Report: The South's Solar Leader

A Bright Future

Building a Solar Atlanta
Released by: Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center

Atlanta has vast untapped potential for solar energy. The city is blessed with 2800 hours of sunlight a year, far more than Germany, the world leader in solar power generation.

By taking advantage of its potential for rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, Atlanta can meet 10 percent of its total electricity needs with clean, renewable solar power by 2030. In addition, if Atlanta develops its potential for solar hot water systems at the same pace, solar power can help meet the water heating needs of nearly 40,000 Atlanta families. 

Indeed, Atlanta and the rest of Georgia have already started tapping into the state’s solar energy potential. In 2012, Georgia’s installed solar is estimated at around 20 megawatts (MW), up from 1.8 MW in 2010. In November 2012, the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) approved a Georgia Power plan to purchase up to 210 MW of solar power by 2016.

The City of Atlanta can play an important role in this solar renaissance by supporting solar installed on homes and businesses inside the city and leading the charge for solar in Georgia and across the south.

Solar leadership will reduce the city’s contribution to global warming, help improve air quality, and protect its environment. More solar power will also create jobs and boost manufacturing in Georgia. Putting policies in place to accelerate the growth of the solar energy market will allow Atlanta to start reaping these benefits immediately.

  • Utilizing all available rooftop space with suitable sun exposure, residents, businesses and government in the City of Atlanta could technically install nearly 1,400 MW of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems by 2030—which would generate about 21 percent of the city’s total forecast electricity use in that year. Local, rooftop solar provides unique advantages for the electricity system because the power is generated close to where it will be used, reducing the loss of electricity that happens when it is transmitted long distances and minimizing the need to invest in power lines and other infrastructure and increasing the reliability of electricity service.
  • In order to achieve 10 percent solar power by 2030, Atlanta needs to develop about half (44 percent) of its total technical potential for solar PV installations in the next 18 years. Atlanta can achieve this benchmark by growing its solar market by an average of 38 percent per year, a rate that other states with established solar markets have demonstrated to be possible, such as California (54 percent) and New Jersey (79 percent). This would yield 662 MW of local solar photovoltaic capacity by 2030—enough to power 58,000 of today’s Atlanta homes.
  • Developing Atlanta’s potential for solar water heating systems at the same pace as solar PV by 2030 would save an additional 66 MWh of electricity and 300 million cubic feet of natural gas per year. Combined, that much energy could meet the full water heating needs of nearly 40,000 of today’s Atlanta households.
  • Combined, rooftop solar and solar water heating installations can help save more than 712,000 metric tons of global warming pollution annually by 2030, the equivalent of taking nearly 134,000 cars off the road 

In addition to seriously cutting pollution associated with climate change, the displacement of fossil fuel power with solar power will help reduce soot, smog and mercury pollution, which damage public health. At the same time boosting the amount of solar in the city’s energy mix will help conserve water.

Finally, increasing the market for solar power in Atlanta could make the city a leader in the regional solar power industry, create jobs, and boost the economy. A 2012 survey of the solar industry found that the solar industry has grown 13.2 percent since August 2011, which is more than ten times higher than the average employment growth rate in Atlanta of 1.3 percent. Moreover much of this growth is in the construction industry, one of the hardest hit markets during the recession.

Atlanta and other Georgia cities should enact policies to accelerate solar energy development.