In the 2010 U.S. Solar Market Trends report released by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, California is ranked first in installed solar capacity with 212.1 MW in 2009. New Jersey comes in second with 57.3 MW. And finally, New York comes in seventh with 12.1 MW of installed solar.
Carol Murphy, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York (ACE NY), attributes New Jersey’s success to its rebate programs and says the state "probably has the best solar program on the East Coast."
ACE NY, along with the help of other solar advocates, is working to pass legislation that could bring New York to the next level of solar installment. The New York Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act was introduced last year, and Murphy hopes it can be passed in 2011.
The Act establishes a policy framework to achieve over 5,000 MW of solar power by the year 2025, with interim targets of 500 MW by 2015 and 1,500 MW by 2020. To put that into context, 1 MW of solar power could supply enough electricity to power 170 homes in New York State, according to NYSERDA. New York City consumed a little more than 1,200 MW in 2009, according to Con Edison.
Furthermore, the Act is estimated to generate at least $20 billion through 2025, averaging about $1.5 billion per year. Additionally, it will create 22,198 jobs, according to Vote Solar, a nonprofit organization working at state and local levels to implement programs allowing strong solar markets to grow.
And at what cost? Just a mere 39 cents per month on average for a residential customer.
"At present only small systems can participate in the state’s solar programs," says Shaun Chapman, Vote Solar’s East Coast campaigns director. "We’d like to see a bigger, more inclusive program."
The legislation will encourage large-scale commercial solar installation, according to Murphy.
Chapman says New York is very close to becoming a solar leader, and he believes the Industry and Jobs Act can push the state ahead of New Jersey in just two to three years.
“It’s kind of like tending a garden,” says Chapman. “New York has all the right ingredients, it just needs some watering. And that watering would come in the form of the solar jobs act that we hope to see passed in 2011.”
What New Yorkers can count on this year is a brand new incentive program for solar thermal from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
The 5-year, $25 million solar thermal program will provide incentives for New Yorkers to replace electric hot water systems with solar hot water.
“Incentives would cover 15 to 20 percent of installed cost for typical commercial and residential installations,” says Dayle Zatlin, assistant director of communications at NYSERDA.
Additionally, solar thermal systems generally pay for themselves in about two to six years according to the New York Solar Energy Society (NYSES). “Solar electric panels are really expensive, the best and first thing you should do with solar is install solar thermal panels,” says Wyldon King Fishman, NYSES president and founder. “It’s a lot cheaper and you’re really able to take that bill and turn it around.”
Many in the solar industry predict that solar thermal installations will climb in New York with the new state incentive in conjunction with available 30 percent federal tax credits for solar thermal systems.
[Some of these tax credits offer up to $2,000,000 for businesses to install solar energy per building, as reported on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, as well as significant tax incentives for home owners as well. For an individual homeowner producing 10 kW of solar energy there is a tax credit of up to $5,000, and for businesses or homeowners that have purchased photovoltaic systems there is a incentive of 5 percent of expenditure costs per year for four years, for a total of 20 percent. To further help with costs, New York is offering loans of up to $20,000 to install solar and other renewable energy systems in residential homes.]
SunDog Solar and Solaqua Power and Art president Jody Rael is just one of many anticipating a rising popularity with solar thermal over the next couple of years. SunDog Solar is a for-profit solar installation company that helps fund the nonprofit educational entity Solaqua Power and Art, both located on a shared campus in Chatham.
Pete Skinner, solar engineer with Sundog, helped design a training device for solar thermal installation known as the Sundog Rover. The mobile solar thermal device is made of Plexiglas, instead of metal, which allows for more effective training.
“It has miniature collectors on it, with all the pumps and coils. It will heat up if you put it in the sun, but we can also use it inside the classroom to train people,” says Rael.
The company has sold the training device throughout the country, and Rael says they’ve already sold six in New York.
