Rooftop Solar’s Potential Grows in the United States

How much energy could rooftop solar systems generate, if one were installed on every suitable building in the United States?

A new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a division of the U.S. Department of Energy, aims to answer this question.

Researchers used detailed light detection and ranging (LiDAR) along with data analysis and simulation tools to estimate the potential of rooftop photovoltaic power in 128 cities across the country. Their results — and what they could mean for the future of photovoltaic power — were quite impressive.

Results of NREL Rooftop Solar Potential Study

Back in 2008, when the NREL did its last analysis, researchers estimated that the capacity of rooftop solar across the country was 664 gigawatts (GW). The energy that photovoltaic power could produce was determined to be 800 terawatt hours (TWh).

This time around, the capacity of U.S. solar was found to be 1,118 GW, and the annual energy generation was calculated at 1,432 TWh. This amount of energy is equivalent to 39 percent of current electricity sales.

So why did the numbers nearly double?

According to the NREL, the tools used for the 2016 study were able to provide more accurate estimations of the number of buildings suitable for rooftop photovoltaic power. In addition, more buildings are being designed to potentially accommodate photovoltaic panel arrays.

How Rooftop Solar Potential Compares to Peak Demand

The United States could produce 1,118 GW of energy if rooftop photovoltaic power were deployed on every suitable building. Would that be enough to meet the country’s peak demand?

The NREL says yes.

Currently, peak demand in the United States is between 700 and 800 GW. Just installing rooftop solar systems on small buildings could be enough to meet this demand. In fact, the study found that small buildings alone could accommodate 731 GW of solar capacity.

Looking Beyond the NREL Rooftop Solar Report

The NREL study only looks at rooftop solar, and only considers installations on suitable rooftops. The figures did not include any possible energy production from ground-mounted installations.

The study determined, for example, that only 26 percent of small buildings are suitable for rooftop deployment. What about the other 74 percent? While the rest might not be ideal locations for solar panels, systems placed on those rooftops could still contribute a significant amount of energy.

Ground-mounted photovoltaic power has immense potential that was not factored into the report. When you consider how much energy can be produced by just one field of solar panels, it’s easy to see that ground-mounted installations across the country could produce a significant percentage of our nation’s electricity.

At Intermountain Wind & Solar, we have known for many years that solar energy is the future of energy production, for individuals as well as businesses. From coast to coast, people are embracing the potential cost savings and energy independence photovoltaic solar offers.

We serve residential and commercial customers in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho and Nevada. Contact us today to learn how to get in on the rooftop solar explosion.