Solar Power in Sunny Cities: Phoenix, Arizona

Leslie Larosa
9 min readDec 10, 2023

Phoenix, Arizona is a city that is primed for maximizing the advantages imbued by solar power. The geography and climate is outstandingly conducive for harvesting solar energy. Phoenix, colloquially known as the “Valley of the Sun”, receives more sunlight than any other major city in the U.S., with an overwhelming 3,872 hours of bright sunshine annually.

The Sonoran Desert environment, encompassing Phoenix, acts as an adept canvas for harnessing the maximum potential of solar energy. Noteworthy is the average daily solar insolation that marries perfectly with effective photovoltaic power production. The rule of thumb is that for every 1 kW of solar panels installed in Phoenix, approximately 1,900 kWh of production potential per year is expected.

Phoenix’s ascent in the solar energy sphere is not just a stroke of geographic and climatic luck. The city has systematically invested in solar installations and projects, guided by the seminal legislation — Arizona’s Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST). The law mandates that regulated electric utilities must procure 15% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. Nearly half of this must come from distributed energy technologies, many of which are rooftop solar installations. This strategic foresight has fostered a thriving environment for solar infrastructure development and investment.

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One excellent example of this commitment to solar energy can be seen with the Agua Caliente Solar Project, one of the world’s largest solar plants, situated in the Arizona desert. This pours into the city’s power grid, thus decreasing dependence on fossil fuels. In essence, major drivers for Phoenix’s solar market are the fortuitous geographic and climatic conditions, coupled with a robust regulatory landscape fostering sustainable practices.

Solar Landscape in Phoenix

Phoenix, Arizona is ideally situated in the ‘Sun Belt’ region of the United States, graced with approximately 3,877 hours of bright sunshine annually, which exceedingly surpasses the national average by about 1,000 hours. Furthermore, Phoenix experiences a mean solar irradiance of 5.38 kWh/m2/day. Solar irradiance, which quantifies the power per unit area (surface power density), is a compelling factor in solar power generation.

Actually, solar irradiance directly relates to the efficiency of solar panels; higher irradiance means more solar energy for conversion into electricity. Now, juxtapose Phoenix’s high irradiance with that in Seattle, which only receives an average irradiance of 3.75 kWh/m2/day. It’s clear that Phoenix has a significant natural advantage for solar power production.

Excellent solar resources in Phoenix are coupled with the state’s supportive solar regulatory environment. Arizona’s Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) mandates that utilities generate 15% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2025, of which 30% must come from distributed energy technologies — a category that includes most rooftop solar installations. Furthermore, the state’s net metering policy allows solar system owners to receive credit for surplus power returned to the grid, a practical financial incentive that encourages the adoption of solar power.

Through a combination of environmental advantages and legislative support, there’s a compelling argument for the utilization of solar energy in Phoenix, Arizona. For instance, the Agua Caliente solar project, one of the world’s largest solar plants in Yuma County, illustrates the significant solar power potential in the region. These factors together create an atmosphere ripe for further exploration and investment in solar power technology in Phoenix.

Solar Initiatives and Growth in Phoenix

In Phoenix, Arizona, one of the sunniest places on earth, solar power has witnessed an outstanding surge due to favorable state laws, favorable climate, as well as local government initiatives. The Arizona Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff program, for example, mandates that utilities generate 15% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, with 30% of that 15% derived from distributed energy technologies, most likely to be residential solar installations. This creates a positive environment for homeowners considering solar installations for both, environmental and cost-reducing reasons.

Phoenix city officials have also accomplished commendable work incorporating solar energy systems into their local infrastructure development. The CSI or Comprehensive Solar Initiative, launched by the City of Phoenix in 2008 has been instrumental in these efforts. Their ambitious goal was to install 15 megawatts of solar power on city properties by 2015 — a target they achieved one year early in 2014. One exemplary project, under this initiative, was the incorporation of 5.4 MW of solar power in the Lake Pleasant Water Treatment Plant, making it one of the largest city-based solar power installations.

Moreover, the Solar Phoenix Program, a collaboration between the City of Phoenix and National Bank of Arizona offers affordable solar financing for homeowners. Through this innovative program, they have installed more than 800 solar systems totaling more than 4 MW in capacity across the city.

In a climate that averages 299 sunny days a year, Phoenix’s solar growth is both a natural resource opportunity and a testament to the effectiveness of these encouraging policies and regulations promoting solar energy production and use.

Economic and Environmental Impact

In Phoenix, Arizona, the economic ramification of solar energy implementation has hit an exciting peak in recent years. Currently, the state ranks third nationwide for solar capacity, with over 3,400 MW installed as of 2020. Remarkably, this equates to sufficient energy to power approximately 487,000 homes, hence leveraging thousands of jobs in the solar industry thus, boosting Arizona’s economy in the process. There exist explicit renewable energy standards and deregulation laws in Arizona, which encourage the growth of the solar industry. For example, the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) policy, requiring Arizona utilities to derive 15% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, plays a constructive role in incentivizing solar installation.

From an environmental perspective, the impact is just as pronounced. Phoenix, characterized by intense sunshine with over 300 sunny days per year, boasts an ideal climate for solar generation, decreasing the necessity for conventional methods of energy production which are typically water-intensive. This reduction in water usage is substantial in a region where water scarcity is a pressing concern. Furthermore, at the height of its summer months, Phoenix experienced a considerable downgrade in air pollution levels due to a decline in the use of fossil fuels, largely attributable to the city’s heavy reliance on solar installations.

