Though energetically problematic, R1 zoning has defined the architectural and spatial culture of Los Angeles in a way beloved to many. R1 has also produced a distributed residential solar field of exceptional capacity, with 250 days of sunshine radiating annually on a vast expanse of residential rooftops. Yet adaptation to distributed residential solar has been slow for a number of reasons. Los Angeles stands to benefit from lessons learned and precedent set by California cities such as Lancaster, Sebastapol, San Francisco, and Santa Monica who have already mandated solar production requirements for new structures through their building and zoning codes.
The City of Los Angeles has a residential photovoltaic (PV) potential of 5,500 MW. County-wide the potential is 19,000 MW. While LA earns the lowest county-wide ranking for net PV potential, this poor scoring results largely from high consumption, with 12,215,847,323 kWh of capacity and 18,309,645,749 kWh of demand resulting in a net balance of -6,093,798 kWh. LADWP operates at a maximum capacity of 7,460MW with a record instantaneous peak demand of 6,396MW.61 In a city where more than two thirds of all energy comes from the combustion of coal and natural gas and only 1% is produced through solar, 5,500MW of solar capacity represents a game change, making rapid capitalization of solar essential.
Los Angeles leads the nation in installed residential solar, with 232 MW of installed capacity. However installed capacity pales in comparison to latent potential and disparity across income, race and region in PV installation is a serious and well documented problem. Problematic not only for the city’s cumulative energy future, but for individual ratepayers who are isolated from the associated economic benefits of PV installation including city, state, and federal installation incentives, and feed-in-tariff and net-metering losses. While state initiatives such as the Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes Program (SASH), initiated by CA Assembly Bill 2723 and rate payer-funded through the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) set a new positive standard toward addressing this disparity, the gesture is insufficient to address the severity of the gap.
In Los Angeles, the implementation of programs such as SASH is altered by LADWP’s status as a publicly-owned utility.66 Likewise, state initiatives, such as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), designed to ensure renters and rental communities fair access to solar resources through collective sustainable energy purchasing by local governments, are not applicable. This is particularly relevant when considering an average per capita income of $27,620 in a city where 48% of residents live under the federal poverty line and 68% of residential occupancy is filled by renters. In this context, ensuring solar access to low-income earners and renters is essential not only as a mater of social equity, but as a matter of energy security and social stability.
LADWP’s forthcoming Community Solar Program is meant to address the needs of “customers who are unable to install solar on their own” due to income, home condition, or rental status, as is the Solar Rooftops Program (SRP) approved in November 2016 by Board of Water and Power Commissioners . Issues of income and access in solar however represent a complex and ongoing energy delivery and pricing condition, which may be best resolved through systemic recalculation of residential solar infrastructure ownership, installation, maintenance, and fee structures. Land use policy has a unique legislative capacity to proactively manage certain aspects of infrastructure and fee structures citywide if such work is undertaken in close collaboration with the LADWP and the Mayor’s Office.