How NYC Is Going Solar

Rooftop solar may be hard to see, but distributed generation in New York City is taking off. The City of New York’s initiatives to drive this growth were highlighted at Solarizing NYC: Implementing Solar on City-Owned Buildings, a panel moderated by Solar One’s Christopher Neidl at Syska Hennessy last month.

NYC has set a goal through OneNYC to supply its buildings with 100 MW of solar power by 2025. The Department of City Administrative Services (DCAS) determines which are the best-suited public buildings for photovoltaic (PV) systems. This month, DCAS will publish its Solar Readiness Survey to relay the potential of PV for each municipal roof.


One of DCAS’ largest clients for PV is the Department of Education (DOE), which boasts 130 million square feet of available rooftop space. Since these buildings are often low-rise (minimal wind-load) and stretch a whole city block (minimal shading), they are ideal candidates for solar.

I.S. 237 Solar Installation
Solar installation on the Rachel Carson I.S. 237 in Flushing, Queens. Photo courtesy of NYC DCAS.

Meredith McDermott, from the DOE’s Office of Sustainability, spoke about the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) that the DOE has with DCAS for 70 new installations to be completed by 2019. While these buildings can often be perfect for many reasons, educational facilities pose challenges for construction schedules. Work must take place on nights and weekends, partially to avoid cranes in use while students are on site.


Hamid Lekic, of DCAS’ Office of Clean Energy and Innovative Technology explained that the city PV systems are streamlined for easy rollout. The systems are almost always ballasted, so they can be easily disassembled if necessary and do not need to tie into the building’s structure.  A custodian engineer monitors each school’s PV system – if there is a problem, the engineer reports it directly to DCAS. DCAS has a backup team ready to troubleshoot issues on site when a building manager reports an issue.

CUNY has also jumped into the game as part of the NYC Solar Partnership. The university offers Solar 101 trainings for building maintenance managers so that they can successfully monitor their systems using an online tool displaying electric output.

The public can also check out New York State’s solar sites and production on a NYSERDA integrated generation dashboard. On a recent January day, the state’s total solar energy generated was recorded at almost 90 MWh, and a sunny day in mid-July 2016 recorded nearly seven times that amount.


New York City’s model for introducing new technologies is working. Erica Helson (NYC Economic Development Corporation) is charged with using lessons learned to reduce entry barriers, like permitting costs and financing, so that the private sector will follow suit. Neidl summed up NYC’s challenge by saying that “hitting a significant goal like one gigawatt of solar is more than just slapping solar panels up on empty roof space – it’s embarking on an enormous challenge in an environment that doesn’t resemble any location that has successfully scaled solar.” By allowing city agencies to experiment, progress is being made toward achieving the OneNYC goals in the most urban and densely populated city in America. This encouraging progress spurred Mayor Bill De Blasio to increase the total solar power goal to 1,000 MW citywide by 2030 and introduce a storage goal of 100 MWh.

About the authors

Sean Brennan
Sean leads Urban Green’s Research team. He is responsible for identifying and executing studies that reveal industry trends and influence building design. He has worked in the energy and utility space for over 10 years and has specialized in building science and analysis. Sean has improved energy efficiency and asset maintenance programs at Pacific Gas & Electric and Sempra utilities in California.