Solar Power in Sunny Cities: Los Angeles, California

Jerry Spivey
9 min readDec 12, 2023

Sitting upon a terrain of undulating hills and overlooking a grand coastline, Los Angeles, California is a metropolis that enjoys abundant sunshine year-round. With more than 250 sunny or partially sunny days each year, Los Angeles naturally possesses one of the most conducive environments for capitalizing on solar power in the United States. Thanks to the city’s Mediterranean-like climate — characterized by warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters — the harvest of solar energy has become an exceptionally viable choice for businesses and residences alike.

Solar In Numbers — Los Angeles

In recent years, Los Angeles has risen to prominence as a beacon of solar power generation. In 2019, the city claimed the top spot nationwide in terms of total installed solar energy, demonstrating an impressive embrace of this renewable resource. LA owns the envious combination of avant-garde technology, forward-thinking policies, and an abundance of solar resources. Blessed with an average of 5.6 peak sun-hours daily, compared to a national average of 4.5, Los Angeles leverages these geographic strengths to drive cleaner, more sustainable living.

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Moreover, the legal architecture in California very much aligns with these aspirations. The state mandates that all new homes must be built with solar panels — a boldly progressive move that has been instrumental in supporting the march toward a sustainable future. Furthermore, laws like the California Solar Rights Act protect homeowners’ rights to harvest solar energy, ensuring their ability to capitalize on their geographical windfall.

This sun-drenched city, armed with supportive legislation and rich solar potential, has evidently set a brisk pace in the race toward renewable energy. In Los Angeles, sunny days offer more than just a reason to head to the beach; they provide a foundation for a greener, more sustainable future.

Solar Initiatives and Growth Los Angeles

California, spearheading the United States’ renewable energy journey, has been truly blazing trails in exploiting solar power. A favorable gastronomic combo of robust state policies, abundant sunshine, and escalating utility rates — Los Angeles transformed into a haven for solar energy. State’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative (SB1) aims to install approximately 3,000 megawatts of solar energy systems on new and existing residential and commercial buildings by 2021. Having achieved its goal early, the state went a step further strengthening its clean energy commitment with the California Solar Mandate, effectively requiring all new homes built starting in 2020 to incorporate solar panels.

Los Angeles itself boasts a myriad high-profile solar installations, including the Solar Star Projects — formerly the world’s largest photovoltaic power station, stretching over 3,200 acres, with a titanic capacity of 579 megawatts, enough to power over 250,000 homes. The LADWP (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power), being the largest municipal utility in the United States, enables net metering — allowing residential and commercial customers to store surplus solar output in the grid and avail credit for future consumption.

Furthermore, to increase access to solar power for all residents, including those in multi-family buildings or with less-than-optimal roof conditions, Los Angeles has rolled out the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) program. Through this, property owners are paid a fixed rate for the solar power they generate and feed back into the grid over 20 years. The FiT has currently reached its cap of 150 MW, prompting calls for program expansion to ensure continued growth of the vibrant solar sector in Los Angeles.

Therefore, L.A’s solar story is an exemplar of how detailed legislation fused with local support can ignite a solar revolution, redefining a city’s energy landscape.

Solar Landscape in Los Angeles

Drilling into the specifics of Los Angeles, California’s solar landscape reveals an extremely promising data set underpinned by the city’s geographical and climatic advantages. Serendipitously situated in a region with abundant sunshine, Los Angeles experiences an annual average sunshine percentile of approximately 73%. In less technical terms, that equates to roughly 3,254 hours of sunlight per year. This abundance of sunlight creates an optimal environment for photovoltaic systems to produce energy efficiently.

High solar irradiance severs as an additional advantage closer to the equator. Los Angeles, for example, experiences an average solar irradiance of 5.6 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day (kWh/m²/day). Solar irradiance measures how much solar power is reaching a particular area, and a higher figure implies greater solar panel efficiency.

Then, California’s solar regulations galvanize this photovoltaic potential. Los Angeles residents can take advantage of California’s net metering 2.0 policy, which allows excess energy produced by a solar array to be sent back to the grid in exchange for credits. Moreover, California also has a mandate in place (Title 24, Part 6 of the California Code of Regulations) which requires all new single-family homes and multi-family residential buildings (up to three stories high) to install solar panel systems, catalyzing the proliferation and adoption of these renewable energy systems.

Moreover, these factors coupled with the organization of LA’s built environment — characterized by wide, flat roofs — create a city uniquely suited for solar power. For instance, the L.A. Convention Center recently unveiled a 2.21 MW solar array on its roof, expected to reduce carbon emissions by 2,554 metric tons annually, equivalent to taking about 500 cars off the road. This demonstrates just one of the many opportunities presented by the Los Angeles solar landscape.

Economic and Environmental Impact

Expanding the use of solar energy within Los Angeles, California, has had significant effects, notably in economic and ecological aspects. In the economic sphere, it’s crucial to acknowledge that solar power has substantially contributed to the job market. In fact, according to The Solar Foundation’s solar Job Census 2021, California is the nation’s leading state in solar employment, providing over 70k jobs, portion of which comes from Los Angeles specifically. Moreover, this boost in employment aids in stimulating the local economy as more money circulates within the region.

