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Despite Obstacles, Solar Energy Expanding in New York City

New York City

Solar Spread

Raised solar panels like these are one way to satisfy the city's strict fire code.

Oct. 29, 2018

There’s no shortage of obstacles confronting co-op and condo boards – and other building owners – who yearn to install solar panels in New York City. Roof topography, strict fire codes, shadows cast by skyscrapers, zoning and setback rules – all need to be overcome. And all those tall buildings with tiny roofs shouldn’t even think about going solar. 

“It’s a wild forest of problems to navigate here,” T.R. Ludwig, chief executive officer of installer Brooklyn SolarWorks, tells Bloomberg

Yet solar energy continues to make impressive strides in the city. There’s 154 megawatts of installed solar city-wide today, spanning about 15,000 projects, according to Ellie Kahn, a policy adviser in the the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. The city is targeting 1,000 megawatts of solar by 2030 – nearly a tenfold increase. So far, most of the city’s solar projects have been outside Manhattan’s forests of skyscrapers. 

“The tall-and-skinny doesn’t work really well. It’s expensive. There just isn’t a lot of footprint to put solar on,’’ says David Sandbank, director of NY-Sun at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. “But it pays off very nicely on wider buildings in Staten Island or Queens or Brooklyn.” 

But solar is still popping up in Manhattan. Blackstone Group is installing one of the city’s biggest solar projects – 3.8 megawatts at Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village on Manhattan’s east side. Panels are being installed atop the 22 acres of rooftops on the complex’s high-rises, and will cover 6 percent of the community’s total consumption. The investment firm expects construction to be complete early next year. 

The fire code requires that solar panels be set back several feet from the edge of the roof, cutting down on available space and making the math untenable in many buildings. So Brooklyn SolarWorks helped design canopy panels that are raised above the roof, satisfying fire marshals, maximizing the number of solar panels and, in the bargain, shading the open roof space. Just another obstacle overcome.

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