Solar in the City: The Path to Government Green

Prices for solar are going down as quality is going up. Predictions are that solar energy will be the least expensive form of generating energy by the year 2020. Solar also makes an outstanding contribution, via reduction of emissions, to making New York a healthier, greener city. And government is doing its part in encouraging the solar movement.

What could have been, if not the doom, but certainly a huge setbackin the growth of solar was circumvented in December 2015 when the federal 30% corporate Investment Tax Credit (ITC) was extended through the end of 2019.

Closer to home, solar in New York State grew 575% between 2011-2014. Invested, literally and figuratively, in supporting solar installation, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has integrated all of its solar programs under one umbrella: NY-Sun. A commitment of $1 billion was made to propel and motivate the marketplace with an abundance of incentives, including financial support for public and private building installations. (NY-SUN.NY.GOV)

New York City has deferred to the state with regard to providing detailed information and incentives for installing solar in the city.

The City University of New York has, however, taken up a leadership position with its Sustainable CUNY program. Having launched its NYC Solar Map back in 2011, last month at the NY Solar Summit, they announced the design/build of a “comprehensive interactive website” (nysolarmap.com) that provides in-depth technical and financial feasibility information statewide.

Put in your address and the site will show you solar system size, payback period, yearly energy savings, total cost and net cost after incentives and taxes. You can “Get a Quote” or download a report. Can we say brilliant? Sustainable CUNY was supported by both the aforementioned NY-Sun program as well as the DOE’s SunShot Initiative, a nationwide collaborative effort with the goal of reducing the cost of solar electricity. The Solarmap even outlines opportunities for renters, investors and those without a roof that can sustain solar installation.

We do a lot of research for these articles and early on in doing so for this one, we came across a New York Times’ article from January 2008 entitled “(Solar) Power to the People Is Not So Easily Achieved.” It’s a wonderfully and amusingly written piece about the trials and tribulations of installing solar in a Washington Heights apartment building. Written only 8 years ago, it seems almost quaint based on the tremendous strides of the solar industry.

We believe there’s a solar installation heading your way. And with the help of government, institutions and your solar installation company/consultant, we also believe you’re going to be surprised about how much easier and less costly it’s going to be.
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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Solar in the City: Costs Going Down

When last I wrote about solar, it was to shed some light on why solar energy has lagged behind other energy savings, green and sustainability initiatives in New York City.

There are so many benefits to be realized from solar power. It’s clean, cost efficient, energy saving, relieves pressure on the traditional power grid and is even attractive. But its growth has been stunted by two huge obstacles – affordability and achievability.

Solar isn’t just about long-term energy savings, although, understandably, reduced costs are a priority for property owners. It’s also about good corporate citizenship and making a contribution to a healthier city. According to CleanTechnica, “maximizing New York City’s solar potential with 410 MW of solar would reduce emissions by 1.78 million metric tons, 3.7% of the city’s total emissions.”

The good news is that costs are going down for solar which, along with many incentives, will greatly improve ROI.

Costs have decreased as solar technology advanced and solar panel manufacturers became more efficient. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), “The cost to install solar has dropped by more than 70% over the last 10 years.” The SEIA also reports that average price for a commercial PV (photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight to electricity) project “has dropped by nearly 30% in the past 3 years alone.”

Deutsch Bank, which installed the largest solar PV system in Manhattan and currently has the highest elevated solar PV flat panel array in the world at its 60 Wall Street Americas headquarters, issued a report that said, “…we expect solar electricity to become competitive with retail electricity in an increasing number of markets globally due to declining solar panel costs as well as improving financing and customer acquisition costs.”

Numerous top tier publications have predicted solar energy will become the least expensive form of energy generation by 2020.

Next we’ll explore what government is doing to support solar installations with incentives and technical help.
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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services

Up on the Roof: Solar in the City

The lyrics go “Hot town, summer in the city…” and New York certainly is. Soaring temps are further intensified by the Urban Heat Island Effect which makes NYC hotter than rural areas due to population density. Then come the astronomical power bills as the A/C cranks to keep a building comfortably livable and workable. Between the heat, power usage and summertime peak demand, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions also increase exponentially.

Though New York City’s uber urban landscape is, in many ways, a near utopian model for a sustainable lifestyle, one major technology slow in being adopted here is solar power. Solar is smart. It’s environmentally sound. It ultimately saves significant money. It reduces pressure on the traditional power grid. It’s even attractive. Why then has it not taken off in New York City?

The answer is cost. And more cost. You have to be able to afford it or qualify for a loan. Then there’s red tape. And more red tape. The permitting and approval process can be onerous in New York City. And feasibility. Your building is very tall. You imagine all the sunlight that can be used to heat and air¬ condition the building. But is the roof large enough? Is it in good condition? Does it get enough sun to generate enough energy to make the project worthwhile?

Then think of getting all that cable up whatever number of stories and the feasibility studies. One solar panel is about 10 square feet. Can you fit enough on your roof to justify the project and expense even after rebates and incentives? What about the time it will take to get permits, applications and approvals from various entities including Con Ed for interconnectivity and the Department of Buildings? You’ll also have to do all of the paperwork to benefit from incentives and subsidies.

If the project is a condominium or cooperative, you may face challenges in obtaining shareholder support and possibly need a special assessment.

If it’s a commercial building, the cost may be prohibitive. Then there is the question of whether solar is even possible as a retrofit.

In a suburban house, solar panels will generate enough energy for a family of four. But when you have a multi¬story commercial or residential tower, the equation/ratio of what and how many solar panels can be installed vs. how much energy is generated and the length of the ROI is significantly more complex.
In 2012, Deutsche Bank answered the feasibility question about commercial building viability with a solar retrofit when it installed a 122.4 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) system on the roof of its 50-¬story American headquarters at 60 Wall Street. The building was originally built between 1987-¬1989 for J.P. Morgan & Co., making it, if not modern, at least of more recent vintage than many of the city’s aging stock of skyscrapers.

The system is the largest solar PV array in Manhattan and currently the highest elevated solar PV flat panel array in the world. It will reduce electricity consumption from the grid and decrease carbon emissions by 100 metric tons per year.

Deutsche Bank did not release the cost of the retrofit, but as a global company, the bank has a comprehensive corporate commitment to sound environmental activities and also provides debt and equity capital for renewable energy. Thus, 60 Wall Street is an admirable, monolithic symbol for the bank worldwide.

But, unlike a headquarters building, the majority of landlords are dealing with multiple tenants of varying SF leases at varying cost with no shared environmental policies.
All that being said, this article is meant to be informational, not disheartening, because there is a lot of good news for landlords interested in installing solar. Many of the aforementioned issues have become simpler and less costly.

New York State has made a huge commitment to advancing solar power. The federal solar Investment Tax Credit can significantly lower project cost. As for feasibility and red tape, a solar consultant or installer can handle all of that on your behalf. Lastly, indications are that costs are coming down.
As the only LEED¬ AP BD +C commercial real estate appraiser in New York City, I am constantly seeking out ways for property owners to build value with energy savings and sustainable practices. I can say with certainty that, when done correctly, solar power will increase the value of your property as a result of energy cost savings, and enhanced green positioning with regard to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution that will certainly accrue to the bottom line.

Thus I encourage exploring installing solar power. What incentives, credits, guidelines and which buildings are viable is the topic of the next article in this series covering the past, present and future of solar in New York City.
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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services