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Floating Solar Panels a Good Fit for New York City

New York City

Watery Solar
July 28, 2017

In an op-ed essay in Crain’s, city council candidate Keith Powers argues that New York City should follow the lead of international farmers, power companies and businesses that have placed floating solar panels on under-utilized bodies of water. “We can do the same,” Powers writes, “in Central Park and across our upstate network of reservoirs.”

The city has set an ambitious – some call it preposterous – goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050 and powering all municipal government operations with renewable energy. But the city’s physical features makes this a daunting challenge – especially for solar energy. Solar panels are sprouting on more and more co-op and condo roofs, but for a residential solar array to be successful, a sizable roof area is necessary. And the taller the building, the less the payoff per apartment.

“We have more than 34,000 acres of reservoir surface area that can be used as a platform for capturing solar energy,” Powers writes. “Deployment of floating solar panels on just one-third of the 34,000 acres could produce 3,400 megawatts of clean power and up to 3,700 gigawatt hours of electricity annually – 7 percent of the city’s annual usage. Panels on just the Central Park Reservoir could produce enough electricity to displace the burning of more than 1,400 tons of coal each year.”

A renewable source that could provide 7 percent of the city’s annual electricity usage will become doubly attractive in 2021, when the two Indian Point nuclear reactors are set to shut down. They currently provide a quarter of the electricity for Westchester County and New York City.

Floating solar panels have other advantages, Powers notes. They reduce evaporation of reservoir water by 70 percent or more – reducing the threat of droughts – and they protect water quality by limiting algae growth and other contamination. And there are no real estate costs when panels are deployed on water already owned or leased by the power generator.

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