Why so few solar panels in San Francisco?

2015-09-01 19.44.48

This photo captures a beautiful view overlooking the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco. While this view does much justice to the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding Bay Area, I am writing this blog post for another reason: the utter lack of solar panels.

In a city that sees sunlight on an average of 260 days each year, it’s surprising to see that very little of that sun is being converted into energy! And especially for a city which prides itself on being exceptionally progressive and forward thinking, San Francisco leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to sustainable energy production.

My relatively small and rural hometown of Montgomery, New Jersey likely has more solar panels than many neighborhoods in San Francisco. I think the development of solar panels (or lack-there-of) comes down to two issues, (1) public policy and (2) the economics of the installation.

New Jersey has some of the best government subsidies for solar installations despite having far less open land for large installations, and receiving far less sun than more southern states. For example, by exempting installations from any related tax burdens (sales and property tax), and offering significant rebates, New Jersey is well on its way towards meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standard, a regulation requiring 22.5% of New Jersey’s energy production to come from renewable sources by 2021.

After a preliminary visual inspection, it appears that San Francisco stands to contrast the great progress made in New Jersey and elsewhere in California. I am curious, why is this so? Is the strong residential rental market leaving property owners with little to worry about? Why are there so few solar panels in San Francisco?

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John Marbach

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10 2015