Solar Power in Sunny Cities: Denver, Colorado

Solar Power Systems
9 min readDec 16, 2023

Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Denver, Colorado, colloquially known as the ‘Mile-High City’, is renowned for its voracious solar appetite. The conducive geography and climate of the region provide ample opportunities for robust solar power production, making Denver a natural beacon for renewable energy exploration and optimization.

The city’s altitude plays a significant role in its solar capabilities. Denver stands over one mile above sea level, resulting in reduced atmospheric thickness. This implies that there’s less air mass for the sunlight to traverse, leading to approximately 30% more solar radiation falling on Denver’s solar panels compared to those at sea level. Resultantly, the photovoltaic installations in Denver are decidedly more efficient, clearly signifying Denver’s geographical advantage for solar power.

Added to Denver’s height is its weather — Denver enjoys roughly 300 days of sunshine a year. This gives the city an annual average solar resource of about 5.5 peak sun hours, higher than the national average of 4.5 peak sun hours. This high solar insolation, coupled with the city’s cold but sunny winter climate that helps boost PV efficiency, makes Denver’s climate perfect for expanding residential and commercial solar power production.

Furthermore, Colorado has specific laws and regulations supporting renewable energy. The state’s Renewable Energy Standard mandates investor-owned utilities to procure 30% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, with a 3% carve-out for distributed generation encouraging individual solar panel installations. Besides, net metering regulations and solar easement laws further incentivize the city’s homeowners and businesses to install solar panels.

What arises from these geographic, climatic, and regulatory conditions is a city primed for solar leadership. Indeed, Denver is a striking example of a city capitalizing on its ingrained solar potential, setting a sterling example of solar power utilization within its region.

Solar Landscape in Denver

Denver, Colorado, fondly known as the Mile-High City, is recognized for the stellar position it holds in the American solar landscape. Denver records an annual sunshine average of approximately 3,000 hours, which translates to about 300 sunny days a year. This provides an exceptional environment for solar energy harvesting. Most fundamentally, the city’s geographical location and altitude enhance the solar irradiance, critical to the efficiency of photovoltaic panels.

Solar irradiance, the power per unit area received from the sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation, averages around 5.5 kWh/m²/day in Denver. This figure is significantly above the US average of 4.7 kWh/m²/day. It’s important to note that higher irradiance directly correlates with increased solar panel efficiency. In other words, panels installed in Denver produce more power for every hour of sunshine compared to many other areas in the US.

On top of that, Denver’s high altitude further magnifies its solar potential. At higher altitudes, there are fewer particulates in the air to refract sunlight, making the sunlight more ‘direct,’ and therefore more potent. As a result, solar panels can convert sunshine into electricity more effectively.

These favorable conditions, coupled with Colorado’s progressive renewable energy targets — striving for 100% renewable energy by 2040 — and accommodating net metering policies, make Denver an appealing territory for solar energy. For instance, households are allowed to sell excess solar energy back to the grid at retail price, fostering a favorable economic environment for solar energy investment.

In conclusion, Denver’s remarkable amount of sunshine, above-average solar irradiance, and supportive policy landscape make it an ideal city for solar panel installation.

Solar Initiatives and Growth Denver

In the thriving city of Denver, Colorado, solar initiatives are blossoming, spurred by supportive state and local government policies. Colorado’s Renewable Energy Standard is a shining example, requiring investor-owned utilities to source 30% of their energy (20% for municipal utilities and electric cooperatives) from renewable sources by 2020. This legislative platform fosters the proliferation of solar power, encouraging installations across the state.

Denver’s landscape has been transformed with prominent key solar projects. The Denver International Airport, host to the largest solar farm in the state, and SunShare Community Solar Gardens exemplify this, facilitating substantial sustainable power generation. The 30.6-megawatt airport solar array produces 42.2 million kilowatt hours per year, equating to the energy consumption of 6,500 homes. SunShare, on the other hand, gives citizens the benefit of solar power without necessitating personal rooftop solar installations. With 19.6MW capacity spread over five Denver-area facilities, SunShare significantly broadens the scope of residential and commercial solar participation.

Moreover, Denver’s Solar*Connect Community program offers an innovative, flexible, and affordable means to engage in solar energy. This program allows citizens to opt into the solar power grid without the need to install individual solar panels. Participants mitigate their carbon footprint and save money on their utilities, contributing to Denver’s impressive growth towards a sustainable future.

Denver’s city government’s proactive approach to encouraging solar energy development, including the option of streamlined permitting for residential solar systems, is driving strong growth in this sector. Climate-wise, Denver’s 300 days of sunshine annually provides an optimal environment for solar power production. Overall, Denver’s road to a sustainable future is well guided with robust solar initiatives and policy support.

Economic and Environmental Impact

As we delve into the intricacies of Denver, Colorado’s solar landscape, one can’t overlook the vital economic and environmental impacts of solar energy in the region. Denver’s sunny disposition, with an average of 300 sunlit days per year, has optimal potential for solar energy production. The robust solar industry has bolstered the economy by creating jobs; in 2020, Colorado ranked 12th nationwide for solar employment with 6,334 jobs. The state’s commitment to clean energy, bolstered by the ambitious climate law (HB19–1261), sets greenhouse gas emission targets to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

Solar power plays an instrumental role in achieving these goals. According to a 2021 report by the Solar Energy Industries Association, Colorado’s 1,003 MW of solar energy is enough to power 190,000 homes and offsets 1.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. This is equivalent to removing roughly 300,000 cars from the roads each year, significantly improving air quality in Denver — a city known for its ozone issues.

