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Local Solar Could Power the Mountain West in 2011, All of America in 2026

| Written by John Farrell | 1 Comment | Updated on Aug 9, 2011 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://ilsr.org/local-solar-could-power-mountain-west-2011-all-america-2026/

The Germans have installed over 10,000 megawatts of solar panels in the past two years, enough to power 2 million American homes (most of Los Angeles, CA).  If Americans installed local solar at the same torrid pace, we could already power most of the Mountain West, could have a 100 percent solar nation by 2026, while enriching thousands of local communities with new development and jobs.

The following map shows the states that could be powered by solar if the U.S. kept pace with Germany on solar power in the past two years (installed the same megawatts on a per capita basis).

Solar Would Power the Mountain West if The U.S. Kept Pace with Germany

The spread of solar has not resulted in covering natural areas or fertile land with solar panels.  Rather, 80 percent of the solar installed in Germany was on rooftops and built to a local scale (100 kilowatts or smaller – think 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:

State Potential Rooftop PV:

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 the right of way could be used, over 2 million MW 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% of state consumption.

Such local solar power also provides enormous economic benefits.  For every megawatt of solar installed, as many as 9 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% 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 opportunity.

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About John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. More

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  • John Climatehawk Atkeison

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