Celebrating summer with some of our favorite U.S. solar projects

by Jason Schwartz

June 20, 2014

Arctic sunrise. The morning sun is rising at about 2 am in the morning at midst July in IIulissat, Greenland. Sonnenaufgang in der Arktis, um 2 Uhr morgens im Juli. Iluissat, Nordwest Groenland.

© Bernd Roemmelt / Greenpeace

Greenpeace has nothing against night time, but we have to say: these days were kind of into the sun. Thats why in advance of this summer solstice, the day the sun shines longest all year, we are taking a little time to give props. And were not the only ones. Countries the world over are shifting toward renewable energy, with solar projects taking an increasing slice of the electricity generation pie. In some developing countries, renewables like solar are leapfrogging older technologies and fossil fuels altogether. And its no surprise. Renewable sources, like hydro, wind, and solar are abundant, they can be installed across scales (from the household to the large utility), and they dont have the horrible public health and climate implications of coal, oil, and natural gas. [caption id="attachment_18812" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Small scale rooftop solar in the Huerfano Valley of Colorado. Off the grid energy independence. Small scale rooftop solar in the Huerfano Valley of Colorado. Off the grid energy independence.[/caption] But sunlight. More energy reaches earth as sunlight in one hour than all of humanity uses in a year. And we actually have the wherewithal to harness way, way more of it than we already do. So what are we waiting for? That's obviously a rhetorical question. Here is a list of solar energy projects in the U.S. that we think are making that question a lot less rhetorical right now.

Put Solar On It

Solar Mosaic is one of the companies leading the solar revolution in the U.S. The company has partnered with dozens of other organizations to provide people in every state the tools they need to install solar panels on buildings in their communities. The project, calledPut Solar on It,has already garnered a lot of attention. This solstice, the coalition will be supporting anational day of actionto get the word out.Check here to see how you can get involved. [caption id="attachment_22513" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Namaste solar installers Josh Ford and Jed Brunk on a rooftop in Aurora during a photo voltaic system installation. Namaste solar installers Josh Ford and Jed Brunk on a rooftop in Aurora, CO during a photo voltaic system installation.[/caption]

Lancaster: The Solar Capital of the Universe

There can be no arguing that a combination of renewable-friendly legislation, technological and innovative knowhow, sunny cities, and a history of leading paradigm shifts makes California the capital of the solar revolution. But one mayor in California will only be satisfied when his town is recognized as thesolar capital of the universe. R. Rex Parris (who is a Republican by the way) is pushing to make the desert city of Lancaster the first city that produces more electricity from solar energy than it consumes on a daily basis. Among the ways hes achieving that goal is by mandating that every new home be equipped with solar panels or their equivalent. More power to him.

Solar Gardens

Not everybody is able to put photovoltaic panels on their homes. They might live in a cloudy part of town, or they may not own their properties. But one type of legislation makes it possible for those people to buy into shared solar systems, conventionally known as solar gardens and have a portion of the energy produced sent to their homes. Its pretty convenient. Colorado is among the states leading the charge toward solar gardens, but frustratingly, some states have defeated legislation that would make it possible. [caption id="attachment_27755" align="aligncenter" width="600"]The 500-kilowatt Boulder Cowdery Meadows Solar Array, the first community solar garden to launch in Xcel Energy's Colorado service area since the passage of a law in 2010 permitting them. The 500-kilowatt Boulder Cowdery Meadows Solar Array, the first community solar garden to launch in Xcel Energy's Colorado service area since the passage of a law in 2010 permitting them.[/caption]

Apple doing it right

Tech giant Apple has made good on a few big time solar investments. It powers its entire iCloud with two massive solar farms in North Carolina, and its data centers in Nevada are set to be powered by solar as well. It is very close to having 100% of its energy powered by renewables. In 2010, it was only at 35%. [caption id="attachment_18758" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Solar panels at Apple's data center in Maiden, NC. Courtesy GigaOM Solar panels at Apple's data center in Maiden, NC. Courtesy GigaOM[/caption]


It may not be known for being the sunniest place in the world, but Portland is definitely one of the leading American cities in the race to go solar. Among the citys great contributions to the national renewables transition is Solarize, which was originally led by neighborhood assoications to buy solar panels in quantity and make them available to residents at low cost. Solarize initiatives have spread to cities and states across the U.S.Greenpeace has supported Solarize Charlottein North Carolina, the heart of anti-solar Duke Energy and ALEC obstruction. Solaraize Charlotte has already mobilized hundreds of people. [caption id="attachment_27536" align="aligncenter" width="600"]A huge turnout at a Solarize Charlotte meeting in June 2014. A huge turnout at a Solarize Charlotte meeting in June 2014.[/caption]

Gainesvilles feed-in tariff

Cities or states can elect to pay owners of solar panels when they feed excess energy from their panels back into the grid. The policy, known as a feed-in tariff, made Gainesville, Florida one of the world leaders in per capita solar installations. It also produced revenue for suppliers with a lot of roof space, like city schools and libraries. Unfortunately, because of controversy (some of it trumped up) that the feed in tariffs were no longer paying off for the city, Gainesville is granting no contracts in 2014. But still, in a state that has been pretty bad at converting to renewables (despite ample sunshine), that city stands out.

NY Sun

This year, Governor Cuomo of New Yorkcommitted about $1 billionto sweeping market-based solar programs across the state. His stated hope is to modernize the states grid and create a solar marketplace by promoting business, including a successful bid to lureElon Musks Solar City manufacturing operations. Already, the state hosts more than 400 solar companies, providing over 5,000 skilled jobs to New Yorkers. (And while were on the subject of Solar City, what about its purchasing of panel manufacturer Silevo? Thats big news!) [caption id="attachment_27763" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Alamosa Solar Generating Plant, a 30 megawatt concentrating photovoltaic power plant near Alamosa, CO. Alamosa Solar Generating Plant, a 30 megawatt concentrating photovoltaic power plant near Alamosa, CO.[/caption]

Mapping rooftops

Theres the great tool by Sustainable CUNY called the NYC Solar Map, that provides info on just about all of the rooftop solar installed in the city, with testimonials by owners and assistance for people who want to do the same (its pretty cool to play around with). The map is super detailed and shows that 2/3 of the rooftops in Gotham are suitable for solar. If that happened, it would double the entire solar output of the United States and meet half of the citys peak demand. [caption id="attachment_23741" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Facility in California. Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Facility in California. It spans across 5 square kilometers and fostered jobs and innovation, but it has also faced criticism.[/caption]

Utility Scale Solar growing up

Enormous solar projects that provide electricity like conventional power plants are goingonline all over the country.Theypoint to the future of utility-scale renewables projects but have also been criticized onenvironmental,economic,andsocialgrounds. One project that were watching optimistically is now under construction. Its the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project, which is being built in a partnership between First Solar Electric and the Moapa Paiute tribe. The Moapa Paiute have long battled with a polluting coal plant, Reid-Gardner, which belches coal smoke into their air to power Las Vegas about 50 miles away. The Los Angeles Dept of Water and Power has already contracted with the plant for 25 years.

Want to let us know about some other great projects around the country? Tell us in a comment!

Jason Schwartz

By Jason Schwartz

Jason Schwartz is a media officer for Greenpeace USA based in New York City.

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