The Germans have installed over 10,000 megawatts of solar panels in the past two years, enough to power 2 million American homes (or most of Los Angeles, Calif.). If Americans installed local solar at the same torrid pace, we could already power most of the Mountain West, and could have a 100 percent solar nation by 2026, while enriching thousands of local communities with new development and jobs.
The following map shows what could have happened had the U.S. kept pace with Germany on solar power in the past two years (installed the same megawatts on a per capita basis). Sunshine could power 10 states!
The spread of solar has also been in harmony with environmental goals. Rather than covering natural areas or fertile land with solar panels, 80 percent of the solar installed in Germany was on rooftops and built to a local scale (100 kilowatts or smaller — the roof of a church or a Home Depot store). Solar in the U.S. also can use existing space. The following map shows the amount of a state’s electricity that could come from rooftop solar alone, from our 2009 report “Energy Self-Reliant States“:
While the local rooftop solar potential of these states varies from 19 to 51 percent, there’s much more land available for solar without covering parks or crops. Once again, data from “Energy Self-Reliant States” (p. 13):
On either side of 4 million miles of roads, the U.S. has approximately 60 million acres (90,000 square miles) of right of way. If 10 percent of the right of way could be used, over 2 million [megawatts] of roadside solar PV could provide close to 100 percent of the electricity consumption in the country. In California, solar PV on a quarter of the 230,000 acres of right of way could supply 27 percent of state consumption.
Such local solar power also provides enormous economic benefits. For every megawatt of solar installed, as many as eight jobs are created. But the economic multiplier is significantly higher for locally owned projects, made possible when solar is built at a local scale as the Germans have done.
With local ownership, making America a 100 percent solar nation could create nearly 10 million jobs, and add as much as $450 billion to the U.S. economy.
The Germans have found the profitable marriage between their energy and environmental policy. It’s time for America to discover the same.