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Solar power’s future looks bright in Austin

City ranked ranked 13th in U.S. for installed solar capacity

Mueller Austin solar array
Larry D. Moore via Wikimedia Commons

We might live in a state (and have a university) that was built on oil money, but Austin in particular is well-positioned for a solar takeover (sort of). That’s according to Lawnstarter’s John Egan, who recently published a report on data collected for measuring solar capacity in a number of cities.

Egan points out that a study by Environment America, a research and policy nonprofit, found that in 2015, Austin ranked 13th among U.S. cities for total installed solar capacity and 18th for per-capita installed solar capacity.

How does that translate in the number of rooftops that could handle effective solar installations? For that question, Egan turns to Google’s Project Sunroof, which estimates the following:

85 percent of roofs in Austin could accommodate solar panels.

Those solar panels would cover about 195,000 rooftops of homes, office buildings and other structures.

The roof space equipped with solar panels would encompass 291 million square feet. That’s equivalent to about 1,600 Walmart Supercenters.

The 195,000 rooftop installations would have a solar power capacity of 4,100 megawatts. Just 1 megawatt of solar energy can power 164 typical American homes.

The 195,000 rooftop installations would produce 5.5 million megawatt-hours of electricity each year. The average U.S. household uses 11,000 kilowatt-hours of energy each year. One megawatt-hour equals 1,000 kilowatt-hours.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry talks solar research with Sanjay Banerjee, director of UT’s Pickle Research Center in Austin—big solar field in front, trees in back
Former Secretary of State John Kerry talks solar research with Sanjay Banerjee, director of UT’s Pickle Research Center in Austin
State Department photo/ Public Domain (Flickr)

Egan also notes that Project Sunroof puts the median size of each rooftop solar installation in Austin at 705 square feet, with a solar capacity of 10 kilowatts; that median size would generate about 13,200 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.

The article also reports that Project Sunroof estimates that Austin installations could eliminate 2.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of taking 565,000 cars off the road for a year or growing 68.6 million tree seedlings for 10 years.

Luckily, Austin Energy, our city’s main utility, is down with the solar thing. According to Egan, AE’s goal is to provide 55 percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2025. As of October 2016, he adds, it had “supported more than 5,600 residential solar energy installations, 315 commercial projects, 44 school projects, and 60 municipal projects.”

AE has been a leader in pushing for local solar installations (and non-locally provided wind power) for a while, primarily through rebates and incentives.

More controversial, as Egan notes, but also important to the goal, is a City Council resolution passed in February that new buildings must meet requirements necessary for the installation of solar panels—something many builders, naturally, objected to.

Data Reveals Sunny Potential for Solar Power in Austin [Lawnstarter]

Google Project Sunroof

Shining Cities 2016 [Environment America]