Solar Power in Sunny Cities: Las Vegas, Nevada

Jerry Spivey
9 min readDec 11, 2023
Solar Power in Las Vegas

Las Vegas, located in Nevada, part of the Southwest’s “Sunbelt,” is at the helm of leveraging the immense potential of solar energy. The city’s geographical and climatic conditions make it a prime destination for large scale solar installations. With an average of around 294 sunny days per year, Las Vegas is literally radiating with solar power potential. As per the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the geographical location of Nevada supports 70% of the state’s total electricity generation from renewable sources, predominantly solar.

Solar in Numbers — Las Vegas

The city’s climatic conditions, marked by low rainfall and bright sunshine, make it a solar energy goldmine. The desert climate ensures minimal cloud coverage, elevating solar irradiation levels. Consequently, photovoltaic (PV) panels installed here harness more sunlight than most US regions, significantly reducing per-unit solar installation cost over time. With over 3,800 hours of bright sunshine per year, the solar energy potential in Las Vegas is among the highest in the world.

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Coupled with these natural factors, Nevada’s progressive energy policies and laws further bolster its solar position. The state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires utility companies to source at least 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030, a substantial part of which will likely come from solar. Pro-solar regulations, such as net metering, allow residential and commercial solar panel owners to sell surplus electricity back to the grid, enhancing solar adoption.

Las Vegas’ giant casinos are also active participants in the city’s solar revolution. For instance, the Mandalay Bay Resort has one of the largest rooftop solar installations in the U.S., showcasing the immense PV potential this sun-soaked city holds. This fusion of natural advantages and supportive governmental initiatives makes Las Vegas a veritable hub for solar power.

Solar Landscape in Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a goldmine of solar energy potential, with its highly favorable geographical location and abundance of sunlight. Boasting a remarkable average of 3,800 hours of sunshine per year, with a surplus of 300 sunny days, it outperforms most US cities when it comes to direct solar irradiation. Its radiant resource exceeds 6.5 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day (kWh/m²/day) on a horizontal surface. Under optimum conditions, a solar panel placed in Las Vegas, given these sunshine hours and solar irradiance, has the potential to produce roughly 1,800 kWh annually per installed kilowatt.

Nevada’s sweeping desert landscapes and the glittering Vegas strip both absorb significant solar irradiation, making this Nevadan city a hotbed for solar advancements. The abundance of sunlight and high irradiance serve as bolstering elements for Las Vegas’s suitability for solar power. Both factors combined contribute to a higher energy yield and improved efficiency for solar panels. Furthermore, Nevada’s Renewable Portfolio Standard(RPS) mandates that by 2030, 50% of all energy must be sourced from renewables, a goal that emphasizes the importance and need for a robust solar infrastructure in the city.

In essence, this plentiful solar endowment has led to increased solar installations throughout the city. Besides its obvious environmental benefits, harnessing solar energy is proving to be an economically sound decision due to reduced electricity bills and a strong policy environment. One notable example is the Mandalay Bay Convention Center with its 8.3megawatt rooftop solar array — the largest in the U.S, which embodies the fusion of Las Vegas’s high solar potential and practical application. Las Vegas, thus represents an exemplary city for solar power, demonstrating both its plausibility and profitability.

Solar Initiatives and Growth Las Vegas

Nevada comes equipped with one of the country’s most generous solar policies, the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which requires the utilities to acquire 50% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Notably, in 2019, Governor Steve Sisolak signed SB358 into law, increasing the RPS from a previous 25% target. Solar has a big role to play in achieving this ambitious goal, which is why Nevada’s laws are tailored to promote it. Therefore, it becomes an attractive market for solar installers.

Las Vegas, being one of the sunniest cities in the state, is spearheading Nevada’s solar efforts. The City of Las Vegas, under its “100% Renewable initiative”, is committed to powering all city facilities using renewable energy, and solar forms a big chunk of it. For instance, Boulder Solar, a joint venture with NV Energy, provides around 100 megawatts of solar power to meet city’s energy demands.

One case in point demonstrating the city’s turn towards solar is the MGM Resorts International. In 2020, MGM Resorts in collaboration with Invenergy, inaugurated a 100-megawatt solar array, the largest of any entertainment company in the nation. It’s a feather in Vegas’ solar cap, generating enough power to cover 90% of MGM Resorts’ Las Vegas daytime power needs.

Furthermore, residential solar is growing rapidly in Las Vegas too, largely aided by the state’s net metering policy, allowing homeowners to sell excess solar power back to the grid at nearly retail rates. The figures of solar installations speak for the city’s embracing of solar energy, a response not only to favorable laws but to the area’s perpetually sunny climate, making Las Vegas rank 6th in the nation for installed solar PV capacity.

Challenges and Opportunities

In Las Vegas, Nevada, expanding solar power is not without its challenges. Grid integration constitutes a significant hurdle, not only because of the technical issues such as voltage control and ramp rate issues associated with intermittency of solar power but also because of Nevada’s existing energy infrastructure predominantly rife with natural gas and hydroelectric plants. Furthermore, the previous net metering policy debacle in Nevada, where the Public Utilities Commission slashed net metering credits causing many solar installers to leave the state in 2015, has left some uncertainty and hesitance among stakeholders.

