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Cutting-Edge Technology Comes to Central Park West Co-ops

Frank Lovece in Green Ideas on April 15, 2019

Upper West Side, Manhattan

Grandes Dames II

John Phufas, co-op board president at the Beresford, with the building's cogen system (photo by Lorenzo Ciniglio).

April 15, 2019

First they installed energy-saving LED lights, cogen power plants, and other upgrades. Now the Beresford and the El Dorado, two iconic, Emery Roth-designed co-ops on Central Park West, are taking the ultimate step into energy-efficiency: they’re installing battery energy-storage systems, known as BESS, which will shave a big chunk off their electricity bills. 

A battery energy-storage system can be fed either from the Con Edison electrical grid, solar panels on the roof, or a cogen plant in the basement. It then releases the electricity for use during peak-demand periods, when electricity costs the most. It’s similar to how some people set their dishwashers to run in the early-morning hours, when energy demand is low and electricity costs less than during peak hours.

BESS technology itself is actually pretty simple: A battery energy-storage system is just a metal cabinet with a rack of rechargeable batteries, similar to those in a cellphone, only bigger. There are many types, but generally only two that the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) allows: lead-acid, as in most cars; and lithium-ion, as in most laptops. Per FDNY regulations, buildings can install lithium-ion batteries only outdoors, while lead-acid batteries can be kept indoors. A battery array for a building of these sizes costs about $300,000, with an estimated payback period of about two years, says the Beresford’s board president, John Phufas.

Here’s how the savings work. Con Edison built the electrical grid, and so it charges for delivery even if a building gets its electricity through an energy service company, known as an ESCO. Each month’s charges are based on the building’s highest 30-minute period of demand. In other words, what Con Ed charges per kilowatt hour is based on the price of the 30-minute period when a building used the most electricity. Since that’s usually during the highest-demand – and most expensive – period, it’s possible to save money if the building’s peak 30-minute period is during a lower-demand, less-expensive time of day.

“If you can shave that peak, you can reduce that bill,” says Lee Vardakas, head of the manufacturer Aegis Energy Services, which installed the cogen systems at the El Dorado and the Beresford and will connect them to their battery arrays. 

Though the co-ops have yet to apply for permits from the FDNY or the Department of Buildings, the technical end is proceeding apace. “We’ve piqued the interest of the conglomerate Siemens, and they’ve agreed to develop a microgrid for us at the Beresford, to be duplicated at the El Dorado,” says Alex Kalajian, co-founder of Solstice Residential Group, which manages both buildings. That will create a programmer – a software algorithm – to deploy the system at the most efficient rate. 

The Beresford board is meeting with engineers from Siemens as well as from the cogen and the BESS equipment manufacturers to finalize the interconnections between these components and the controller – the electronic brain that coordinates their functions. “Only then can we calculate the savings, get final pricing from Siemens for the controller, and look to see what incentives are available,” Phufas says. 

The El Dorado is paying for these projects from its reserve fund. Each of the two cogen units benefited from a roughly $150,000 NYSERDA incentive. At the Beresford, says Phufas, “it’s all been financed out of cash flow,” meaning maintenance, flip taxes, and alteration fees. “We didn’t do any dedicated loans,’’ he adds. “We refinanced the underlying mortgage three years ago, and we’ve always had a more than adequate line of credit.” 

For these two storied old co-ops, new is good and the future is now.

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