Despite a wealth of rooftops, New York City is a laggard in solar power.

The city's utility, Con Edison, has 8.5 megawatts of PV-generated electricity on its system. Customers completed 203 solar projects in 2010, up from 134 installations a year earlier. Queens leads the boroughs with 1.538 megawatts installed in 2010, while Manhattan has a meager 136 kilowatts of PV installed.

On a good day in June, Germany will install 60 megawatts.

And forget about Germany, New Jersey absolutely trounces New York when it comes to solar power.

New York had 12 megawatts of demand in 2009 versus New Jersey's 57 megawatts and California's 212 megawatts.

In 2010, the Empire State is not even in the running, while New Jersey and California grew to 137 megawatts and 259 megawatts, respectively.

But New York wants to change that.

New York's Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act of 2011 is sitting in Albany's lap, and the New York City Solar America City Partnership just released this interactive map of existing installations and available rooftop space. The Solar Jobs Act is an RPS with a goal of 1.5 percent solar power or 1.6 gigawatts in 2020 -- up from about 0.15 percent now.

On Thursday evening, GTM Research Senior Solar Analyst Shyam Mehta joined a panel organized by Clean Energy Connections to discuss how New York City can make its mark on the solar industry.

Joining Mehta was David Bragdon, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability; David Buckner, the President of Solar Energy Systems; and John Moran of Suntech Power Holdings. Ted Sullivan of Lux Research moderated the panel.

Bragdon reviewed the Mayor's initiatives -- including helping people navigate the permitting process. This is a non-trivial issue and something that Colorado, Vermont, Solartech and the DOE are attempting to address in order to drive down the cost of installed solar. Bragdon also spoke of setting an example in installing solar on public properties such as landfills and city buildings.

David Buckner, a Brooklyn-based developer of commercial solar projects, made the oft-voiced request of needing a consistent and long-term policy. He was in favor of a performance-based incentive similar to the SRECs in New Jersey. The proposed New York legislation is a 15-year SREC program, which does allow some long-term planning.

Shyam emphasized that a 15-year contract "de-risks" the project.

John Moran, East Coast utility sales at Suntech, believes that the NYC plan takes some of the best ideas from the New Jersey program.

Shyam Mehta also said that "there are lessons to be learned from parallel examples in other markets." Mehta noted the cycle of feed-in tariffs in Europe where countries like Germany or France pass costs on to the rate payer and become "gold mines for manufacturers." Mehta actually made the analogy to practices like "strip mining or slash-and-burn farming" that deplete the system. 

Mehta noted that although only 6 percent of solar panels are made in the U.S. and 50 percent are made in China, there is a frustrating focus on manufacturing -- in reality, deployment and installation create three times as many jobs. And these are jobs that can't be outsourced. Mehta stressed, "The real job opportunity is in installation."

I was going to include the comment text of one of Greentech Media's commenters in this article, including those of a certain "rooferguy" who made some great points. But, in fact, Mehta cited this commenter's points at the conference.

1. First and foremost, any time a building is over about three stories in height, there is not enough roof space for a meaningful array.  NYC rooftops are cluttered with HVAC equipment, ancient water tanks and a rat’s nest of wiring.  The outer boroughs have potential, but…

2. There is serious and intractable bureaucratic antagonism towards solar.  Our experiences are amazingly worse than even the most bizarre horror stories we have heard from other places. If you are curious, check out how many systems were installed in Staten Island over the past five years. Building departments have in many cases done everything in their power to prevent solar installations. Fire departments haven’t even gotten into the act because so few systems have been installed. In some places, NYC requires a separate UL test for each final system design, leading to…..

3. Ridiculously high costs.  Think separate UL tests are expensive?  What about the payoffs needed for “permission” to work in an area.  Unavailable parking.  Union work rules. The reality is that solar is best suited for suburban locations.  Rooftop and parking lot space is available.  Regulations are not as anti-business and pro-union.  And costs are much, much lower.  Politicians may tell you they will fix the problems and make solar easier, but I haven’t seen a single city yet that has improved solar installation conditions in a sustainable way (entrenched bureaucracies always outlast well-intentioned politicians).

Thanks, rooferguy.

Note that ConEd opposes the solar jobs act. 



Top Solar Producing States and Why New Jersey Wins in Solar 

2010 Installations, Top 10 States Photovoltaics (MWdc) Concentrating Solar Power (Mwac)
California  258.9  -
New Jersey  137.1  -
Nevada  61.4  -
Arizona  54.0  1.5
Colorado  53.6  1.0
Pennsylvania  46.8  -
New Mexico  42.8  -
Florida  35.2  75.0
North Carolina  30.7  -
Texas  22.6  -
Rest of U.S.  135.2  -
Total  878.3  77.5

Data from Greentech Media Research (More details in this report)

The Garden State, New Jersey, is the sixth-largest solar market in the world. If solar capacity were to be calculated on a per-square-mile basis, New Jersey would lead the nation.

And it's not because of ample solar resources, but rather because of political will and an informed renewable energy policy. In New Jersey's case, it's an SREC program as opposed to a feed-in tariff or California Solar Initiative-type rebate.

As detailed by Shayle Kann, Managing Director of GTM Solar Research, in his recent U.S. Utility PV Report: "New Jersey has long been the country’s second-largest state market behind California, but has only recently begun to develop a utility market. With a large RPS solar requirement that ramps up increasingly in later years, the state is poised to lead the East Coast utility market."