The Bushnell Company in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia uses an 85 kW rooftop PV installation (Mercury Solar Solutions/ PIX 18064)

Demand for energy is continuing to rise, and communities are increasingly looking to renewable sources such as sun and wind to meet that demand with clean, safe, reliable energy. Fortunately, many of the key technologies that can unlock the power of these renewable resources are on the market today. Rapidly declining prices for solar technologies, in combination with federal, state, and local policy changes, are bringing increasing amounts of solar energy into the mainstream. Local government representatives who understand and prepare for policy and market changes will be able to best position their communities in this new renewable energy economy.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Recovery Act) was signed into law on February 17, 2009, providing unprecedented levels of investment in renewable energy. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is playing a significant role in the effort to reduce costs and increase the use of renewable energy technologies.

To accelerate the nationwide adoption of solar energy, DOE developed the Solar America Cities program, centered on partnerships with 25 major U.S. cities. This program is designed to complement top-down federal policy approaches with federal-local partnerships that are helping to build a robust U.S. solar market.

Local governments are in a unique position to remove many of the barriers to widespread solar energy adoption and make solar energy more affordable and accessible for their residents and businesses. These barriers include complicated procedures for permitting and connecting systems to the grid, financing challenges, a lack of awareness of solar energy solutions among key decision makers, and a lack of trained installation contractors. The 25 Solar America Cities vary by size, geographic location, and maturity of solar market, which has enabled DOE to identify challenges and solutions at various stages of market development. Local planners and policy makers in each Solar America City are taking a comprehensive approach to bringing solar to their cities. Many of the examples presented in this guide are direct results of the DOE Solar America Cities partnerships. To learn more about what these cities have accomplished, visit

As a result of widespread success in the 25 Solar America Cities, in 2010 DOE announced a new outreach effort to share the best practices developed in concert with thousands of local governments across the nation. As part of this evolution, DOE created a broader program called Solar America Communities, reflecting the intention to promote solar market development within cities, counties, and all other local jurisdictions. Solar America Communities program activities include the partnerships with the 25 Solar America Cities, along with "special project" awards to develop innovative new approaches for increasing solar energy use, technical analyses on emerging market issues, and outreach to communities across the nation.

DOE designed this guide—Solar Powering Your Community: A Guide for Local Governments—to assist local government officials and stakeholders in designing and implementing strategic local solar plans. The 2010 edition contains the most recent lessons and successes from the 25 Solar America Cities and other communities promoting solar energy. Because DOE recognizes that there is no one path to solar market development, this guide introduces a range of policy and program options that can help a community build a local solar infrastructure. Communities do not need to undertake all of these activities; instead, each community should tailor its approach to fit its particular needs and market barriers.

Each section of the guide is divided into topic areas—typically within the jurisdiction of local governments—that have been integral to creating and supporting local solar markets. Each topic area begins with an introduction that describes the policy or program and states its purpose, followed by more information in several categories, as noted below:


Identifies benefits from implementing the policy or program.


Lists various tips and options for designing and implementing the policy or program.


Highlights experiences from communities that have successfully implemented the policy or program.


Lists reports, references, and tools that offer more information on the topic.

Solar technologies fall into these main categories: photovoltaics (PV), concentrating solar power (CSP), solar water heating (SWH), and solar space heating and cooling.1 PV and CSP technologies produce electricity; SWH and space heating and cooling technologies produce thermal energy. This guide includes information on policies and programs to expand the use of all types of solar technologies. For basic technology overviews and more in-depth information, visit

Solar Powering Your Community: A Guide for Local Governments is a work in progress. DOE continually revises and improves this guide as new strategies arise for moving solar energy into the mainstream, and welcomes feedback and input in making this guide as accurate, comprehensive, and current as possible. Please direct comments and suggestions to

1 For more details on terms in bold type, see the glossary at the end of this guide.