The solar power potential of US rooftops

Published: 01 May 2018 By Matt Cook

A new study has explored how much of the energy demands in the US could be supplied directly by rooftop solar schemes. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has delivered a report called the Rooftop Solar Technical Potential for Low-to-Moderate Income Households in the United States.

US Solar Roof

The study specifically looked at the solar potential on low-to-moderate income households nationwide. At present, rooftop solar schemes have been targeted towards higher-income households but with continued decline in solar prices, the potential for solar PV is widening.

The study included detail light detection and ranging (LiDAR) scans of building as well as statistical research on the rooftop solar potential. The results suggested that of the 117 million residential buildings across the US, there are over 67 million suitable for solar PV, which total 57% of total residential building.

The report states that the total solar potential was close to 1,000 TWh which is the equivalent to nearly three quarters of residential consumption in the US. 

Rooftop potential is influenced by the overall orientation of the buildings and roofs. In colder climates, building to tend to be developed to maximise the potential of incoming solar. Whereas in hotter climates, buildings are developed to avoid the extent of incoming solar radiation.

Looking at specific regions in the US, areas in Alaska have a higher level of rooftops for solar potential compared to areas such as Arizona. However, the southwest region has a significantly higher level of incoming solar than Alaska, meaning that despite the low percentage of applicable buildings for low-to-moderate income families, 100% of the LMI energy consumption could still be offset by LMI building.

The NREL study evolved from the US Department of Energy Solar Energy Technology office indicating that the decrease costs of solar could result in a solar capacity of 971 GW nationwide and generate 33% of electrical power by 2050. The study by the NREL suggests that the target of 33% is easily achievable among existing LMI buildings.
 

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