Sun shines on New York solar energy boom

February 23, 2014 by Brigitte Dusseau
The rooftop of Jetro Restaurant Depot in the Bronx, with a view of Manhattan in the distance, is covered with solar panels on January 17, 2014 in New York

On a rooftop in the Bronx far from the skyscrapers of Manhattan, 4,760 panels soak up the winter rays. Welcome to the solar power boom in New York state.

Robert Kline, director of commercial sales for the Ross Solar Group that installed the panels, is delighted.

"It is the largest (solar) installation in the history of New York City," he tells AFP.

The 1.6-megawatt installation on the Jetro Cash and Carry has been proudly singled out by New York governor Andrew Cuomo as a prime example of a drive to haul the state into a new dawn.

New York has long lagged behind California and even neighboring states, let alone Europe, when it comes to generating solar energy, but that is slowly changing.

In 2012, Cuomo set up the public-private NY-Sun Initiative with $800 million, and 300 megawatts of solar capacity have since been installed in the state, more than during the previous 10 years.

Cuomo now wants to extend the program until 2023 with an additional nearly $1 billion to generate another 3,000 megawatts.

Experts say that would create 13,000 jobs and bring down greenhouse emissions by 2.3 million tonnes a year.

California and Arizona are home to more than 80 percent of solar installations in the United States, but Cory Honeyman—a solar analyst at GTM Research—says New York is coming into its own.

"New York definitively is one of the hotter markets to watch, as we expect a really significant ramp up in build out of projects for both residential and non-residential markets," he said.

Public awareness on the rise

This is a godsend for more than 400 specialized companies competing for their share of the ballooning market.

In the Bronx, one of them, OnForce Solar, saw its revenue triple last year and hopes to double it again this year, chief executive officer Charles Feit told AFP.

He says he has doubled, even tripled staff every year since he started and that it was the economic argument that was driving business home.

"Politically, the winds are with us... public awareness has definitely risen," said Feit at his large premises where several new offices are in the process of being built.

"In New York City, there is so much opportunity," agreed David Sandbank, OnForce president and vice president of the New York Solar Energy Industries Association.

While Manhattan is a problem due to strict regulations, other boroughs are full of huge rooftops and business owners looking to save on some of the highest electricity costs in the country.

Sandbank said the NY-Sun Initiative was intended to pave the way for a stable solar industry and said some specialist firms from California have now expanded to New York.

"With longevity and transparency, we're creating an industry," he told AFP, adding 3,300 new jobs had already been created.

Jetro Cash and Carry hopes to save 40 percent of their $250,000 electricity bill a year, says Kline.

Contracts are pouring in and Cuomo recently promised grants to schools that build solar panels.

Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg also announced last year that a solar energy farm would be built in 2015 at Freshkills, a former landfill on Staten Island.

It is to be the largest solar farm in New York, capable of producing 10 megawatts of electricity.

But it's a long road ahead.

Solar energy represents one percent of renewable energy production in the United States, itself 12 percent of total electricity production, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The US market grew nearly 30 percent from 2012 to 2013 and Honeyman says it could overtake world leader Germany in terms of new builds in 2014 for the first time in 15 years.

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1 / 5 (2) Feb 23, 2014
As a long-suffering NY taxpayer, I decry the waste of my tax monies to subsidize private companies. This is nothing more than crony capitalism, giving taxpayers monies to favored companies, who no doubt give a substantial amount of it back to the Governor's re-election campaign.

not rated yet Feb 23, 2014
Let's try a little back-of-the-envelope calculation.

1.6 MW peak rating from 4670 panels is 336W per panel. Assuming the standard 4x6 ft panels (wow, 17% efficiency – really). At $300 per panel, that's $1.428M and 2.62 acre (2.5 football fields) for the panels. At $2500 per sq ft (year 2000 prices) for NYC land, that's $286M. OK, you can rent un-shaded roof space from your brother-in-law for $10M a year. But you still need structural support ($10K), equipment ($25K) and installation ($50K). Plus you need a place to store the 8592 kwh energy (see below) for a day ($273K plus more space and hazard for the batteries). OK, you can dump the storage problem on the utility company by back-metering into their grid. It will only cost them half that per year in equipment and inefficiency costs ($137K per year). If you amortize the initial cost over 5 years and add in the costs per year, you get your power for $10.54M / year.
not rated yet Feb 23, 2014
How much power do you get? The panels are un-gimbaled, mounted flat, and NYC is at 45 deg latitude and gets 100 days of full, 125 days of partial, and 230 days of some sunshine a year. So that's 8592 KWH/day on a perfect day, half that on an average NYC day (1563744 kwh/yr).

We get a cost of $6.55 per kwh. At my house I pay $0.12 per kwh (residential/non-industrial rate, delivered, taxed, and available when I need it). This is why Europe is abandoning green energy in favor of affordable energy. To Brigitte Dusseau, this is an "energy boom". To an engineer, it is a joke.
not rated yet Feb 23, 2014
The panels are un-gimbaled, mounted flat, and NYC is at 45 deg latitude

New York city is at 40 deg, which is the same as Southern France, Northern Italy and Romania.

The capacity factor for a tilted panel should be around 12-14%, flat horizontally, 7-10%

If they really want to generate 3000 MW they have to install about 30,000 MW worth of solar panels, and then figure out what to do with that 27 Gigawatts of excess power at peak output.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2014
I heard there was a massive solar spill in NY! It was sunny!

I dragged that from the net some where, but the point is the same. Compared to fossil fuels and the materials used for daily extraction of them, having a "SOLAR SPILL" is kind of nice to have.

not rated yet Feb 23, 2014
Haters will hate. Orti and Eikka above - crunching all their numbers.

Here is a few numbers for you guys. 2 - 1.1 GW nuclear power plants - are going to cost $14 billion. http://www.greent...30-years Financed by yours truly the U.S. taxpayer. Wonder if that one upsets Richtheengineer. Now granted - NY only gets an average of 3-4 hrs of sun per day - http://www.bigfro...Day.html But even at thatThe solar is still a bargain - delivering power at about 1/2 the cost - especially considering the operating cost of a nuke is considerably higher - and hey - no spent fuel to dispose of.

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