Furthermore, solar power systems drastically lower water consumption — a boon in an arid state like Colorado. While traditional energy sources like coal and natural gas require substantial water for cooling purposes, photovoltaic (PV) solar panels need minimal water for operation. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that solar panels use 20 times less water per kWh of electricity produced compared to natural gas and 16 times less than coal, making solar power a sustainable option in ensuring Colorado’s water resources can support the state’s growing population and diverse needs.

In essence, the adoption of solar energy in Denver, Colorado, is not just a money-saving venture but a significant step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and conserving water, further establishing the city as a leader in environmental stewardship.

Challenges and Opportunities

Denver, Colorado presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for solar energy integration. From a legislative perspective, Colorado has been encouraging renewable energy initiatives. It was among the first states to pass the Renewable Energy Standard in 2004, requiring utilities to procure a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources. However, the city of Denver faces substantial regulatory hurdles, including complex interconnection procedures and varying net metering policies among different utility jurisdictions. Grid integration of solar power, critical for optimizing its contribution to the energy mix, is another significant challenge due to the intermittent nature of solar power.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission plays a pivotal role here. The recent ruling in 2016, agreement between Xcel Energy and solar advocates, on net metering policy, for instance, enables solar owners to sell excess power back to the grid at retail prices. Yet, the grid is still predominantly designed for centralized power systems, not distributed generation like solar, posing challenges.

Despite these challenges, enormous opportunities for growth and development in the solar sector exist. Given Denver’s high average annual days of sunshine (300 days), the city’s potential for solar energy is tremendous. The recent cost decline in photovoltaic hardware, makes selling power back to the grid more profitable for residents. The Million Solar Roofs Initiative, launched by Denver’s Mayor in 2020, is aimed at boosting the number of solar photovoltaics in the city. Plus, an ambitious 80% renewable electricity by 2030 goal adds to Colorado’s attractiveness for solar companies. With such prospects, Denver could become a thriving hub for the solar industry.

Community Engagement and Education

Denver, Colorado is a beacon of progress in terms of community engagement and education regarding the use of solar energy. One of its hallmark schemes in this realm is community solar programs. By their nature, such programs promote direct participation in the generation of solar power, allowing Denver residents who may not have suitable rooftops for solar installation, to instead buy or lease a share of a centrally located solar photovoltaic (PV) installation. Colorado’s Community Solar Gardens Act of 2010 has laid a firm foundation for such shared renewable energy programs. Subsequently, Denver’s community solar market has been booming, even expanding to low-income households via progressive arrangements.

Further, extensive educational initiatives are crucial to increased solar uptake. Locals are being equipped with knowledge on the utility of solar power through Denver’s partnership with organizations like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL holds public tours and workshops, offering locals first-hand insights into solar technologies and how they work. Public schools play a part too, many having implemented curricula that includes renewable energy topics.

Practical empowerment is another key aspect, through Solarize campaigns, which reduce the cost and complexity of going solar for residents. Denver also boasts experienced solar professionals who offer courses and workshops to homeowners, detailing the step-by-step process of installing solar energy systems on residential properties. Using real-world examples, they outline the procedure from site assessment and system design to installation and maintenance.

Living in a state with 300 days of sunlight annually, Denver residents are strategically placed to harness this abundant, renewable energy source. These initiatives, laws, and community programs underscore the role and potential of solar energy in Denver, amplifying community engagement and accentuating the education of residents in this sphere. Not only are locals encouraged to participate in the solar energy movement, but they are also given the resources and knowledge necessary to fully comprehend its benefits and application.


Denver, Colorado, over the years, has solidified itself as a flourishing solar powerhouse. It has become a real and spectacular testimony to how sunny states can plentifully harness the abundant solar resource. Today, Denver boasts of a solar energy capacity of 83 megawatts per the latest report of the Environment America Research & Policy Center. This places Denver amongst the solar leaders, coming in seventh among major U.S. cities.

One of the critical pillars of Denver’s success is its supportive legal and regulatory structure. The Colorado Renewable Energy Standard, which made a groundbreaking passage in 2004, mandated utilities to source a significant portion of their energy from renewable sources. This law has been revised over the years, increasing the required portion from 10% to 30%. This has fueled the rapid adoption of solar energy in Denver and across the state. Additionally, the state offers attractive financial incentives, such as the 26% federal tax credit and comprehensive net metering programs that make solar energy investments more profitable for homeowners and businesses.

Denver’s climate is another boon — clocking over 300 sunny days a year facilitates the generation of enormous volumes of solar power. The high altitude of the “Mile High City” also enhances solar PV panel efficiency as solar panels derive improved performance in cooler, brighter conditions.

Denver’s journey is exemplary of a well-thought-out solar policy complemented by favorable natural conditions. This has catapulted the city to become a solar giant — it offers a blueprint for other sun-rich locations yearning to fully exploit their solar potential. Denver’s example exhibits how a well-crafted blend of policy, incentives, and climatic advantages can seamlessly marry economic development with sustainable energy practices.

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