By Guest Columnist JENNETTE GAYER, director of Environment Georgia
When you look at a rooftop, what do you see? A protective shelter for a family or a business, sure, but do you also see a missed opportunity? I do.
In a world facing so many environmental challenges – from polluted air and water that threatens the health of our communities, to a rapidly changing climate – our existing infrastructure must be a part of the solution. In cities such as Atlanta, with big and bold commitments to 100 percent clean and renewable energy, this commitment to growing our rooftop solar market is a no brainer.
Atlanta is committed to a future powered by clean and renewable energy. Taking advantage of the sun’s plentiful energy shining on our rooftops will play a key role in that transition.
We can and should add solar installations to existing homes, but we can also streamline the process for powering new homes with clean energy by committing to “solar ready” construction. Solar readiness policies require that new homes be pre-outfitted to easily accommodate solar energy systems that may be installed in the future. After all, the most efficient time to ensure that a rooftop has what it takes to support solar energy is when workers are already on the roof.
The City of Tucson, Ariz., adopted a solar-ready ordinance in 2008, requiring that either solar panels and water heating systems are already installed, or the hardware that ensures future installations is easy to add on all new homes. Similar solar readiness policies and even policies that require solar on all new homes are catching on in other cities, too, from Lancaster, Calif., to South Miami, Fla.
Georgians already know that the way we currently produce and consume energy is harmful to us now, and that it threatens our future. We see the lasting damage being caused by burning fossil fuels every day, from coastal ecosystems wrecked by massive oil spills to polluted air that threatens the health of our communities. The Fourth National Climate Assessment painted a dire picture of what the future could hold for the Southeast if we continue to rely on these dirty energy sources – from more frequent and extreme heat waves, to rising sea levels and more dangerous flooding, to bigger and more frequent storms.
With the sunlight that hits our country every day, we have more than enough potential to power our lives with clean, renewable energy. In fact, a 2016 study by the National Renewable Energy Lab found that rooftop solar alone could provide up to 39 percent of the nation’s electricity if panels were installed on every suitable roof. And solar energy is more efficient and affordable than ever before.
Implementing solar readiness policies will not only help our cities reduce global warming emissions, but consumers will also save more money when it comes time to install solar panels or hot water systems. Rooftop solar saves homeowners money in the long run – even more so when installation is streamlined.
In the absence of a statewide policy here in Georgia, cities, such as Atlanta, are leading the way. Just like Tucson, our communities can protect the environment and do our part to address climate change. Ensuring that new buildings are solar ready is a smart and straightforward first step in Atlanta’s 100 percent clean energy effort.
In 2019, we no longer need to burn coal and gas to keep our lights on. Georgia’s cities should be doing everything in their power to adopt as much solar energy as possible. With communities from Atlanta to Macon opting into clean, solar energy through Solarize campaigns, we know that Georgians are ready and eager to go solar. We can and should take the next step to make sure new buildings are ready to be clean energy producers, too.
Note to readers: A March 29 report shows Georgia could cut its annual CO2 emissions from energy use by 6 percent of 2015 levels by 2045 if all new homes had solar panels, according to findings by Environment Georgia Research and Policy Center.