Solar in the Government: The Rising of the Sun
This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.
By Kelsey Prieur, C+S ’16
The summer months are upon us, which generally means the sun is shining across the northern hemisphere. That’s good news for solar panels, which use the sun to provide sustainable energy. The clean energy internship I have had the pleasure of working on this summer has opened my eyes to the potential solar power has and the challenges it faces for wide adoption.
I’m working with the City of New York’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services. In particular, I am with the Department of Energy Management (DEM) in the Clean Energy and Innovative Technologies Team, focused on installing solar and other clean energy projects at government buildings throughout the city. The team that I joined has accomplished amazing projects from the 24 schools project to setting up goals for the 100 megawatt project, which aims to put 100 megawatts of solar capacity on city roofs by 2025. The city has already installed 9 megawatts of solar capacity as part of the plan.
Despite the success of these projects, achieving these goals was not easy. As we discussed in our Climate and Society courses, a firm comprehension of material as well as patience and cooperation amongst participating parties is imperative to working with solar power. The solar team in DEM is working on just that. They are collaborating with solar companies and educating workers, schools, and lay people on solar power, as well as acting as mediator between the installation and the laws of the city. My particular role in all this is the task of designing and fitting solar arrays using modeling and programming. But, there are many steps that come before I can even start doing that.
There are many hurdles that must be cleared, many of which are political. One is Local Law 24, which sets the framework for buildings able to host solar panels. The requirements include a building owned by the city, newer roofs in good condition, and a large enough roof to make installing a solar array useful.
This information is collected by asking each city agency for information about the buildings they own.. Collecting that data has hurdles of its own, namely that a number of city generally owns aging and complicated buildings that weren’t designed with solar in mind.
One of the major problems I observed in overcoming these hurdles was very simply the lack of knowledge.Agencies, building owners, and maintenance crews have major knowledge gaps when it comes to solar energy. My team depends on other government agencies to fulfill their obligation to fill out building surveys. But because this process is time consuming and is a new task, things proceed slowly. I believe with improving education and awareness to the benefits of solar, getting this data from agencies and creating the proper environment for solar will be much smoother. My team is working on creating an education program for all city employees that should help fill some of those knowledge gaps.
Even with knowledge of the process, it can still be confusing. And often times where there is confusion, there is fear. This fear creates hold ups and slows the process even more for our team to get the data we need to assess solar potential and move the projects forward. It also allows for agencies to put up more of a delay when going through the data acquisition phase. Some agencies also fear installing solar panels will mean losing a reliable source of electricity. That’s not the case but it still is a common misconception and can weigh on the minds of agency managers that have a say in installing solar panels on their buildings.
But, with the knowledge that the solar field is growing and with the DEM’s advocacy for education, the solar field can move forward successfully and quickly. With this speed, assistance to schools but also hospitals, police stations, and athletic facilities can be provided. As seen by the immense success in the 24 schools project, there are positive outcomes for solar in the future. This positivity can be seen through the success in solar panel installation, but also in the educational programs that have been integrated into the lesson plans for not only science classes but also English, math, and history. Schools from the 24 schools project have created classroom debates on solar arrays and calculated kilowatts from the very solar panels on their buildings to integrate solar power into educational programs and lesson plans. This truly shows that solar looks to the wisdom of the older generation, but will rely on the younger generation and the education that they receive to implement it.