All across the United States, communities are turning to solar energy for clean, reliable, and affordable electricity to power their homes and businesses. Rapidly declining prices for solar technologies, in combination with federal, state, and local policy changes, have brought vast amounts of solar energy into the mainstream within a few short years. Millions of Americans now rely on solar energy and compatible technologies like battery storage to power the necessities of modern life.
In addition to keeping the lights on, solar energy provides many environmental, social, and economic benefits. It is a carbon-free electricity source that helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. An increasing number of communities use solar to meet climate change goals or renewable energy targets. At the same time, solar energy is a primary driver for job creation and economic growth. The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census found that solar employs over 240,000 American workers as of 2018, and since 2010 the size of the solar workforce has grown by 160 percent.
Consumers with the opportunity to install solar panels are finding that solar saves them money. Homeowners, businesses, schools, and local governments are using solar energy to drastically reduce their utility costs. Meanwhile, in the face of costly natural disasters that threaten the reliability of the electricity grid, solar can be combined with battery storage to provide backup power and make communities more resilient.
Local governments can have a significant impact on the growth of solar in their communities, regardless of any activity at the state or federal levels. The most significant local impacts are usually related to the “soft costs” of solar installations. In the solar industry, “soft costs” refer to business processes or administrative costs that can increase the time and money it takes to install a solar energy system – costs that are then passed on to customers.
To address solar soft costs at the municipality and county levels, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) funds SolSmart, a program that provides official designations and no-cost technical assistance to help local governments accelerate the development of solar energy markets and reduce soft costs, using objective criteria to measure their progress.
SolSmart produced Solar Energy: SolSmart’s Toolkit for Local Governments to help local governments and community stakeholders in cities, counties, and small towns design and implement plans to encourage solar energy development. This guide presents a roadmap for advancing solar energy at the local level as of 2019. SolSmart will be releasing new sections of the guide on a rolling basis, addressing subject areas relevant to the development of solar energy in local communities.
 U.S. Solar Market Insight Q2 2019. Wood Mackenzie, Limited and the Solar Energy Industries Association, April 2019. https://www.woodmac.com/research/products/power-and-renewables/us-solar-market-insight/.