The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) just released a study that shows that the United States can provide about 40 percent of its electricity needs via rooftop solar (PV – photovoltaics).
A new study showed a potential of 1,118 gigawatts compared to an estimate from 2008 that only showed 664 gigawatts of potential solar electricity. The new revised estimate is almost twice as much for two reasons; improved knowledge of building suitability and increased solar panel efficiency over the past 8 years.
Robert Margolis, NREL senior energy analyst has stated that “This report is the culmination of a three-year research effort and represents a significant advancement in our understanding of the potential for rooftop PV to contribute to meeting U.S. electricity demand.”
A total of 128 cities were analyzed by the NREL. This sample size represents about 25 percent of the total amount of buildings in the country. Not surprisingly, a city in California topped the PV suitability list. Overall, the state could provide 74 percent of its electricity sales via rooftop PV. However, Concord, New Hampshire and Buffalo, New York also were found near the top of the list.
This study can be seen as further proof that solar’s potential is truly astounding. The 40 percent figure only takes into account PV solar and only on rooftops. Carports, ground mounts, and utility scale solar was not included.
As far as other forms of solar are concerned, it’s not an either or debate. Margolis has stated that “There’s been a lot of debate about whether large-scale solar is a solution versus rooftop solar. There’s a lot of technical potential for rooftops and for large-scale solar – both have roles to play.”
Perhaps the most important idea related to this report is that rooftop solar represents the democratization of energy. Distributed generation puts more power and money into the hands of those who use it. This is the true value of solar power.
It might be easy to underestimate this 40 percent figure, but in terms of electricity costs, we’re talking about many billions of dollars going into the pockets of homeowners and business owners all across the country. Of course, utilities will continue to invest into large-scale solar and even offer their own PV programs for residential and commercial use.
The big picture here is that this is yet another example of the vast untapped potential for solar power. The combined potential of utility-scale solar with its distributed generation rooftop pv can more than provide for all of our collective energy needs.