However, recent policy adjustments and legislative actions have come to assure a more stable future for solar energy in the state. In 2017, the legislature enacted AB 405 to restore net metering, whereby residential solar owners are compensated for excess electricity they supply to the grid. Notably, the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), revised in 2019, mandates utilities to procure 50% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2050, reflecting Nevada’s firm commitment to clean energy transition.

Moreover, Las Vegas’s climate provides a tremendous opportunity for solar energy. On average, the city basks under the sun for over 85% of daylight hours, making it one of the sunniest cities in the US. SolarCity’s 100MW Playa Solar 2 project at a record low PPA price of $0.04 per kWh attests to the potential affordability and profitability of solar projects in the region. Therefore, despite the challenges, the future of solar power remains promising with abundant untapped potential in Las Vegas, provided there is robust policy support and effective grid modernization solutions.

Economic and Environmental Impact

The solar energy sector in Las Vegas, Nevada, has contributed immensely to the region’s economic prosperity, in addition to the marked environmental gains. Nevada state has accelerated the pace of its transition to renewable energy sources, in particular, solar power, through laws such as the “Senate Bill 358” (SB 358), which mandates a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) of 50% by 2030. This move not only fosters job creation — more than 6,500 Nevadans were employed in the solar industry as of 2019 according to The Solar Foundation — but also grows the economy by driving investment and boosting technology advancement.

From an environmental perspective, Las Vegas’s ample sun exposure averaging 294 sunny days annually, significantly above the US average of 205 days, has allowed for a reduced dependence on traditional energy resources, thereby cutting back on water usage and greenhouse emissions. As per National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), each megawatt of solar power produced saves the state around 500 gallons of water, a critical point considering Nevada is the driest state in the U.S.

Additionally, solar projects developed in the region have majorly contributed to cleaner air by significantly cutting down harmful pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulates. Southern Nevada’s NV Energy, for instance, annually displaces around 4.6 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions due to its solar installations, equivalent to taking nearly 1 million cars off the road. These developments iteratively reinforce the importance of solar power, not only as a sustainable energy solution for the economy but also as an essential catalyst for environmental preservation and the fight against climate change.

Community Engagement and Education

Las Vegas, Nevada, often known as “The Sun City” due to its abundant sunshine, makes it an ideal location for solar power generation. The residents of Las Vegas have responded enthusiastically to these advantageous weather conditions and are progressively harnessing this renewable source of energy. This transition is facilitated by various community solar initiatives which are gaining prominence across the state. One such program is NV Energy’s Shared Solar Program, which offers households, schools, and local businesses access to solar power without needing to install solar panels on premises. It encourages group buy-in into renewable energy and has successfully garnered large-scale participation from across the community.

Furthermore, intriguing education programs and resources are readily available for anyone interested in exploring the solar energy domain. For instance, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) offers a wide range of courses and degree programs on renewable energy technologies with a specific focus on solar energy. It also hosts the annual “Solar Decathlon,” a competition that challenges university students to design and build full-size, solar-powered houses on campus.

Besides, several non-profit organizations like the Solar United Neighbors, offer workshops and seminars to educate residents about the benefits and complexities of solar technology. Additionally, local tech companies, and solar installers also conduct regular exhibitions and solar fairs showcasing the advancements in solar technology, emphasizing on its efficiency, potential savings, and environmental benefits.

These initiatives combine to serve as a catalyst in fostering a greener Las Vegas with a community fully engaged in the transition and equipped with resources to make informed decisions on solar technology. Las Vegas, with its bright sunlight and community acceptance of solar power, serves as an inspiring model for other sun-kissed regions.

Conclusion

Las Vegas, Nevada stands as a testament to the power of solar energy. This sun-drenched city has successfully capitalized on its 294 sunny days per year, harnessing an immense amount of solar energy to power residences, corporations, and even its vibrant assortment of casinos. The state has been supportive of this endeavor, evident in legislation such as Nevada’s strong net metering policy which allows solar customers to send excess solar electricity back to the grid in exchange for credits and Senate Bill 358 that mandates utilities to achieve 50% of their electricity supply from renewable sources by 2030.

The city’s robust solar infrastructure is primarily facilitated by significant tax incentives and copious federal grants that incentivize solar adoption. Moreover, the solar capacity of Las Vegas has been exponentially growing, with the city’s current capacity of approximately 9,000 megawatts, appreciably higher than the national average. Notably, the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, which hosts one of the largest rooftop solar arrays in the United States, exemplifies the city’s commitment to renewable energy.

Accelerating advancements in solar technology, such as high-efficiency PV panels and battery storage solutions, promise increased solar productivity in the future. These technological leaps, combined with favorable economic and policy environments, make Las Vegas a hotbed for solar development. The city adeptly demonstrates how geographical advantage coupled with progressive initiatives can drive solar energy adoption on a large scale. Thus, Las Vegas, Nevada emerges as a compelling case study for other sunny cities to emulate, establishing itself as a champion in the national solar energy scene.

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Jerry Spivey

As an aspiring writer, I love words and pay attention to detail. My skill and devotion to writing intriguing and relevant material set me apart.