Solar Activity is Heating Up

Twenty-five solar permits are filed every hour in the United States. By the time you’ve read this article, two more will have been pulled – one of which was probably in California.

Solar activity across the nation increased by 29% between 2014 and 2015, and has increased by more than 300% since 2010. Based on these numbers, the growth we’ve seen is significant. Since the popularity of this technology is relatively new, and solar projects are almost always permitted, solar stands out from the typical kinds of building upgrades that have been around for years.

“It’s so exciting to see this uptick in solar activity,” said Holly Tachovsky, CEO at BuildFax. “Especially because it’s fueled by technology, passionate people, and green initiatives. We have a unique vantage point, this sort of bird’s eye view of building permits as they’re filed across the country. So we notice these trends, especially in these emerging fields.”

So, what do these trends look like?

  1. Home Value Perks

In a housing market that’s just as hot, solar panels can be a major selling feature, even in neighborhoods where every listed home is a great option. It’s a pretty awesome perk – and it speaks a language everyone knows: money.

“Not only does solar save homeowners money on their power bill,” said Jonathan Deesing, Home Solar Specialist at Solar Power Authority, “But buyers are willing to pay on average $15,000 more for homes with installed solar panels. The best part is that in many states, people can install panels on their home without an upfront investment, so you don’t need a lot of cash to quickly increase your home’s resale value.”

Whether you want to do your part to combat climate change, or just aim to make a smart investment on your property, choosing solar is a no brainer. Ker-ching.

  1. Increased Accessibility

Along those same lines, solar technology itself is getting more affordable, making it competitive with conventional energy sources. This accessibility, paired with federal and state tax incentives, rebates, and financing options, make solar more popular than ever. One such program is the Solar Investment Tax Credit, which is a 30% federal tax credit that homeowners can use toward personal income taxes. Because of credits like this one, the effective cost to homeowners is expected to continue to fall even further. No wonder there’s been such a dramatic uptick in solar permits across the country.

Individual homeowners aren’t the only ones taking notice. State governments are also hopping on the solar bandwagon. Maryland has legislation in place to require that 2% of its electricity come from solar by 2020. Baltimore has already jumped on this challenge, securing a spot at number five on our list of fastest growing solar cities.

Baltimore also has a rich history of green energy programs. Launched in 2009, the Baltimore Energy Challenge is a city-wide initiative to educate and empower local communities to reduce their energy usage. Project Sunburst is another successful endeavor that has funded over $8 million dollars towards solar projects. This early momentum has only continued. In fact, Baltimore saw an increase of 343% in 2015 for residential solar activity.

Unfortunately, not all states have shared Maryland’s same success.

Facing Challenges: Nevada Hits a Bumpy Road

Accessibility doesn’t just refer to ease of access. Reno, BuildFax’s number one solar hot spot, has faced negative impacts from statewide legislation recently. The primary pain point was a push to hike rates for rooftop solar customers. Despite a dramatic 431% increase in 2015, Reno has since had its independent solar economy virtually wiped out.

In December, 2015, the Public Utilities Commission placed extra charges on rooftop solar customers, raising their utility bills by 50%. Nevada homeowners who’d already invested in solar were also affected. This legislative change has been devastating to the local solar economy and included significant job loss. Across the state, cities have felt this impact, including three other hot spots on our list – North Las Vegas, Henderson, and Las Vegas.

“Nevada used to be a national leader in solar, as the number one state in the country for solar jobs per capita,” said Chandler Sherman, Deputy Campaign Manager for the Bring Back Solar Alliance. “Solar is incredibly popular in Nevada, and the overwhelming public demand for solar created nearly 9,000 local jobs, and drove $833 million in investment to the state in 2015 alone. After the solar rate hike, rooftop solar applications fell 99%, forcing solar companies to lay off thousands of Nevada workers. In response, over 115,000 Nevada citizens, small businesses, and non-profits joined together to form the Bring Back Solar Alliance to bring back clean energy jobs and energy choice back to Nevada.”

California is King of Solar

Though Nevada faces some challenges, the same can’t be said for all West Coast regions – especially California. Solar activity in California is equal to all the other states combined. Our list is representative of that, with 40% of the cities on the Top 20 list in California. Today in California, there’s five times the amount of residential solar activity than there was in 2010.

“Californians innately understand the benefits of solar, both environmentally and the savings they see on their energy bill,” said Peter Tateishi, President & CEO, Sacramento Metro Chamber. “In Sacramento, we are about to open a new downtown arena where 100 percent of its energy will come from solar energy sourced within 50 miles of the arena. The economic impact of solar is real for Californians and will no doubt continue to grow.”

Soaking up Solar Benefits

In 2015, 7.3 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics were installed across the country. That’s enough energy to power 5.5 million homes. And it’s more energy than 14 coal-fired power plants combined.

There are over 200,000 Americans employed in the solar industry, and that number is expected to be 420,000 by the end of 2020. It’s estimated that $140 billion in economic activity will be the result of this resource and workforce boom. 

“It’s great to see the ongoing strength in the solar PV market,” said Michael Herzig, president and founder of Locus Energy. “From my perspective, however, what is even more amazing is how quickly this has happened. The global solar market has grown in 10 short years from 2.6 gigawatts deployed in 2007 to an estimated 67 gigawatts in 2016!”

 

BuildFax determined the top US cities for solar by extracting building permit information from its database of over 23 billion data points of construction records. BuildFax looked at the largest 100 US cities by population, and the percentage change between 2014 and 2015 of residential solar project counts to determine the top 20 cities. 

  1. Reno, NV
  2. North Las Vegas, NV
  3. Henderson, NV
  4. El Paso, TX
  5. Baltimore, MD
  6. Las Vegas, NV
  7. Sacramento, CA
  8. Dallas, TX
  9. Stockton, CA
  10. Fort Worth, TX
  11. Albuquerque, NM
  12. Chula Vista, CA
  13. Colorado Springs, CO
  14. Anaheim, CA
  15. New York, NY
  16. San Diego, CA
  17. Fremont, CA
  18. Charlotte, NC
  19. Oakland, CA
  20. Riverside, CA

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