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More than wires - exploring the connections between energy, environment, and our lives

Solar in Electricity's Birthplace

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New York City has been called the birthplace of electricity itself. In 1882, Edison’s Pearl Street Station in lower Manhattan became the country’s first central power plant, bringing 800 incandescent light bulbs to life. Today, New York City draws its power from a mix of far-flung fossil fuel, nuclear, and renewable (primarily hydroelectric) energy resources. But, this could change as the state’s legislature passes a round of incentives aimed at encouraging new solar PV installations in the state.

Earlier this summer, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the NY-Sun initiative, which will give out $107 million in incentives for new solar power installations. Also in August, the state passed multiple bills aimed at making solar power more affordable for individual homeowners. The new legislation included statewide tax credits for solar equipment leases and power purchase agreements, statewide sales tax exemptions for commercial solar equipment, and an extension for the real property tax abatement in NYC for solar installations.

To further encourage expanded use of solar power, New York City recently unveiled a tool that estimates the solar potential for one million buildings within city limits. The interactive New York City Solar Map (hosted by The City University of New York) provides users with access to these data, along with drawing tools and even some financial information. These tools are meant to enable users to evaluate potential sites for new solar installations.

The solar potential data used in this map came from planes equipped with light image detection and ranging (Lidar) systems. This type of aerial laser is able to gather information regarding the shape, angle, size, shade, and elevation of rooftops as its host plane flies over the city. According to analysis of these data, about two-thirds of the city’s existing structures are suitable for solar panel installations.

If the city was able to install existing solar panel technology on all of its rooftops, it could generate up to 5,800 Megawatts (MW) of peak power. This is more than 40% of the city’s peak electricity demand. Today, the city is home to about 11.5 MW of solar PV across 560 solar installations.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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