Moreover, implementing solar power greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions. An illustrative example is the Agua Caliente solar project in Yuma County, one of the world’s largest photovoltaic farms. With a generating capacity of 290 MW, it offsets approximately 5.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. These figures reflect a decisive step towards a cleaner, more sustainable environment in Phoenix and by extension, Arizona at large.

Community Engagement and Education

In Phoenix, Arizona, community solar programs are a growing trend and offer an exciting opportunity for residents to tap into the state’s abundant solar resources. The city, bathed in over 300 days of sunshine a year, provides an ideal setting for these programs designed to both harness clean energy and foster community involvement.

Arizona offers a fresh perspective on using sunlight as it urges consumers not to just consume less, but consume better. An exemplifying initiative would be the Arizona Public Service’s (APS) “Community Power Project” in the Greater Phoenix area. This project involves equipping neighborhoods with photovoltaic (PV) systems and educating the residents about the immense benefits of solar energy. As part of the initiative, APS provides participants with real-time, detailed data about their energy usage and solar generation, which drives a more profound understanding and appreciation of sustainable energy use among the local community.

Similarly, low-income homeowners in Phoenix have been privy to the benefits of the state’s solar rebate program. Administered through Arizona’s Residential Utility Consumer Office (RUCO), the program helps reduce the upfront cost of installing PV systems, fostering economic and energy resilience in marginalized communities.

Moreover, the ‘Solar for All’ program by the non-profit group Local First Arizona is another prime example. They educate under-resourced areas on how to use solar power, encouraging a wider adoption of renewable energy in the state.

At an institutional level, educational institutions such as Arizona State University have introduced specialized courses on solar energy, offering comprehensive training for future solar technicians and policymakers, thereby reinforcing Arizona’s commitment towards solar energy.

These active community engagement and educational initiatives underpin the progressive solar energy scene in Phoenix, Arizona, bolstering the city’s capacity to harness the sun’s potential while engaging its residents meaningfully in this renewable venture.

Challenges and Opportunities

Phoenix, Arizona is known for its incredibly sun-rich climate, boasting about 300 days of bright sunshine annually. This bourgeoning metropolis holds immense potential to harness solar energy at an unprecedented scale. Despite such potential, several challenges inhibit the expansion of solar power in the region.

Firstly, grid integration emerges as a significant hurdle in the way. The existing grid infrastructure was not designed for handling the inflow of electricity from distributed and intermittent solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. High levels of solar PV integration into the existing grid could potentially create voltage control issues and confront power companies with unbalanced loads. It also threatens system-wide blackouts if not managed efficiently.

Policy barriers also play considerable roles in hindering solar expansion. The state repealed net metering in 2016, replacing it with a less generous compensation scheme for solar homeowners. The compensation rate for excess solar electricity generated by customers is now set by the Arizona Corporation Commission and unfortunately, decreases every year. This policy may discourage new customers from adopting solar energy, hence slowing growth.

However, opportunities in the sector abound. Technology advances like energy storage solutions may hold the key to efficient grid integration by mitigating intermittencies and balancing energy supply. The plummeting costs of solar panels have made solar power more affordable for average Arizonans as well. A study conducted by NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) in 2020 reported a substantial 70% drop in the median price of residential PV systems in the U.S. between 2010 and 2019. Furthermore, the rise of many fundraising elements like Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) increase the financing options for homeowners looking to install solar. The Arizona Corporation Commission is also mulling the implementation of Renewable Energy Standards, mandating utilities companies to incorporate a specific percentage of renewable energy, which holds the potential to revitalize the solar sector. Thus, despite the challenges, Phoenix’s solar market holds the promise of significant growth and development in the coming years.

Conclusion

Phoenix, Arizona’s journey in establishing itself as a solar energy powerhouse truly paints a vivid picture of the potential for solar power in sunny urban landscapes. A city kissed by the sun for over 299 days a year, Phoenix’s prodigious solar resource has been harnessed to the maximum benefit of its residents and businesses. While solar power was in its early stages, a combination of visionary policies and supportive regulations played a crucial role in nurturing the solar industry. In particular, the Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST) regulations issued by the Arizona Corporation Commission had a significant impact, mandating electric utilities operating in Arizona to generate at least 15% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025, with a further requirement that at least 30% of this energy must come from distributed energy resources, in practical terms meaning residential solar panels.

Further facilitating this ambitious target, Arizona offers a personal tax credit of 25%, up to a $1,000 cap, on a solar device purchased for an Arizona residence. Additionally, solar equipment sales to Arizona residents are exempt from state sales tax, providing another incentive for solar adoption.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) technology has been massively adopted across Phoenix, cutting citizens’ electricity bills significantly. For example, Arizona State University’s 24.1 MW solar electric system has the capability to meet up to 49.4% of the university’s daytime peak demand, setting an excellent example for other major institutions nationwide. Notably, municipal buildings in Phoenix are now outfitted with solar panels resulting in annual savings of $4.2 million.

Phoenix’s journey and continued commitment to solar energy serve as an instructive template for other sun-drenched cities looking to capitalize on their solar potential. With a combination of supportive policy, financial incentives, and a commitment to sustainability, Phoenix has truly become a shining beacon in the world of solar energy.

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Leslie Larosa

I am a writer, weaving words into captivating articles. My mastery of this craft allows me to paint vivid pictures and inspire minds.