Solar energy is on the rise in the United States. At the end of the first quarter of 2015, more than 21,300 megawatts of cumulative solar electric capacity had been installed around the country, enough to power more than 4.3 million homes. The rapid growth of solar energy in the United States is the result of forward-looking policies that are helping the nation reduce its contribution to global warming and expand its use of local renewable energy sources.
One policy in particular, net energy metering, has been instrumental in the growth of solar energy, particularly on homes and businesses. Net energy metering enables solar panel owners to earn fair compensation for benefits they provide to other users of the electricity grid, and makes “going solar” an affordable option for more people. Net energy metering works by providing customers a credit on their electric bill that offsets charges for energy consumption. As solar energy has taken off in recent years, however, utilities and other special interests have increasingly attacked net metering as an unjustified “subsidy” to solar users.
In the summer of 1993, residents of the American Midwest experienced the most costly flood in the history of the United States. By the end of that summer, the Mississippi River in St. Louis was 20 feet above flood stage, and levee breaks in Illinois led to the inundation of thousands of acres of land. The flood claimed 48 lives and caused nearly $20 billion in damage.
In the aftermath of the flood, numerous studies were conducted to examine what had gone wrong and what could be done to prevent another flood of this scale. The conclusion: the decades spent building levees and dams to control Mississippi river flooding had actually debilitated our first line of defense against flooding – wetlands.
Scientists now know that wetlands are critical to the global water cycle. They are the kidneys of our national water system, cleaning out sediment and water pollution. They are home to numerous plant and animal species, supporting our nation’s biodiversity. They are also able to store vast amounts of water and are thus an important tool to protect America’s cities and towns from flooding.
As a result of global warming, young Americans today are growing up in a different climate than their parents and grandparents experienced. It is warmer than it used to be. Storms pack more of a punch. Rising seas increasingly flood low-lying land. Large wildfires have grown bigger, more frequent and more expensive to control. People are noticing changes in their own backyards, no matter where they live. Pollution from burning coal, oil and gas is the primary cause of global warming. Without urgent action to reduce global warming pollution, children born today will grow up in a more dangerous world. We can protect our children from the most harmful impacts of global warming by reducing carbon pollution and shifting to cleaner sources of energy. The United States has a critical window of opportunity to lead the world in this effort.
The use of solar power is expanding rapidly across the United States. By the end of 2014, the United States had 20,500 megawatts (MW) of cumulative solar electric capacity, enough to power four million average U.S. homes. This success is the outcome of federal, state and local programs that are working in concert to make solar power accessible to more Americans, thereby cleaning our air, protecting our health, and hedging against volatile electricity prices.
America’s major cities have played key roles in the clean energy revolution and stand to reap significant benefits from solar energy adoption. As population centers, they are home to the largest electricity markets and can have an important influence on the way we power our grid. Many cities are already benefitting from smart policies that encourage investment in solar energy.
As of the end of 2014, 20 cities – representing just 0.1 percent of U.S. land area – account for 6.5 percent of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in the United States. The 65 cities in this report have installed 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV capacity – more solar PV than was installed in the entire country at the end of 2009.