Los Angeles County is currently leaving around 98 percent of its solar capacity untapped. Achieving just 10 percent of its rooftop solar potential could create 47,000 jobs and slash nearly 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually — the equivalent of taking about half a million cars off the road — according to new findings released Tuesday by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and highlighted in a White House announcement.
“Through his Climate Data Initiative, President Obama is calling for all hands on deck to unleash data and technology in ways that will make businesses and communities more resilient to climate change,” said John P. Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser. “The commitments being announced today answer that call.”
The Los Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report (LASER) is a data-driven mapping tool designed to help communities identify opportunities to invest in projects that will save households money, create clean energy jobs, and strengthen climate resilience in vulnerable communities. Maps show the region’s clean energy potential — in the form of rooftop solar energy generation potential and energy efficiency potential — which can reduce greenhouse gases while creating jobs and cutting electricity bills.
LASER also illustrates climate change-related heat impacts that are expected in the Los Angeles region, with a focus on the 38 percent of Los Angeles County residents (3.7 million people) living in environmentally vulnerable communities burdened by air pollution and other risk factors, as identified by the California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool (CalEnviroScreen). Based on analysis of CalEnviroScreen data, the report highlights that fully 50 percent of the state’s most vulnerable population lives in Los Angeles County. The state of California is expected to use the CalEnviroScreen to identify disadvantaged communities for the purpose of prioritizing funding from the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.
“The project is timely because with new state funding sources becoming available, LASER can help inform how the region invests resources to address pressing environmental challenges while providing job opportunities in its most impacted communities,” said Colleen Callahan, lead author of the study and deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation.
“Data mapping tools like LASER provide powerful visualizations of the harmful effects that climate change can have on our most vulnerable populations, while highlighting the potential for significant economic growth and substantially healthier communities,” said Jorge Madrid, EDF’s senior partnerships coordinator.
The new maps are a response to President Obama’s Climate Data Initiative, a call to action to leverage public data in order to stimulate innovation and collaboration in support of national climate change preparedness. Alarming scientific findings from the National Climate Assessment show that climate change is already impacting all parts of the U.S., that arid regions like Los Angeles County can expect more intense heat waves in the coming decades, and that climate resilience planning and other adaptation measures are necessary.
“Los Angeles is at the forefront of fighting climate pollution, deploying clean energy and preparing for the already tangible effects of climate change,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who serves on President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. “Through projects like the Los Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report, the city can help deploy more open data to inform community resiliency measures.”
The LASER project provides detailed, newly updated data at the county and municipality levels designed to help policymakers and the public prepare for a warmer future. Maps demonstrate estimated temperature increases, current environmental health risks and climate change vulnerability in various parts of the region. Parcel-level analysis gives planners and property owners detailed information about which buildings and other spaces across the county are ripe for solar panel installation and energy efficiency measures. Taken as a whole, the project paints a comprehensive picture of clean energy opportunities in Southern California, and demonstrates the potential economic benefits of sustained investment in these strategies.
The research is part of UCLA's Grand Challenge project “Thriving in a Hotter Los Angeles,” which has set a goal for the Los Angeles region to use exclusively renewable energy and local water by 2050 while protecting biodiversity and enhancing quality of life.