Estimating rooftop solar technical potential across the US using a combination of GIS-based methods, lidar data, and statistical modeling


We provide a detailed estimate of the technical potential of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation throughout the contiguous United States. This national estimate is based on an analysis of select US cities that combines light detection and ranging (lidar) data with a validated analytical method for determining rooftop PV suitability employing geographic information systems. We use statistical models to extend this analysis to estimate the quantity and characteristics of roofs in areas not covered by lidar data. Finally, we model PV generation for all rooftops to yield technical potential estimates. At the national level, 8.13 billion $m^2$ of suitable roof area could host 1118 GW of PV capacity, generating 1432 TWh of electricity per year. This would equate to 38.6% of the electricity that was sold in the contiguous United States in 2013. This estimate is substantially higher than a previous estimate made by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The difference can be attributed to increases in PV module power density, improved estimation of building suitability, higher estimates of total number of buildings, and improvements in PV performance simulation tools that previously tended to underestimate productivity. Also notable, the nationwide percentage of buildings suitable for at least some PV deployment is high - 82% for buildings smaller than 5000 $ft^2$ and over 99% for buildings larger than that. In most states, rooftop PV could enable small, mostly residential buildings to offset the majority of average household electricity consumption. Even in some states with a relatively poor solar resource, such as those in the Northeast, the residential sector has the potential to offset around 100% of its total electricity consumption with rooftop PV.

In Building Services Engineering Research and Technology