The New Yorkification of Solar


One of the distinct attributes of distributed solar technology is that its evolution and proliferation can be shaped and accelerated by the creative inputs of the many, rather than the few. Solar’s modularity, simplicity and increasing affordability permit diverse actors—entrepreneurs, policymakers, nonprofits, consumers—to independently engage and experiment with its possibilities, overcome barriers, and deploy it in the real world.

The consequences of solar’s distributedness, are not limited to the manner in which it is physically deployed or who owns, controls and realizes benefit from its output. Distributedness is also a fundamental factor in how innovation in solar unfolds over time, and who has influence and the ability to participate in that process. In contrast to large-scale centralized generation, for which decision-making is concentrated among a limited and exclusive number of actors, solar is decidedly more open, allowing for decentralized, diverse agents to shape its trajectory.

As a result, solar has proven to be a highly adaptive energy technology, manifesting enormous diversity in scale and form from one market to another. This happens as independent actors invent new ways to merge solar’s potential with unique local constraints and opportunities.

This distributed process of innovation touches upon all aspects of the value chain, from manufacturing and design to customer acquisition, finance, installation and maintenance. It can also be observed in the public domains of policymaking and regulation.


In recent years, solar culture has begun to take exciting and highly idiosyncratic shape in the five boroughs of New York. This has not always been the case.

Historically, solar adoption in the city has lagged far behind that of neighboring counties in Long Island, upstate and New Jersey. This is because predominant approaches to implementing solar (usually in suburban residential, commercial and industrial markets) do not match many of the unique needs of dense urban areas.

However, demand for solar among New Yorkers has for years been remarkably high as a result of expensive electricity rates, widespread support for climate solutions, attractive public incentives and other factors. This imbalance between high demand and low supply has given rise to a surge of local innovation in solar design, policy and promotion in a relatively short period of time. Local startups, advocates and consumers have developed approaches to solar implementation that others have overlooked or rejected. As a consequence, we are witnessing what could be dubbed the “New Yorkification of solar; that is, the arrival of indigenous, home-grown approaches to making solar viable and available for urban residents.

In retrospect, this new trend shouldn’t come as a great surprise, as solar’s flexibility plays directly to some of our city’s most notable strengths and outlier characteristics: size, diversity and complexity. Here, solar interacts with an almost limitless variety of potential co-creators from the private, public and nonprofit spheres—not to mention consumers, who exert their own influence through specific choices and behaviors.

At Urban Green’s October 18 panel, titled The New Yorkification of Solar, guests will gain direct insight into these trends from representatives of New York-based solar companies, advocates and adopters.

About the authors

Chris Neidl
Christopher Neidl is a clean energy policy advocate, educator and project advisor with thirteen years of experience facilitating on-grid and off-grid clean energy adoption in the United States, Asia and Africa.