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New York City Turns to Solar + Storage for Greater Resilience

The Institute for Sustainable Communities recently released Resilient Solar: Powering and Empowering Communities, a report that shares the stories of trailblazing resilient solar projects in New York City, Baltimore, Duluth, and San Francisco, and connects readers to tools, resources, and lessons learned that they can put to use in their own communities.

This is the second of a four-part series telling how communities are using solar to become more resilient.

ISC is hosting a free webinar on April 5, about how Baltimore, New York, and San Francisco are using resilient solar to help underserved communities and be less vulnerable to disasters. Register today 

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

Superstorm Sandy was one of the most powerful storms to ever hit the eastern U.S. The 2012 storm delivered winds of 80 mph and a 14-foot storm surge that flooded more than 90,000 buildings and parts of the subway system, leaving neighborhoods isolated and more than two million people without power.

Following the storm, Sustainable CUNY, the sustainability office at the City University of New York (CUNY), found that 672 solar arrays in New York City had weathered the storm but were not configured to provide power during the ensuing multi-day power outage—the panels represented about 6500 kWh that could have powered critical loads across the five boroughs. Some of CUNY’s facilities—which served as emergency shelters for 2,700 of the city’s 9,000 evacuees—faced fuel shortages that affected vehicles, backup generators, and buildings.

The City of New York had previously identified solar as a key strategy to attaining its climate action goals. However, the experience of Sandy pushed Sustainable CUNY and other community leaders to think about the potential for solar energy to not only be a source of clean power but also a source of back-up power during grid outages. In 2016, as a result of this project, the City of New York adopted the first citywide energy storage goal in the US, to install 100 MWh by 2020 (currently the city has approximately 6 MWh installed). Using resilient solar, the city aims to maximize the value of the solar energy installations and build its resilience to future disruptions, learning important lessons from the experience of Superstorm Sandy.

By convening stakeholders through the Smart DG Hub, creating tools and resources to support resilient solar projects, and developing a citywide resilient solar strategy, CUNY is helping NYC meet its ambitious storage goal.

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, New York City is turning to solar and battery storage systems to provide greater resiliency.

 

HOW THEY ARE DOING IT

For more than a decade, Sustainable CUNY has led the NYC Solar Partnership and worked with stakeholders to successfully grow solar in NYC from less than 1 MW in 2006 to 29 MW today, with an additional 3 MW in the pipeline. Since 2013, Sustainable CUNY has led the effort to accelerate the use of resilient solar in New York City and New York State, through its Smart Distributed Generation (DG) Hub, funded through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Market Pathways Program.

In January 2013, CUNY convened a meeting of stakeholders. With Superstorm Sandy fresh in their minds, the participants agreed on the need for a collaborative effort to advance the vision of a more resilient energy system—a system that used smart technology and clean, distributed sources of energy rather than large, centralized power plants, which are vulnerable to disruption. Accelerating the use of resilient solar was considered a key strategy of this vision.

The Smart DG Hub was organized into four stakeholder working groups, each addressing a key challenge to accelerating this vision: policy, finance, hardware, and software. They focused on creating tools and resources responding to needs identified by the working group participants and stakeholders beginning with a series of fact sheets to answer key questions about the hardware, software, and finance options.

CUNY also invested to modify the NY Solar Map—an existing tool that allows users to see the solar potential of their building—to display the locations of resilient solar projects. The mapping tool includes a Critical Facility Solar + Evaluator that displays critical facilities in NYC, such as fire stations, police stations, and evacuation centers, where installing resilient solar would be beneficial. Soon, the map will include a resilience calculator for users to explore the resilient solar potential of their property.

The project also created Smart DG Hub Fact Sheets to provide clear and concise explanations on key questions related to resilient solar. While they are specific to NYC, they contain information applicable in other cities and could serve as templates for cities interested in making their own fact sheets.

In 2017, the Smart DG Hub released the New York City Resilient Solar Roadmap, the first citywide strategy for deploying resilient solar in the country. The roadmap identifies the barriers to resilient solar, such as energy storage permitting, and sets out strategies to overcome them. An online roadmap tracker allows CUNY to track progress against each goal.

As part of the citywide strategy, CUNY partnered with the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), to evaluate and compare the costs and financial impacts of different resilient solar technologies and configurations at three critical facilities:

  • A school that serves as a shelter (Susan Wagner High School)
  • A fire station (FDNY Engine Company 309)
  • A cooling center (Brownsville Senior Center)

CUNY and NREL took a unique approach to considering the economic benefits of these projects. By estimating the cost of a power outage, they were able to attribute value to the resilience benefits provided by the system. Their analysis found that resilient solar can be economically viable for NYC’s critical infrastructure. This work revealed that the full range of resilient solar benefits is often not recognized by decision-makers, emphasizing the need to monetize the value of resilience more formally.

NEXT STEPS

Through its roadmap, CUNY is helping to overcome this barrier by laying out several strategies to tackle permitting. A recent grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) aimed at reducing the soft costs of energy storage will enable CUNY to expand its work to formalize the permitting process. They will focus primarily on lithium-ion batteries, and will also create a platform for approving other storage types.

Ultimately the goal is to foster a more streamlined and transparent permitting process for resilient solar projects in NYC and to develop tools and guidelines that other municipalities can adopt. In addition, the DG Hub is continuing efforts to expand work on the value of resilience. Articulating the benefits in economic terms will help decision-makers as they assess the potential to use resilient solar.

This excerpt is from Resilient Solar: Powering and Empowering Communities, a report produced by the Institute for Sustainable Communities with support from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, The Kresge Foundation, and The JPB Foundation.

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