From an environmental standpoint, solar power’s influence on Los Angeles can be particularly appreciated when evaluating the reduction in water usage. Traditional power plants require massive amounts of water for cooling purposes, but solar panels, on the other hand, necessitate very minimal to zero water resources. According to California’s State Water Plan update, over 19% of the state’s electricity use goes to water-related purposes. Hence, increasing solar energy adoption in LA aids in larger water conservation efforts, especially crucial in a region frequently plagued with droughts.

Additionally, solar power’s impact on air quality cannot be overlooked. Notably, rather than relying on fossil fuels, which contribute significantly to particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions, solar energy production leaves negligible footprints. For instance, California’s Air Resource Board estimated an overall decrease of 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent thanks to the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires utilities to source 60% of their power from renewables by 2030.

Therefore, the influence of solar energy in Los Angeles extends much beyond just power generation. Its broad-reaching impacts are creating a robust economy and fostering a more sustainable environment for inhabitants.

Challenges and Opportunities

The solar energy advancement in Los Angeles, California, faces a couple of significant challenges that largely revolve around grid integration and state policy issues. Primarily, enhancing solar energy generation causes an increased burden on the existing, somewhat antiquated grid system. The current grid was designed for centralized power and struggles to accommodate distributed generation like solar power, leading to a phenomenon called ‘duck curve,’ wherein oversupply during peak solar generation times leads to steep ramp-up demand as the sun sets. This could potentially result in power interruptions if not well managed.

Existing policies present another hurdle. Despite California’s generally supportive solar incentives, the recent proposed changes to California’s Net Metering policy at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) can reduce the financial benefits of new solar installations. This proposal would include a monthly grid participation charge, which could hamper residential and commercial customers from adopting solar energy.

However, despite these challenges, Los Angeles holds enormous potential for growth in the solar industry. For instance, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) Feed-in Tariff (FiT) program aims to encourage renewable energy investment by purchasing excess power generated by solar energy systems at a fixed rate. Moreover, California’s enactment of Senate Bill 100, aiming to achieve 100% clean energy by 2045, provides an impetus for solar energy growth in Los Angeles. Technological advancements in solar storage technology, like improved battery systems, also offer a promising solution to the grid integration and duck curve issues. By storing excess power generated during the day, it can be utilized at night, leveling the demand curve and enhancing grid stability. With the right policy adjustments and technological innovations, Los Angeles has the potential to overcome these challenges and truly harness its abundant sunshine.

Community Engagement and Education

Within the vibrant city of Los Angeles, community solar programs are gaining significant recognition as they push for the shift towards clean, renewable energy — primarily solar. As per the most recent data from SEIA, California has historically been the top solar state, with more than 27.2 GW of accumulated solar capacity and Los Angeles itself is credited for a substantial fraction of this capacity. Public enthusiasm fueling this growth is largely a product of the local government’s commitment to community engagement and education surrounding solar technology.

Particularly noteworthy are the community solar programs that allow groups of residents to share the benefits delivered by a single solar array. This innovative model, shaped by the California Shared Renewables Program, is beneficial for those who may not be candidates for individual rooftop installations due to financial limitations, shading, or ownership issues. For instance, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) Feed-in Tariff program offers a competitive advantage to property owners who lease their roofs to solar providers, offering a solid incentive for wider community involvement.

The state government has made notable strides in bolstering the education regarding solar systems to nurture informed decisions by the residents. Organizations such as Grid Alternatives, a non-profit solar installer, provide hands-on workshops for homeowners interested in solar energy, creating an educated consumer base. They also offer financial advice, crucial in understanding the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) legislation that enables homeowners to deduct 26% of the cost of a solar system from their federal taxes.

Additionally, local schools and universities have integrated renewable energy education into their curricula. A shining example is the Los Angeles Trade Technical College’s Solar PV Technician program, which trains individuals for careers in the solar industry. These measures facilitate a more informed public resulting in broader acceptance and engagement with solar technology.

Conclusion

Los Angeles, California is rapidly cementing its status as a solar powerhouse. The city’s trajectory to solar supremacy is a result of numerous coordinated efforts, favorable legal and climatic factors, and offers a potent blueprint for other sun-soaked cities. L.A.’s pronounced shift towards solar energy is partly due to California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandate which stipulates that the state must source 60% of its power from renewable sources by 2030, and a bold target of 100% by 2045. The RPS is reinforced by the California Solar Initiative rebate program, designed to propel solar uptake.

Further compounding L.A’s solar prospects is its fortuitous climate. The city boasts an impressive annual average of 3,500 sunlight hours and a mean wavelength of 579.4 nm, which is near optimal for silicon-based solar cells. This abundant sunshine capacity is one of the highest nationwide and makes Los Angeles a prime geography for photovoltaic ventures.

The progress in Los Angeles is encapsulated best by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the largest municipal utility in the U.S. In 2020, LADWP announced its intent of achieving a 55% renewable energy portfolio by 2025, thereby exceeding the state’s goals. The department has also launched programs like the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) program, which allows property owners to generate solar power and sell excess energy back to the grid; a stimulus for decentralized solar schemes. This multifaceted drive resonates through private sector actors too, as they invest in enormous solar farms, rooftop solar projects, and emergent technologies such as solar-enabled electric vehicle charging stations. As such, Los Angeles stands as an exemplar in harmonizing policy, climate, and innovation towards a solar-saturated future.

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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.