New York’s new energy policy, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV4NY), boasts the Twitter hashtag #solar4all. This is a rallying cry for energy independence, and here at the Antenna Group NYC office we are hopeful for innovation at New York’s grid edge.
In the early days of REV, it is clear that solar is not yet “for all” – most New Yorkers still do not view solar as affordable and obtainable. Although New York state is a leader in solar, with the industry blossoming by an incredible 300% between 2011 and 2014, solar still meets less than 1% of the city’s energy needs.
GTM Research refers to New York as an “Innovative Regulator”: the electricity system is changing fast, but it is largely the result of regulatory pressure and programs like REV. At least for now, consumers aren’t organized and vocal in their demand for distributed renewable energy – demand has not yet reached “a critical stage,” though high electricity rates and aging infrastructure may draw consumer concern soon enough. Right now, REV4NY is pushing distributed solar through pilots and new programs, like New York’s new Community Solar NY program.
Community solar is paid for by a group, and its benefits are shared within the group. It is a relatively young installation model that may help solar break into new markets.
“Community solar” panels can be located on top of a multi-family building, or elsewhere. This is ideal for New Yorkers and other urbanites who rent or own space in multiunit buildingsWhen you pay into a community solar system, these savings come right back to you as a credit on your monthly energy bill.
Excitement around solar, and community solar, has been building in NYC. But outreach is key.
At a Clean Energy Connections panel attended by the Antenna Group team in New York City, the role of community-based outreach around solar came up again and again.Solar installers are hesitant to bring systems to small roofs or multiunit buildings in the city. Speakers emphasized that utilities and local organizations must work with communities to promote solar, rather than only individual homeowners.
One company making strides in this area is Here Comes Solar, an initiative from Solar One. Here Comes Solar works with condo and multi-family building residents in the city, reaching out to provide solar installation information specific to their buildings. They educate citizens about how to bring information on solar to their friends and neighbors. As any behavioral economist will tell you, new ideas are best received from familiar faces and voices. In a similar vein, NYSERDA is working on behavioral economics-based initiatives to help break down barriers around renewables. New data visualization tools like the New York State Solar Map are a resource for all of these solar advocates, and anyone with an internet connection.
Community-based approaches are popular in other areas, such as Connecticut, where the municipal marketing model uses local task forces and public workshops, in what one journalist calls “a sort of solar Tupperware party.” Connecticut towns have even been prompted to compete on solar output. Though New York is not Connecticut, the power of social incentives is universal.
The CEO of SolarCity recently noted that educating customers is the #1 barrier to solar diffusion. Local, community-based outreach must be part of the big energy transition that is coming to New York – especially if customers who are often left out of the solar market are to be brought into it. New York City is a bright spot for solar policy, and it’s getting brighter. The easier it is for New Yorkers to take advantage of solar potential, the faster the shift to renewables will be.