Rooftop solar power could match annual U.S. electricity production – pv magazine International


Researchers conducted a global assessment of rooftop photovoltaic solar potential using high-resolution imagery, big data and machine learning.

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The United States has enough usable rooftop space to deploy an amount of solar power equal to its current national production levels, according to recent research into global photovoltaic potential. Researchers at the Irish University of Cork have leveraged big data, machine learning and geospatial analysis to reach their findings, which have been published in Nature Communication.

In the report, approximately 77,000 square miles of roof area around the world has been delineated as usable PV area (for context, the state of Florida is approximately 65,000 square miles). The researchers said the area could result in the production of 27 petawatt hours, or 27 million GWh, if it were fully covered by conventional photovoltaics.

This level of potential energy would exceed the total global energy consumption of 2018, a year in which 6 petawatt hours (PWh) of electricity were consumed by households alone.

The report further states that rooftops in the United States could accommodate sufficient capacity to produce 4.2 PWh per year, effectively matching the country’s current total energy production of about 4 PWh per year.

In 2020, about 60% of US electricity production came from fossil fuels, and about 20% each from nuclear and renewable energy sources, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA estimated that the United States additionally produced 42 billion kWh of electricity from small-scale distributed solar energy, or about 1% of total generation. Large-scale solar accounted for 2.2% of total production that year.

The authors of the article in Nature Communication said there are mitigating factors in this potential PV outlook, including transmission constraints and the need for storage due to intermittent solar power generation cycles.

A bottom-up geospatial assessment was one of the many methods used to create the report.
Image: Nature

This high potential for rooftop solar power can be good news for U.S. taxpayers, as it can give them savings. Recently it was valued by Local Solar for All, that $ 109 billion in utility bill payments could be avoided by 2030 if rooftop solar was scaled 2-4 times faster, compared to a scenario of solar deployment at the scale of all public services.

The report is an important talisman to wield for those concerned with energy spreading or land development for energy production. A study from Clemson University showed that in the United States, including spacing and zoning requirements, approximately 500,000 square miles of land is expected to be dedicated to developing new energies by 2040, an area bigger than Texas. Roofs represent an alternative to using otherwise useful land.

(Read: “Solar in unusual spaces“)

“The open data generated in this research helps quantify, locate and prioritize investments in zero-carbon power systems,” said study co-author James Glynn, senior researcher at Columbia University.

The potential costs of rooftop solar power across the world have also been assessed in the Nature Communication paper, and costs have been found to vary by location. The lowest costs per megawatt hour were in China ($ 68) and India ($ 66), and the highest costs were in the UK ($ 251) and the US ($ 238).

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