How these 22 cities could shape the future of solar photovoltaics

by Kamaria Greenfield, BCAP

The year 2030 is a meaningful one across the world of energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Architecture 2030 challenge aims to have all new buildings, developments, and major renovations be carbon neutral by this date. As a result of the Paris climate agreement, many countries have made pledges to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions on this same timeframe. And last month, the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative announced their own 2030 targets: a further reduction in the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) per kilowatt hour. As solar PV becomes cost-competitive with traditional methods of electricity generation, the rationale goes, more Americans of diverse incomes will embrace solar-generated electricity.

Read more about the SunShot Initiative’s 2030 goals here.

In May 2016, BCAP won a cooperative award from the Department of Energy to provide targeted solar photovoltaic (PV) training to design professionals, including architects and engineers. Partnering with the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE), BCAP hopes to help designers understand solar and the role that it might have in their future projects. A large workforce of professionals who are comfortable integrating solar into their process will drive down what are collectively referred to as the soft costs of solar. These costs, which include on-site labor and grid connectivity, currently account for up to 64% of installation charges.

Energy efficiency policies such as building energy codes work best in tandem with renewable technologies, reducing the amount of energy needed to power homes and businesses while also ensuring that the energy we do need is obtained as cleanly as possible.

To provide this targeted training, BCAP and CSE will hold in-person workshops in 22 cities across the country during 2017. And to whittle down hundreds of major metropolitan areas to the final list, BCAP staff studied criteria on both the state level and the city level.

The first step in this process was creating a methodology for scoring states. We used a weighted algorithm with five criteria (see chart) to determine which states might be most amenable to this type of solar training. Net metering policies received the greatest weight as net metering is the single most important factor affecting the value proposition of solar. By crediting consumers who return their unused energy back to the grid, utilities effectively ramp up the rate at which homes and businesses can expect to recoup the costs associated with solar PV installation. We also used the rankings compiled by (Note that that these rankings are calculated using 11 different factors, two of which are net metering and average electricity cost.)

Solar-friendly policies and market incentives are important, but they’re only about half of the equation. To be an ideal candidate for solar PV training location, a state also needed to show that training there would be impactful. To gauge this, we used Energy Information Administration (EIA) data on average electricity rates and National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) surveys on licensed architects.

BCAP used a state’s average retail electricity rate as a proxy for how receptive a state’s population might be to renewable energy. Higher utility bills increase the appeal of being able to generate reliable, relatively cheap renewable energy. We subsequently looked at architects per capita to determine the density of design professionals conducting business in a given state. We also looked at new construction permits with the goal of targeting training to architects and engineers working in areas with the greatest portion of the emerging building stock.

Weighed state scores based on these criteria ranged from 80.03 (District of Columbia) to 11.7 (Mississippi). States with sub-20 scores (Alabama, Oklahoma, and Mississippi) were immediately eliminated, along with the locations listed in the table.

We then determined ideal metropolitan areas within the remaining 36 states by looking at the following five criteria:

  • Population growth rate (2010-2015)
  • Residential housing starts growth rate (2014-2015)
  • Adjacency to other major population centers
  • National geographic diversity
  • Input from Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) at September in-person presentation
Alaska High travel costs
California Already has robust solar programs
Delaware Small population
District of Columbia Small population
Hawaii High travel costs
Montana Small population
Nevada Unfavorable net metering policies
New Hampshire Small population
New York Already has robust solar programs
Rhode Island Small population
Vermont Small population

Again, population change and housing starts trends gave us an idea of what cities and surrounding areas were poised to grow the most – and therefore where training for design professionals could have the greatest impact on new construction in the near-term future. The map above shows the 22 chosen cities overlaid on state scores, with the darkest gray representing states that are the best candidates. Texas as a state scored fairly low, but the exponential growth in metro areas like Dallas and Houston makes them attractive choices regardless. In March 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau noted that the Lone Star State metro areas led the country in population gain, with some locations having estimated growth rates of over double the national average (4.1%).

We strove to strike a balance: target as many ideal large metro areas as possible while also avoiding redundancies and the omission of entire regions. Instead of holding two trainings in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, we chose the midway point between the two: the city of Columbia. Washington, D.C. was initially taken out of consideration because of the other solar initiatives already at work there, but its central location makes it the natural choice for bringing out design professionals from outlying Maryland and northern Virginia. Similarly, we found several promising Colorado cities along the Front Range but settled on the centrally-located Denver metro area.

We further refined and consolidated our list of cities with the help of eight Subject Matter Experts, many of whom provided invaluable firsthand knowledge about different potential training locations. Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures, BCAP aims to bring high-quality solar training for design professionals to 22 locations spanning 17 states and the District of Columbia. When architects and engineers understand how to fold solar into their designs, the barriers to widespread acceptance of PV will continue to fall.

Click here to learn more about BCAP’s involvement in the SunShot Initiative

Cities selected:
Austin, TX
Albuquerque, NM
Boston, MA
Charlotte, NC
Columbia, MO
Columbus, OH
Dallas, TX
Denver, CO
Houston, TX
Jacksonville, FL
Jersey City, NJ
Miami, FL
Minneapolis, MN
Orlando, FL
Philadelphia, PA
Phoenix, AZ
Portland, OR
Seattle, WA
Spokane, WA
Stamford, CT
Washington, DC
West Des Moines, IA