Solar Canopy Systems at the Intersection of Energy Efficiency and Smart Design - With Insights From Chris Neidl and T.R. Ludwig of Brooklyn SolarWorks
- Posted on April 20, 2018
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Solar canopy systems, where solar modules are mounted on a UL certified aluminum structure for public or residential applications, are enabling solar technology to go places it’s never been before.
Vendors are coming up with even more clever ways to turn costly niche services into mainstream solutions. A demand for more installed capacity is surely a good thing for solar service jobs and the overall push for more clean energy. The success of pioneering solar canopy solutions are all the more admirable, given the current landscape of regulatory constraints. Those include tariffs not only on imported solar panels as previously analyzed as part of this series, but now on steel and aluminum, two other primary inputs into solar technology.
First, canopy systems have an expanding set of use cases. Those include mounting them on carports, urban rooftops and even installations in remote sites as part of standalone charging stations when combined with storage. Brightfield Transportation Solutions, Envision Solar, and RBI Solar are key vendors bringing the flexibility of the canopy to everyday applications. But when it comes to American designed and manufactured urban rooftop solar canopies, Brooklyn SolarWorks, and now with the launch of their new company Brooklyn Solar Canopy Co. is leading the way.
Chris Neidl, Director of Business Development for Brooklyn Solar Canopy Co. talks about the motivations for launching a sister company. “The canopy is at the core of Brooklyn SolarWorks, and we really wanted to get this to scale. We primarily work on 1 to 4 family Brooklyn brownstones and knew we’d soon be in the business-to-business market too.” As Neidl’s team began to receive more calls from interested installers wanting to work with the Brooklyn SolarWorks-built canopy system, he saw an opportunity in the making.
“We were seeing a lot of applications of this and it really solves problems that the industry hadn’t yet addressed.” With that insight, the Brooklyn Solar Canopy Company was created to sell BSW’s canopy product to other solar installers firms both locally and in other urban markets around the country.
Company co-founder and CEO T.R. Ludwig put the concept in motion earlier this year branching deeper into manufacturing from their original installation roots. They’ve been scaling up their canopy systems targeting Washington D.C., Boston, and other key markets in addition to New York where higher energy prices and a tight urban housing stock make these solutions appealing. Project applications are driven by the growing end-user’s appetite for small commercial and multi-family dwellings.
Brooklyn Solar Canopy Co. designs their canopy systems in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood and manufactures the final product in Rhode Island. The canopies are then either installed by Brooklyn SolarWorks or through other third party installers who are provided with training and warranty backup by Neidl and Ludwig’s team. The systems are also designed to handle any number of popular panel types, while the solar panels themselves are purchased and installed separately.
“They say the best ideas are the most obvious, and for us the necessity of canopies for flat roo urban markets was always in plain site. Now this realization has dawned on more installers and we will provide them with what they need. But we were the first actor to have moved on this,” adds Neidl.
“We have a larger multi-family portfolio of projects, we’re not just working on a framework of 20 x 40 buildings, but larger buildings with bulkheads and mechanicals on the roof. We are discovering how potentially versatile our canopy is through our own projects and through what installers are asking for.”
Despite the strong growth trajectory that canopy installers and manufacturers have benefited from, technical and regulatory challenges lurk nearby. Solar canopy systems in urban environments must comply with building codes especially around rooftop weight limitations and fire codes. Traditional solar panels have been a no-go on tight city roofs as they would impede first responders and firefighters in a way that smartly integrated canopy solutions do not. Those regulations have taken time to address but have resulted in more sustainable products.
On the regulatory side, steel and aluminum tariffs were introduced just last month by the Trump Administration, in a move that 80% of 104 economists surveyed by Reuters said would be a net harm to the U.S. economy. Imported steel will be hit with a 25% tariff while aluminum will be impacted by 10%. The burgeoning U.S. solar installation industry, which creates several orders of magnitude more job openings than U.S. manufacturing, is beginning to feel the pinch.
“As these things are made more expensive, it’s harder to support as many manufacturing jobs, because the price point is higher,” says Ludwig. “It highlights the absurdity of the tariff, if you want to create jobs, focus on where the jobs are and not on things that make for a good soundbite.”
He adds that following steel and aluminum tariffs, it can still be shaky to see how things will look. “It is impacting our canopy at this stage and we’re seeing price increases. The friction in trade is what concerns us the most, not necessarily that we’re in a trade war, but we’re selling solar, and our canopy is made of aluminum.”
But in furtherance of the canopy industry, particularly for the New York market, is an upcoming endorsement from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority that’s helping to bolster the technology.
“We’re about to get a key endorsement from NYSERDA, as they modify their rebate program for commercial projects, which will add a new rebate for solar and rooftop canopies. This really shows the concept has arrived and that people are seeing how it’s opening up solar in markets that are underserved,” adds Neidl.
Indeed NY-Sun, a division of NYSERDA and Governor Cuomo’s billion-dollar initiative for self-sufficient solar in New York is on board. Director David Sandbank announced that the state will be adding incentives for solar canopies by the 2nd quarter of this year pending approval from the New York Public Service Commission.
Solar canopies are yet another smart application of one of the strongest growth areas in American energy; clean solar power. Solar technology continues to rapidly create services jobs while reducing strains on the grid. Innovators like Brooklyn SolarWorks, that meld services with manufacturing and are able to do so in the United States will continue to push the energy revolution steadily forward. With a growing appetite for solar projects large and small, customers are sending a clear signal about what they need and now it’s up to lawmakers to act as enablers of progress with policies that will serve as a catalyst for change.