Solar Energy in New York
Large and Small Systems for Heat and Power
Long Island Solar Farm is the largest solar power
plant in the eastern United States. It consists of
164,000 solar panels that provide up to 32 MW
(Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory)
Solar energy is abundant, non-polluting and does not emit greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Even in the northeastern United States, where sunlight is variable, solar energy helps to warm and light many buildings and can make a significant contribution to meeting demand for electricity and hot water.
Solar technologies can be applied at both large and small scales. Large commercial scale solar power plants feed electricity directly to the utility electric grid. Smaller distributed solar electricity generation by individual homes, institutions or businesses is economically feasible because New York has adopted "net metering," which allows excess electricity generated on sunny days to flow back into the electric grid, with credit or payment from the utility company for the power generated.
Three Main Technologies Harvest Solar Energy
Solar Photovoltaic (PV)
PV, solar hot water and passive solar work
together in this home
(Credit: David Parsons, NREL)
Most people are familiar with solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. PV cells (often referred to as "solar cells") convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar cells are connected together to form solar panels. Multiple panels together form the solar arrays commonly seen on roofs and as free-standing installations. Large-scale PV arrays, sometimes referred to as "solar farms," can generate commercial electric power. Small scale solar PV is providing power to a growing number of individual homes, farms, businesses and institutions, helping to make them energy-independent and adding power to New York's electricity grid during peak demand times on hot summer days.
Solar Thermal Energy
Solar water heating is one of the most common ways to directly harvest the heat of the sun. Solar hot water technology has been around for many decades and is quite efficient (typically 65 to 70 percent). The equipment is affordable and usually lasts for decades with very little maintenance -- and, of course, the solar "fuel" is free. A solar hot water system typically consists of a collector, a storage tank, piping and sometimes valves, controls and pumps. In freezing climates like New York's, the systems often use a non-toxic glycol as the collector fluid and a heat exchanger to transfer the thermal energy to the house drinking water system. The most common collector is the robust and well-tested flat-plate collector; a more recent design is the evacuated tube collector.
Direct Concentrating solar power, or CSP, is a form of solar thermal technology that is being adopted in very sunny areas; it is not currently used in New York. In CSP systems, large mirrors or lenses concentrate sunlight onto a small area to produce steam, which then drives an electricity-generating turbine.
Passive Solar Energy
Passive solar energy means heating and lighting buildings directly from sunlight. In passive solar buildings, windows, walls, and floors collect, store, and distribute solar heat in cold seasons; Other elements such as awnings and overhangs shade the building when the weather is warm. Taking advantage of the local climate, passive
College atrium benefits from passive solar
(Credit Ed Hancock, NREL)
solar design uses the building's directional orientation, window placement and glazing, shading, thermal insulation and thermal mass to help manage solar heat inputs. Passive solar building designs also offer opportunities for daylighting (controlled admission of direct sunlight and diffuse skylight), which can reduce electric lighting demand and add to energy savings.
Promoting Solar Electric Generation in New York
Solar energy resources have significant room for further development in New York. Based on state incentives awarded for solar PV, the state's total on-grid solar electric generation capacity is expected to increase tenfold between 2009 and 2015 -- from approximately 8 MW to a little more than 80 MW. Even with this increase, total generation will be less than one percent of what is technically possible.
State Solar Energy Incentives
To increase solar energy resources, New York State and the federal government offer financial incentives that help businesses, schools and homeowners defray the upfront cost of installing on-grid solar energy facilities.
The incentive programs discussed below are the state's chief tools for encouraging individuals, businesses and institutions to adopt solar energy. Additional information about solar incentives for homeowners and commercial customers is available through the NYSERDA Renewable Energy link at right. Also linked is a comprehensive list of renewable energy and energy efficiency incentives for New York compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
NYSERDA Solar Installation Incentives
Solar panel roof installation (Credit: New York State
Energy Research and Development Authority)
Long-term loans to help cover installed costs of grid-connected residential and commercial solar PV electric power systems are available through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). This financial assistance program has a goal of installing 82 MW of solar PV capacity (which will generate 93,806 MWhs) each year.
Grid connection requires an interconnection agreement between customer and utility, specifying conditions for safe grid connection and outlining metering arrangements. Applications for funding assistance will be accepted through December 31, 2015 or until funds are fully committed. NYSERDA also offers incentives for installing solar hot water heating systems.
Net metering is available on a first-come, first-served basis to customers of the state's major investor-owned utilities. Publicly-owned utilities are not obligated to offer net metering; however, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) offers net metering on terms similar to those in the state law. New York State law allows net metering for solar photovoltaic systems up to 25 kW in residential buildings, and up to 2 MW in commercial and industrial settings, including systems serving nonprofit organizations, schools, governments and agricultural operations.
New York State offers several tax incentives to encourage solar energy. Incentives for residential installations include:
- An income tax credit for 25 percent of the cost of the system ($5,000 maximum) for grid connected and net metered residential (including multi-family) solar electric and solar thermal systems.
- Exemption from state sales tax for passive solar space heat, solar water heat, solar space heat and photovoltaics installed in residential and multi-family residential buildings. (see link at right and click on Publication 718-s)
- Subject to local option, a 15-year real property tax exemption for the cost of solar and certain other renewable energy systems constructed in New York State, to ensure that property taxes do not rise because owners install solar energy equipment.
Links at right access additional details about residential tax incentives.
Raising Public Awareness of Solar Energy
Solar panels on school roof
School Power...Naturally(SM) is an innovative program from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) designed to educate New Yorkers about energy and, in particular, the role that solar electricity can play in providing clean energy for homes, schools and workplaces.
Watt is a measure of how much electricity a generator can produce, so it is used to express the capacity of power sources, usually in kilowatts (thousand watts) or megawatts (million watts), or for very large generators, gigawatts (billion watts).
Watt-hour measures electric power, or the rate at which electric energy is generated or consumed. A watt-hour means one watt of power generated or used for one hour. Electric companies usually bill consumer electric use by the kilowatt-hour (1,000 watt-hours); megawatt-hours or gigawatt-hours would be used to express large amounts of power, such as annual power generation or consumption for states and nations.