Imagine capturing all the solar energy that beats down on New York’s rooftops every day.
We could power our homes, schools, offices and even our cars, buses and trains with clean and virtually limitless sunshine.
Local leaders in New York and other cities across the country can help all of us lead a major transition to renewable energy—a boon to the climate, public health and our pocketbooks.
You’ve probably seen evidence that solar is taking off. In fact, solar power just had its best year ever. U.S. solar installations nearly doubled from 2015 to 2016.
We’re growing solar power here in New York City, too. In our annual report ranking cities for solar power, New York ranked seventh for total installed solar panels in the nation, ahead of cities including San Antonio, Las Vegas and San Francisco.
Last year solar was the No. 1 new energy source installed in America, muscling out traditional sources of power like coal, gas and oil.
Cities are leading much of this charge. Today, the top 20 cities for solar power have as much solar energy as the entire country had in 2010.
That’s good news considering science is showing us that we need to make a swift and steady switch to renewable energy to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
Solar power is also boosting local economies while helping consumers save on energy bills. The cost to install solar is down 60% over the past decade. This is making it easier than ever to choose renewable energy over sources of power that require fossil fuel sources subject to market swings.
New data shows that over 8,100 people now work in solar energy in the Empire State. Nationally, over 260,000 Americans hold solar-related jobs.
It’s unfortunate that the Trump administration is taking steps backward on solar power by beginning to dismantle the Clean Power Plan and by emphasizing fossil fuel extraction. We know that solar energy is not politically divisive in the public. In fact, recent polls show that 91% of Americans agree we should place the same or more emphasis on domestic solar power production as we do on energy production from other sources.
In the absence of federal leadership, states and cities will need to pick up the slack. They can do it, and we’re watching it happen in our own communities.
We are seeing a clear commitment from leaders in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s successful NY-SUN Initiative helped create an especially quick growth of solar energy. Between 2011 and 2016, there has been an 800% increase of state-supported solar power. Additionally, New York City has helped to grow solar by opening the solar energy market to apartment dwellers and others unable to install solar panels on their own roofs through power purchase agreements that allow residents to buy shares of solar power from other electric utility accounts.
We can do even more to grow solar energy and reap the associated benefits. Cities can commit to aggressive solar goals, power public buildings with solar, implement programs to make it easier for residents to go solar and help more people to finance solar panels.
With leadership from New York and cities, we can keep the solar revolution on track to help power our lives with 100% renewable energy. We know we can and must get there, but how quickly will depend on the will of leaders in our cities, states, and institutions.
With Earth Day coming up Saturday, April 22, there is no better time to lean into solar and let the sunshine in.
Heather Leibowitz is the director of Environment New York, a statewide advocacy organization.