Assessing NY’s Solar Accomplishments through the Open PV Project

When talking about New York and New York City’s solar energy shortfalls, comparisons are often made to the relative accomplishments of PV heavy hitters California and New Jersey. However, when looking at the U.S. as a whole, New York solar doesn’t come out looking so bad. The five counties that make up New York City also rank well compared to the rest of the state, depending on what you’re looking at.

Through the Open PV Project – a national database of PV installation data overseen by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is run by the U.S. Department of Energy – I was able to see how New York State and the five boroughs stack up in terms of the total number of solar installations, the megawatt capacity of those installations, and the average cost in dollars per watt. The Open PV Project gets its data from utilities, PV installers and the public, who provide the above information voluntarily.

When it comes to the total number of solar installations by state, no one can match California – there are currently a whopping 109,403 projects on line in the Golden State. Number 2 is Arizona, with 9,034 installations, followed by New Jersey with 7,550. Still, New York ranks a solid fourth with 4,439 installations.

Given the sheer number of PV projects in the state, it should come as no surprise that California also wins by a mile when it comes to the MW capacity of its solar installations with 1,480.1 MW. New Jersey gets the number 2 spot with 255.26 MW. But New York breaks the top 10 at number 7 with 61.05 MW installed. Again, not too shabby.

New York starts to lose its luster when you start to look at the cost to install that PV – but then again, so do California and New Jersey. The overall data show that New York’s cost of $8.35/watt makes it number 39 on this list, while California comes in at number 31 with a cost of $7.97/watt and New Jersey trumps them both at 23 with a cost of $7.66/watt.

At the same time, the cost for solar varies from year to year. In 2011, New York’s cost dropped to $6.29/watt, which still only puts it at number 35 out of the 41 states for which the Open PV Project has data. Prices actually fared worse in California last year, and at $6.68/watt that states ranks below NY at 38. Of course, big things must have happened in New Jersey in 2011 to make the cost of PV drop to $4.49/watt and boost its ranking there to number 6 of 41. The average cost for PV nationwide last year was $6.86/watt.

To get a clearer picture of how the five boroughs compare to the rest of New York State, I looked at the Open PV Project’s Market Mapper. Here, one can see that the city ranks fair to middling in terms of total installations and megawatt capacity, but just as the cost for solar in New York is higher than the rest of the country, so too is the cost in the five boroughs higher than the rest of the state.

As the Center for an Urban Future recently tallied, although with slightly different totals, Queens and Brooklyn have the most PV installations in New York City. By the Open PV Project’s numbers, Queens actually cracks the top 10 for the state, coming in at number 9 out of 63 counties with 154 installations.

Furthermore, Brooklyn and Queens rank in the top 5 when it comes to megawatt capacity, with 3.62 MW (number 3 statewide) and 3.24 MW (number 5) installed, respectively. Lowly Staten Island even managed to hit number 25 with 0.46 MW.

And now the bad news: the five boroughs ranked 53 or lower on PV cost, ranging from $7.33/watt in Queens to $7.87 in Staten Island in 2011 (versus $6.29 statewide). Perhaps more troubling, the prices in Manhattan and Brooklyn are actually increasing in 2012, while the rest of the state sees another drop in cost.

While one can see a lot of positives in New York’s PV accomplishments based on this data, it is important that the cost of installing solar is addressed. If it doesn’t make financial sense to add PV in the state, and especially in the city, New York will never hope to catch California and New Jersey.

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