With Election Day just around the corner, political divisiveness across the U.S. seems to be escalating by the minute. Recent opinion polls suggest that partisan discord in America is more intense than it’s been in decades.
A widely cited academic study in 2014 highlighted the gulf between conservative and liberal America. Focusing on American cities with a population greater than 250,000, researchers ranked the political identity of each city based on its residents’ policy preferences, as well as local government’s policy decisions. The study found a sizable political divide, bounded by two extremes: Mesa, Arizona (America’s most conservative big city) and San Francisco, California (most liberal).
However, if you think common ground is simply impossible to find between America’s reddest city and bluest city, you’d be wrong. In fact, SolarCity’s data shows that despite their red-blue identity, the two cities share a powerful thing: their residents are producing vast amounts of rooftop solar power.
Here’s a closer look.
Reddest Solar City: Mesa, Arizona
The map below shows that SolarCity installations in the greater Phoenix area have spread rapidly in recent years. That includes more than a thousand rooftops in Mesa itself.
Solar panels can make a lot of sense in a desert city like Mesa. While abundant sunshine often makes the city swelteringly hot, that same sunshine can help cool it off – in the form of solar electricity that can, among other things, help power air conditioners.
A quarter of the energy consumed in Arizona homes goes toward air conditioning, which is more than four times the national average. But that’s no sweat for SolarCity homes: our typical customer in Arizona produces enough electricity each year to offset its entire air-conditioning usage and much more.
Put together, the SolarCity community’s impact in the Mesa area is strikingly large. Here’s a hot fact: SolarCity customers in Mesa and the surrounding East Valley region have produced enough electricity to power Arizona State University – one of the biggest public schools in the country, serving 70,000+ students across four main campuses – for an entire year. (As it happens, ASU itself has become a national leader in renewable energy — with more than 88 solar installations, a plethora of campus and academic programs dedicated to reducing carbon pollution, and a well-deserved 2016 Climate Leadership Award from the US Green Business Council.)
There’s an unfortunate irony to solar’s incredible popularity in Mesa: in December 2014, the local utility Salt River Project (SRP) announced rules that virtually eliminated the solar industry overnight. In the first month following the implementation of these rules, solar applications in SRP territory fell by 95%. In Mesa, homeowners have in effect been stymied by the local monopoly. SolarCity has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Arizona, asking the court to stop SRP’s anti-competitive behavior.
And yet the urgency for people in Mesa and other parts of Arizona to be able to go solar is only becoming stronger. As the years go by, temperatures in Arizona appear to be heading even higher. It follows that affordable and clean sources of electricity like solar will become even more crucial to the state’s future.
Bluest Solar City: San Francisco, California
The same sun that’s helping power America’s reddest city is also cutting through the fog in America’s bluest city – and likewise producing huge amounts of clean electricity.
SolarCity installations have been popping up on rooftops all over the San Francisco Bay Area since way back in 2007. The SolarCity community has grown to more than a thousand customers within San Francisco itself – and tens of thousands more in the wider region.
The Golden State is no stranger to solar power. California has more solar panels in action than any other state, and continues to be a renewable energy pioneer. SolarCity customers in San Francisco and northern California have already begun to show what’s possible when solar goes mainstream. Here’s an amazing stat to ponder during your next commute: SolarCity customers in the San Francisco Bay Area have produced enough electricity to run the entire Bay Area Rapid Transit system for a full year. (BART is one of the country’s largest rapid transit systems, providing 129 million trips per year across a network of 45 stations and 669 train cars.)
In concert with California’s ambitious clean energy goals, San Francisco recently passed a city ordinance requiring all new buildings to install rooftop solar systems. That could mean a lot more dots popping up on the map above in the coming years.
United under the sun
What happens when you combine results from a red solar city and blue solar city? Well, it means a lot of green. Electricity is a valuable commodity – and SolarCity customers in Mesa and San Francisco have together produced more than $7 million dollars worth of electricity from their own rooftops and properties. Of course, making electricity from the sun is also a major win in the other green category: solar power is remarkably carbon-friendly, water-friendly, and air-friendly.
The popularity of solar power among residents in Mesa and San Francisco is not an isolated coincidence. It’s increasingly clear that solar power has broad bipartisan support. Recent polling by Gallup has shown that a majority of democrats and a majority of republicans favor alternative energy over fossil fuels. Further, more than two-thirds of each political group (democratic, republican, as well as independent) thinks that the U.S. should put more emphasis on producing energy from solar power.
For solar to continue flourishing in red cities and blue cities, it’s important that homes and businesses have a choice in how they get their power. While most municipalities and utilities have been supportive of rooftop solar power, the utility Salt River Project in the Mesa area is an exception. Their anti-solar efforts represent a business fighting to maintain its monopoly power in electricity sales — at the expense of the planet and consumer choice.
Fortunately, there’s a better way. A multitude of red and blue cities around the nation – whether it be long-time republican Bakersfield or democratic stronghold Austin – are demonstrating that supporting local solar momentum is a winning proposition.
The 2016 election campaign often seems to underscore that our political parties can’t agree on much. But the huge amounts of solar power generated from the rooftops of deep red Mesa and deep blue San Francisco offer a reminder that certain things do unite us. For starters, we all live under the same big orange ball – and share in the same incredible opportunity to harness its power.
All data and figures describing installations in Mesa (in territory served by the utility Salt River Project) only reflect solar applications submitted before early December 2014.
For the purposes of this analysis, we have described the electricity production that originates from the solar power systems we have installed. However, the solar attribute of this electricity does not always directly reside with our customers or SolarCity. That ownership contractually resides with the party that owns the Renewable Energy Credit (REC) associated with a given unit of solar energy production — whether it is another organization, a customer, or in some cases, SolarCity. For more details, see “What Are Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)?” on page 28 of our 2015 Impact Report.
Dollar amount of cumulative solar production: Through June 30, 2016, SolarCity customers in San Francisco and Mesa had together generated more than 61.6 million kilowatt-hours. At EIA’s reported average residential retail price of $0.1252/kWh (for calendar year 2015 — the most recent full year of data), the cumulative dollar amount of this electricity exceeds $7.7 million. The curve in the chart is based on annual calculations, with each year’s value corresponding to the total cumulative value on June 30th of that year.
Arizona State University comparison: ASU’s “Campus Metabolism” energy analytics tool reports that the university’s four metropolitan campuses (Tempe, Downtown, Polytechnic, and West) consumed 238,325,035 kWh of electricity in 2015. ASU’s reports that 70,000+ students were enrolled at those campuses in fall 2015. Solar power systems deployed by SolarCity in the East Valley region of Arizona — which is broadly defined as the east-of-Phoenix municipalities of Mesa, Chandler, Tempe, Gilbert, Scottsdale, Queen Creek, Apache Junction, and San Tan Valley – have produced more than 241 million kWh (through June 30, 2016).
BART comparison: BART has reported that its total annual system-wide electricity consumption is 373,930,346 kWh. Solar power systems deployed by SolarCity in the San Francisco Bay Area — which spans the 101 municipalities listed here — have produced more than 477 million kWh (through June 30, 2016).
Photo Credits: Twenty20 (for desert and Bart image backgrounds)