A spatial analysis of the development potential of rooftop and community solar energy

Torsten Schunder, Dameng Yin, Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen, Krishna Rajan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Solar energy is a technically and economically feasible solution for transitioning to renewable sources for electrification. Physical and socio-economic conditions that are important determinants of solar access and use have been discussed in the literature. However, the relative access of different population groups to surfaces able to accommodate equipment to generate solar energy (both individual and community levels) is rarely investigated. In this study, we use remote sensing (e.g., LiDAR) and land use data (e.g., tax parcels) to identify residential rooftop and community solar potential (SP) in Erie County, New York. Underlying socio-demographic and urbanization context are then examined to show if community solar is a solution for population groups who have limited access to rooftop solar. Results indicate that rooftop and community SP have similar distributions among socio-demographic groups. Low income and minority population have not only relatively low access to rooftop solar (54% compared to affluent households, 60% compared to white households), but also have limited access to potential community solar sites in their neighborhoods (37% compared to affluent households, 16% compared to white households). Nevertheless, our methodology provides a way to identify neighborhoods where community solar can be a solution for population with limited access to rooftop solar. Results show that in selected areas with available space (e.g., brownfields), community solar is an accessible alternative. The results imply the need for policy development to address such access issues so that technological advancements can benefit different communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100355
JournalRemote Sensing Applications: Society and Environment
StatePublished - Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • LiDAR
  • Photovoltaics
  • Socio-demographic groups
  • Solar energy
  • Solar potential assessment
  • Uneven distribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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