A Solar Summary: The Tenth Annual New York Solar Summit

The 10th Annual Solar Summit

On Monday, June 20th - fittingly, the summer solstice, and the longest day of the year - 500 people gathered at John Jay College in New York City to hear about everything solar at The New York Solar Summit.  There were six panel discussions and a keynote speaker; all knowledgeable senior business professionals or representatives from government agencies, who talked about the latest advancements and achievements in solar energy policy, projects and technology in New York State.

To kick off the day with a bang, the exciting news was announced that the NY Solar Map and Portal, developed by the City University of New York (CUNY), was now “live.”  This dynamic, multifaceted website assists individuals and decision-makers in NY State communities by allowing them to see properties and provide estimated costs and savings for solar rooftop installations.  It also provides guidance and information on permitting, financing and connects users with local solar opportunities. Summit attendees were challenged to spread the word about the Map on social media and were offered a $250 donation for the most “likes” and “shares” of nysolarmap.com. Friends of Rye Sustainability Committee was the proud winner of that donation!!

The biggest takeaway from the summit was the importance of New York State as a solar energy leader in our country.  New York is the fastest growing solar market in the U.S., up 575% from 2011to 2014.  Solar jobs and manufacturing are increasing at twelve times the rate of the rest of the job/manufacturing market.  Thanks to Governor Cuomo’s energy policy strategy Reforming the Energy Vision (REV), building clean, resilient and affordable energy solutions for New York is becoming a reality, with solar energy a major focus.  New York's Clean Energy Standard mandate requires 50% of the State’s electricity to be sourced from renewable energy sources by 2030.  To help meet this goal and to stimulate the marketplace, $1 billion in incentives have been made available through New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) NY-Sun programs, including Community Choice Aggregation, Solarize campaigns, and Community Distributed Generation. Visit NYSERDA's NY-Sun page to learn more about NY-Sun and its programs.


New York City's Efforts

RSC Member Linda Mackay at the Solar Summit

RSC Member Linda Mackay at the Solar Summit

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has committed NYC to an 80% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2050 and has invested more money in solar of any city in the country. Currently, NYC has 8.8 MW of solar energy installed, with 35 schools having installed rooftop solar. The ultimate goal is to generate up to 100 MW of solar from city properties by 2025. Many of these solar projects should be eligible for NYSERDA’s NY-Sun Community Distributed Generation initiative status, where renters, businesses, schools, and homeowners become members in a project and share the solar electricity produced, thereby getting credits on their utility bills.


A case study in Solar

Besides NYC, an exciting solar project in Western New York is about to break ground. The project is located in the town of Tonawanda, NY, just outside Buffalo. Their town of 75,000 people has limited resources, and with municipal electric bills totaling $4 million per year, Tonawanda welcomed a cost-saving solution. The Town has recently signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with SolarCity, which will build, own and operate an 8500 solar panel array over 10 acres on Tonawanda's capped landfill, at no cost to the Town. Savings are estimated at approximately $4 million over four years. If all goes according to schedule, construction will take place October through December of 2016, and the project will be operational by February 2017. You can read more about the project here.


Battery Storage and Microgrids

The importance of advancements in solar technology was also addressed at the Summit, with discussions of battery storage and microgrids.

Storing solar energy in batteries for later use has progressed from “can it be done?” to “when will it be available?” Storage technology is currently where solar was ten years ago but is advancing at a very rapid pace.  Companies such as Tesla, Sunverge, and Sonnen are working with utility companies to integrate solar and storage.  As a pilot project, Con Edison will outfit 300 homes in Brooklyn and Queens with leased high-efficiency solar panels and lithium-ion battery energy storage systems.

Creating microgrids in NY State that use solar or other renewable energy sources, as well as stored conventional electricity, is essential when addressing the need for resiliency, especially in areas where hurricanes and ice storms disrupt electricity.  “A microgrid is a discrete energy system consisting of distributed energy sources (including demand management, storage, and generation) and loads capable of operating in parallel with, or independently from, the main power grid”.  As of April 2016, New York was the first in the nation to administer a microgrid award competition: “Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the next phase of the 40 million NY Prize microgrid competition which seeks to modernize New York State’s electric grid, help communities reduce costs, and promote clean energy. The next round of funding will provide $8 million in awards for engineering designs and business plans for community microgrids to ensure local power networks can operate independently during emergencies or outages.”

The New York Solar Summit was an inspiring day, filled with lively discussions, optimism and pride in the progress New York State has made and continues to make in its commitment to solar energy as a realistic, affordable renewable energy source.