The work at Solaqua Power and Art demonstrates the efforts being put forward to build a standardized and certified solar workforce. Through NYSERDA grants, Solaqua has been able to build one of the largest solar thermal arrays on the buildings at their campus and looks forward to training other installers in their solar thermal lab.
Jason Iahn of Lighthouse Solar, a New Paltz-based solar installer, expects to see increased demand for solar thermal. Currently, his company has mainly focused on solar PV, because that's where the incentives have been. Additionally, Lighthouse Solar's commercial business is brisk thanks to the rebates and tax incentives, Iahn says.
Currently, NYSERDA offers 19 photovoltaic training programs, and there are about 14 more that are under development, according to Jeffrey Gordon, the authority's director of communications. Gordon says that the programs work to establish consistency and standardization in the installation, technology, design, and theory of photovoltaic.
From 2009 to 2010, Gordon says there was a 40 percent increase in the number of people trained by NYSERDA-funded programs.
While Gordon and NYSERDA look to build a trained work force, other organizations like The Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC) are looking to bring higher skilled manufacturing jobs back to New York, particularly in the Hudson Valley.
Carl Meyer, president and chief operating officer of TSEC, seeks to recycle the former IBM workforce which had been a major employer in the Hudson Valley for the last 30 years.
“There’s a tremendous skill set here. We’re trying to capture that and move it toward solar energy technology business,” says Meyer.
Meyer believes that job growth going forward will be found in manufacturing. In fact, TSEC has successfully created more than 600 solar jobs in the Hudson Valley over the last couple of years, according to Meyer.
New York has seen significant growth in certified installers, and as that number plateaus, attention will shift to manufacturing and research and development of new solar products.
TSEC has been working to develop solar integrated building technology which would marry solar generating equipment directly into the building material. “The closer you can get solar energy to the user, the more practical it becomes to them,” says Meyer.
CertainTeed is one company that has succeeded in this kind of integration, introducing its EnerGen Photovoltaic Solar Power Roofing System at the 2010 International Roofing Expo. The system incorporates Uni-Solar thin-film laminates that lie flush against traditional asphalt roofing shingles. The design further increases installation ease, while providing improved aesthetics for homeowners who objected to solar panel designs of the past.
"CertainTeed is transforming a niche technology into a product that is more accessible to the building industry and, therefore, a broader range of homeowners,” says Guillaume Texier, president of CertainTeed Roofing.
TSEC and Carl Meyer have a larger vision. Meyer seeks a way that solar technology could be integrated into walls, concrete, windows, and other structural products. Meyer believes we’re just beginning to see the potential of solar technology, and sees “great opportunity" in New York City for this kind of solar application.
Quixotic Systems, Inc. is a consulting and engineering firm that works with renewable energies, including several solar applications. The company is a NYSERDA-certified installer for both solar PV and solar thermal, and is a leading commercial installer in New York City.
Richard Klein, founder and principal of Quixotic Systems, Inc., notes an increased interest in solar thermal compared to several years ago. Solar heating is also gaining popularity, and conveniently enough, the two systems pair quite well together.
“It’s easier to convert light to heat than it is to convert it to electricity,” says Klein. Klein and Quixotic Systems have been successful in creating some of the first dual solar thermal and heating systems in New York State.
If the Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act passes, there will likely be a shift in solar market dominance from residential to commercial. Currently, residential solar applications take up about 60 percent of the marketplace, while commercial applications cover 40 percent, according to NYSERDA. However, when it comes to power generation the numbers are flipped, with 60 percent of energy produced by commercial systems.
The market has already begun to shift with new net metering legislation that includes commercial systems up to 2 MW.
“I think that has encouraged more installations to go up in the past two years, particularly on schools and small businesses,” says Murphy of ACE NY.
Murphy believes the legislation will really help to bring New York’s solar potential to fruition. According to Murphy, who was elected to the governor’s transition team regarding energy and environment, Governor Cuomo endorses the concept and programs laid out in the proposed Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act.
“[Gov. Cuomo] really thinks this can help move solar forward in New York,” says Murphy.