Professional Practice

Increasing Energy Efficiency: Residential Solar power


The use of solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems on homes has exploded in popularity. According to CNBC, some 1.3 million homes have installed rooftop solar panels, and along with centralized solar farms, they together produce 40 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power 6.5 million American homes. The Solar Energy Industries Association states that the nation’s total installed capacity for solar PV systems is expected to triple in the next five years.

Globally, solar PV systems are growing worldwide with 75 gigawatts installed in 2016, bringing the total global PV capacity to 303 gigawatts. Germany and a number of Scandinavian countries are leaders in residential solar power use.

A number of U.S. states, including California, provide a range of incentives for homeowners to install rooftop solar energy systems, giving homeowners the opportunity to reduce energy costs and even sell their energy back to the central grid. And some cities, like South Miami and San Francisco, have gone even further, mandating the use of solar panels for new buildings or even some renovations.

If added through an integrated site design process, solar power systems can be incorporated into structures or leverage other energy efficient technologies. As a part of integrated site design, landscape architects can (1) integrate photovoltaic building tiles into canopies and pergolas, (2) determine where homeowners can site solar arrays to achieve the  most solar gain with the least visual impact, or (3) co-join solar and green roof systems to further improve energy efficiency, extend the value of solar systems, and provide more biodiversity on the roof.  

Residential solar power benefits include:

  • Cost efficiency: Solar panels or tiles can significantly reduce electricity bill especially during winter time
  • Economic incentives: Net metering and tax incentives
  • Grid-connection: Homeowners can sell excess power back to the central grid  

Sources: "A Consumer’s Guide: Get your Power from the Sun," U.S. Department of Energy and "10 Ways to Greenify Your Home," How Stuff, “Solar Market Insights Report 2016,” Solar Energy Industries Association


National Renewable Energy Laboratory

American Solar Energy Society

Go Solar California



Active Solar Heating, U.S. Department of Energy

Solar Panel Guide, eHow

Locate Green Power Suppliers, Environmental Protection Agency

Green Power Partnership Resource Library, Environmental Protection Agency

Solar Power Purchase Agreement, Solar Energy Industries Association

Capturing the Sun: The economics of solar investment, EY

Installed Cost Benchmarks and Deployment Barriers for Residential Solar Photovoltaics with Energy Storage: Q1 2016, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Agrivoltaics: How Plants Grown Under Solar Panels Can Benefit Humankind, Engineering 360

New Homes Will Now Require Solar Panels in South Miami, First in Florida, The Miami Herald  


Solar Electricity Handbook – 2014 Edition: A Simple Practical Guide to Solar Energy – Designing and Installing Photovoltaic Solar Electric Systems,” Michael Boxwell, Greenstream Publishing

Solar Electricity Basics: A Green Energy Guide,” Dan Chiras, New Society Publishers

Government Resources

California Energy Commission

Consumer Energy Tax Credits, U.S. Department of Energy

Rebates and funding: Energy Efficient Homes Package, Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and Arts, Australian Government

Residential Energy Tax Credits for Solar, State of Oregon

Solar Initiatives, Solar Energy Technologies Program, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy

SunShot Initiative, U.S. Department of Energy

Solarize Philly, Philadelphia Energy Authority

San Francisco Better Roofs, San Francisco Planning Department  


Sonoma Retreat, Sonoma, California
Aidlin Darling Design

Solar Decathlon, U.S. Department of Energy

Combined Green Roof + Solar
Solar power and renewable energy technologies can be combined with other landscape design practices to support energy efficiency. For example, incorporating solar panels onto green roofs can enhance the benefits of both technologies. The cooling effect of the green roof can increase solar cell efficiency while shade from solar panels can increase biodiversity on the green roof by providing shade in an otherwise full sunlight location. Green roofs can also be combined with solar thermal systems. Solar thermal systems capture heat from the sun and use it to process hot water.

Source: “Green Roofs Improve Solar Panel Efficiency,” Building Green


Green Roof Technology


Special Instructions: Green Roofs and Solar Panels, International Green Roof Association

Green Roofs Pave the Way to Cheap Solar Power, CleanTechnica

Green Roofs Improve Solar Panel Efficiency, Building Green

Integrating Green Roofs with Solar, Waterproof Magazine

Green Roofs Boost Photovoltaic Panels, Triple Pundit


Integration of green roof and solar photovoltaic systems,” Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Hong Kong

Photovoltaic-Panels on Greened Roofs: Positive Interaction Between Two Elements of Sustainable Architecture,” Manfred Kohler, Marco Schmidt, Michael Laar, Ulrike Wachsmann, Stefan Krauter, University of Applied Sciences Neubrandenurg, Germany

Future Oriented and Sustainable Green Roofs in Germany,” Roland Appl & Wolfgang Ansel, 2012

Vegetated Roofs (Green Roofs) Combined with Photovoltaic Panels,” Jorg Breuning & Robert Tilson, 2013 ASLA annual meeting


Residential property, Washington, D.C.
DC Greenworks

Vineyard Farm House, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Charles Rose Architects

Community Solar

Community solar, also known as community solar gardens and shared solar, are models that connect community stakeholders to solar power generated at a central location. These systems can extend distributed solar market participation to residential and commercial customers unable to install solar PV systems on their own roofs.

To achieve The Sustainable SITES Initiative™  (SITES®) certification with the use of a community renewable energy system, the project must show actual ownership in the system or a signed lease agreement for a period of at least 15 years and the system must also be located within the same utility service area as the facility claiming the use.


Solar Energy Industries Association

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Solar Garden Institute


Brooklyn Microgrid

Santa Monica Microgrid

Solar Communities Program, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy

A Guide to Community Shared Solar: Utility, Private, and Nonprofit Project Development, NREL

Model Rules for Shared Renewable Energy Programs, Interstate Renewable Energy Council

Shared Renewables Map


Community Solar: What is it?, Energy Sage

Minnesota Community Solar, Minnesota Government


UB Solar Strand, Buffalo, New York
Hood Studio

Solar farm, Masonic Villages Retirement Community 





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