Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

How New York Uses Renewable Energy

Renewable energy resources already play an important role in our economy and society, and they have a much larger potential for replacing fossil fuels in the future, supporting a strong economy and maintaining our comfort and convenience. The electric power generation sector is today's most prominent user of renewable energy, but New Yorkers are rapidly adopting direct use of sunlight for space conditioning and hot water, as well as electric vehicles and advanced biofuels for transportation.

Electric Power Generation

Nearly 23 percent of New York's electric power today comes from a variety of renewable sources, chiefly hydroelectric with significant contributions from wind, biomass and, increasingly, solar resources. Renewable energy lowers the net price of electricity to consumers and creates jobs and economic opportunities. Renewables also help New York meet environmental goals: our electricity today ranks with the nation's cleanest, partly because New Yorkers are America's fifth-largest users of renewable electric power.

Hydroelectric Power

Penstocks behind brown building with Cohoes Falls at the top of the picture
Small Hydro: The School Street
hydroelectric plant in Cohoes can
generate 38 MW of electric power.
(Photo: Albany Times Union)
Aerial view of Niagara Power Project
Large Hydro: New York's large
hydroelectric generation portfolio
includes the 2.4 gigawatt (GW)
Robert Moses Niagara Power
Project. (Photo: NY Power Authority)

In hydroelectric power plants, the energy in falling water drives turbines that generate electricity. New York produces more hydroelectric power than any other state east of the Rockies, and according to the the International Energy Association (IEA), ranks fourth nationwide in total installed hydropower capacity.

Several large hydroelectric generation facilities and numerous small hydro plants are located in New York. Large hydro plants are capable of generating several hundred megawatts (MW) of power or more. Small hydro facilities, many built a century or more ago to serve a single community or industrial plant, have been upgraded and now contribute electricity to the power grid.

Wind Power

fenner wind farm showing 4 windmills on a winter landscape
On-shore Wind Generation:
With 20 wind turbines, each rated for
1.5 MW, the Fenner Wind Farm in
Madison County has a total
generating capacity of 30 MW.
windmills in the ocean at sunset
Off-shore Wind Generation: The
nation's first offshore wind farm,
Cape Wind off Cape Cod, MA, was
recently approved. New York
coastal sites are currently being
explored for wind potential.

Wind power technology uses the energy in moving air to turn turbines that generate electricity. In 2007, wind power provided a little more than three percent of New York's renewable electric power, with significant growth since. Today, IEA ranks the state eleventh nationwide in the use of wind power.

Wind measurements show the state's wind generation potential to be significantly greater than current production. Large wind energy projects produce the cheapest electricity, so significant development is likely of both on-shore and off-shore commercial wind generation facilities in the state.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Technology

Aerial view of solar panels looking like small lakes among trees
Utility-scale solar PV: The Long
Island Solar Farm at Brookhaven
Laboratory is the largest solar power
plant in the eastern US. Its 164,000
solar panels can provide up to
32 MW of electricity.
(Photo: Brookhaven National Lab)
solar panel array on roof with two men: Mike Manning, Mayor and Jim Yenienger, Consultant
Rooftop Solar PV Arrays:
Electricity generated by a rooftop
solar array helps offset power
bills for the City of Watervliet.
(Photo: City of Watervliet)

Solar photovoltaic technology captures sunlight to directly generate electricity, without mechanical equipment. Today, IEA estimates New York's (2010) solar electricity generation capacity at more than 55 MW, seventh in the nation. Solar photovoltaic use is growing rapidly in the state.

Whether generated by commercial "solar farms" or by panels on rooftop or ground mountings, PV-generated electricity converts easily to be compatible with the power grid. Under the state's net metering law, utilities reimburse PV owners for the electricity they generate, effectively providing the grid as energy storage. Utilities benefit, because solar power generation is greatest when electricity demand is highest -- on hot, sunny summer days.


brick red with black roofed anaerobic digester
Anaerobic digestion: Wagner
Farm in Poestenkill ferments
agricultural manure in the digester
shown above to yield methane-rich
biogas,then combusts the biogas
to generate electricity used to
operate farm equipment.
(Photo: Cornell Dairy
Environmental Systems Program)
truck dumping biomass outside gasifier with tall chimmney
Direct Biomass Combustion:
A 50 MW electric generating station
in Vermont combusts wood chips
to generate electricity. (Photo:
Nat'l Renewable Energy Lab.)

New York is well endowed with biomass, which can be used to generate electricity either by direct burning of wood or other plant material or by combusting methane-rich biogas derived from manure, sewage or other organic materials. New York farms and sewage treatment plants are finding that onsite biogas-sourced electricity cuts their power bills while avoiding waste management costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently, a small number of central electric generation facilities in New York (total capacity around 70 MW) use wood-based fuel. Use of biogas to generate electricity has increased since 2007, when the total capacity of systems located on farms, at municipal waste treatment plants and fuel-cell based installations was estimated at around 12 MW. A new research project currently is recruiting Central and Northern New York farmers to grow shrub willow to burn for electricity.

Space Conditioning and Hot Water for Buildings

Today's building designs and heating technologies are directly using solar and geothermal energy for space heating (and even cooling) and for heating water. Increasingly, buildings are seen as integrated systems with several sources working together to provide heating/cooling, hot water and the full range of energy services.

Active Solar Heating

15 panel solar thermal array on roof
Institutional Solar Thermal Hot
Water Heating:
The roof of the
Glens Falls Hospital Renal Dialysis
Center boasts a newly-installed
15-panel solar thermal array to
preheat water.
(Photo: Albany Times Union)
Man opening small door on a Bright blue boiler located in basement with white pipes overhead
Integrated Renewable Systems:
At the Wild Center's North Country
education facility, solar hot water
and a highly efficient wood pellet
boiler supplement one another.
(Photo: The Wild Center)

Active solar panels may look similar to solar photovoltaic panels, but the two technologies work very differently. While PV panels generate electricity, active solar energy panels directly warm either air or an anti-freeze-like liquid that carries solar heat to the building space, a water pre-heat tank or a heat storage system.

