security. On top of the above reliability benefit, no one can go and buy the sun or turn sunlight into a monopoly. Combined with the simplicity of solar panels, this also provides the notable solar power advantage of energy security, something the US military has pointed out for years, and a major reason why it is also putting a lot of its money into the development and installation of solar power systems.

Solar power provides energy independence. Similar to the energy security boost, solar power provides the great benefit of energy independence. Again, the “fuel” for solar panels cannot be bought or monopolized. It is free for all to use. Once you have solar panels on your roof, you have an essentially independent source of electricity that is all yours. This is important for individuals, but also for cities, counties, states, countries, and even companies.

I was recently in Ukraine touring various cleantech initiatives and projects. While there, I discovered that Ukraine in recent years has saved approximately $3 billion in reduced oil and gas imports from Russia thanks to the solar power plants developed by a single developer. Impressive.

Solar power creates jobs. As a source of energy, solar power is a job-creating powerhouse. Money invested in solar power creates two to three times more jobs than money invested in coal or natural gas. Here’s a simple chart on that point:

solar energy advantages jobs
One of the best solar energy advantages — Jobs!

So, there are 7 big solar power advantages that you should remember and share. There are actually several more, but I think we can leave it at that for today. Let’s move on to solar power disadvantages.

Solar Power Disadvantages

Solar power disadvantages are actually not so plentiful. In fact, there’s only one notable disadvantage to solar power that I can think of. That disadvantage is that the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day. When the sun goes down or is heavily shaded, solar PV panels stop producing electricity. If we need electricity at that time, we have to get it from some other source. In other words, we couldn’t be 100% powered by solar panels. At the very least, we need batteries to store electricity produced by solar panels for use sometime later.

However, there are a couple of key things to note regarding this solar power disadvantage. Firstly, the sun actually does shine when we need electricity most. As humans (not vampires), our days more or less follow the movement of the sun. Society more or less wakes up when the sun rises. At the time of the sun’s greatest height and visibility, humans tend to be most active. At this time, we are of course using much more electricity than in the middle of the night, so electricity is in greater demand. (This also makes electricity more expensive in the middle of the day, making electricity produced from solar panels more valuable.)

Another important point worth noting on this front is that, with storage, solar power could theoretically supply the world with all of its electricity needs. In fact, nothing on earth compares to the energy potential of sunshine.

So, those are the solar power advantages and disadvantages that I think are most notable. Feel free to chime in with something else if you think I missed something.

This article, Advantages & Disadvantages Of Solar Power, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to and click on the relevant buttons.

50,250 New American Jobs From These Solar Guidelines

by Guest Contributor


WASHINGTON, D.C. – As a way to help bolster the U.S. economy, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) today released a comprehensive new report outlining ways to create 50,250 new American jobs and save more than $61 billion in future energy costs by expanding the use of innovative and cost-effective solar heating and cooling (SHC) systems across the nation.

Prepared by BEAM Engineering, a Boston-based consulting firm which focuses on energy system design and implementation, this new, first-of-its-kind report provides a roadmap for dramatically increasing SHC capacity in the U.S. from 9 gigawatts (GW) thermal to 300 GW thermal by 2050 through the installation of 100 million new SHC solar panels nationwide.  Thermal energy is typically measured in terms of British Thermal Units (BTUs) but can also be converted to watts.

Today, approximately 44 percent of American energy consumption is attributable to heating and cooling.  According to projections by BEAM Engineering, ramping up the installation of SHC systems across America would allow the U.S. to generate nearly 8 percent of its total heating and cooling needs through clean, affordable solar energy.  SHC is the most efficient renewable technology for generating thermal heat and costs are as low as 6 cents per kilowatt (kWh) hour.

“Part of our challenge is to do a better job of educating policymakers – at both the state and federal level – about the enormous benefits SHC provides to American consumers and businesses, as well as to the U.S. economy,” said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch.  “If we’re successful, the payoff will be enormous in terms of future job creation and energy savings.”

Another big advantage of SHC, according to the report, is the positive impact it has on the environment.

“With ambitious targets and a smart, easy-to-understand strategy now in place, SHC can help to displace an estimated 226 million tons of carbon emissions annually.  That’s the equivalent of taking 47 million passenger cars off the road,” said Ole Pilgaard, who chaired the task force which helped develop the new SHC roadmap.  “Without question, this plan will benefit both our economy and our environment.”

In addition to creating tens of thousands of new jobs and dramatically reducing electricity costs, BEAM Engineering says the SHC roadmap provides a wealth of other advantages, including:

  • Saving $19.1 billion to homeowners, businesses, schools and government by deferring the need for electric and natural gas infrastructure expansion and repairs
  • Raising $2.1 billion annually in increased federal tax revenue through job creation and economic growth
  • Increasing America’s annual manufacturing GDP by $1.4 billion

“This is a common sense plan that’s good for America,” said Mike Healy, who serves as chairman of the U.S. SHC Alliance at SEIA.  “Smart, sustained investments in solar heating and cooling will also help to strengthen energy security in the U.S. by localizing resources and reducing our dependence on often-times unstable foreign energy supplies.  It’s a win-win all the way around.”

About SEIA:
Established in 1974, the Solar Energy Industries Association® is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry. Through advocacy and education, SEIA® is building a strong solar industry to power America. As the voice of the industry, SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies to make solar a mainstream and significant energy source by expanding markets, removing market barriers strengthening the industry and educating the public on the benefits of solar energy. Visit SEIA online at

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This article, 50,250 New American Jobs From These Solar Guidelines, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Guest Contributor is many, many people all at once. In other words, we publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. 😀

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