Active solar collectors usually are employed as part of a building-wide system that incorporates auxiliary heating -- an opportunity to tap a second renewable source. Such systems are highly cost-effective when they are used for most of the year (that is, in cold climates with many sunny days), which may explain why designing, manufacturing and retailing renewable energy devices are both popular and profitable in New York.

Passive Solar Design and Geothermal Technology

three large glass panels with trees on the outside and plants on the inside
Passive solar space heating:
Engineered sunspaces team up with
an efficient biomass heater to warm
this Saratoga County home. Passive
solar can reduce energy bills without
adding a lot to a building's cost.
construction site with man in a trench and black narrow pipes on top of the ground
Geothermal Space Heating: DEC's
Five Rivers Environmental Education
Center recently added geothermal to its
building space heat system.

Passive solar design uses orientation, glazing and other building features to maximize collection of solar heat. Building mass stores the heat; mechanical controls like shutters and shades exclude sunlight in warm weather. Incorporating passive solar features during construction is relatively inexpensive, and passive solar buildings increase in value as they demonstrate their low energy use.

Geothermal space conditioning can tap the earth's heat in much of the United States, even where subsurface water temperature is low or moderate (68°F to 302°F). A geothermal system can be set to either heat or cool the building, making space conditioning as much as 80 percent less expensive than traditional fuels -- with virtually no air pollution or greenhouse gas.

Biomass Space Heating

Green biomass heat exchanger with pipes outside brown building
Biomass heat exchanger furnaces
located outdoors can heat large
spaces. A heat exchanger transfers
heat from the outdoor furnace to
the building's interior.
(Photo: Energetics)
Black woodstore with roaring orange fire
EPA-certified wood stoves emit low
pollution. Pairing low-pollution wood
heaters with nonpolluting renewable
energy sources like passive solar
will help limit air pollution and
greenhouse gas emissions, and will
protect forests and other biomass

New York's abundant biomass makes this locally-available, renewable heat source a natural -- but wood, like other fuels, requires thoughtful use and resource stewardship. EPA and DEC regulations shape biomass heating devices to keep users and neighbors safe and comfortable. Managing forests and other biomass resources for sustainability ensures that this energy source will remain available.
New York residents use significant amounts of biomass, particularly wood, as a primary fuel. According to the 2009 State Energy Plan, residential use of wood grew by 23 percent between 2001 and 2007; commercial and industrial customers also heat with wood.

Renewable Energy for Transportation

Bringing renewable energy to the transportation sector is a key element of future energy and climate security. Renewable transportation fuels must contain adequate energy in a volume small enough to carry onboard a vehicle. Also, economically feasible distribution must be available to move the fuels to widespread and convenient fueling stations. In the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), eleven Northeastern states and the District of Columbia are working together on clean vehicles and fuels and on other policies that will advance clean transportation in the region.

Alternative Vehicle Fuels

bio diesel ethanol fuel pump with men standing behind
Bio-diesel vehicle fuel is available
at four locations in New York
State, including the Mirabito fueling
facility near Oswego.
(Photo: NYSERDA)
Close up of small green plant, willow with pink background
Shrub willow is the focus of
advanced biofuels research in
New York State. These plants take
up significant amounts of
atmospheric carbon, and can be
grown on marginal land, reserving
crop lands for food products.

Energy density. Biomass can be reacted to yield liquid fuels with enough available energy to be practical as transportation fuels. Today's biomass-based transportation fuels include ethanol and biodiesel. Researchers are working to develop sustainable advanced biofuels from plants (e.g. willow and switchgrass) that grow on land not suitable for food crops. Compressed natural gas (CNG), a fossil fuel that pollutes less than petroleum, can serve as a temporary bridge while renewable fuel technologies are being developed.

Fuel distribution. Liquid biofuels can be distributed through existing fossil fuel pipeline networks (though with some some technical complications). Dedicated CNG distribution systems now serve about 30 fueling stations in the state.

Electric Vehicles

grey vehicle with pipe from post into side of car and sign saying electric vehicle charging station.
All-electric and plug-in hybrid
vehicles can charge at home or
use a growing network of public
charging stations. New York has
joined other Northeastern states
in developing and promoting a
region-wide network of charging
(Photo: Nat'l Renewable
Energy Lab)
green truck with words all electric delivery vehicle on side
Electricity, used as a fuel for the
first automobiles, has remained
in wide use in many countries, and
still fuels some types of service
vehicles in the US. A New York
State incentive helped fund this
all-electric delivery vehicle, helping
to return electricity to wider use as
a vehicle fuel and, as a bonus, to
move New York City toward
cleaner air. (Photo: NYSERDA)

Energy Density. Plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) recently have become available in New York and across the nation at an unprecedented scale. While EV's are very clean (and cheap) to operate anywhere, in New York the prevalence of renewable electricity makes EV greenhouse gas emissions especially low. While electricity (whatever its source) is energy-dense, battery storage capacity still limits the amount of electric "fuel" that can be carried onboard the vehicle. In New York, battery research and development has the potential to lead to an outstanding economic opportunity.

Fuel Distribution. The nationwide distribution system for fueling EVs already exists -- the electric power grid -- and is readily accessible to almost all consumers. However, fueling stations in parking lots and other public areas are needed to make use of EVs more convenient and would help extend vehicle mileage until higher-capacity batteries become available. The Northeast EV network project of the TCI is currently working on a foundation for EV and fueling station deployment in the region.