Gotham City? How about Solar City? Thanks to a brand new, highly detailed scientific map, New York City could see a massive increase in rooftop solar panels. In fact, NYC could more than double the entire nation’s solar capacity if all suitable rooftop space was used for solar power. Over the last year, the City University of New York worked with the city and the federal Department of Energy to collect detailed information about every single rooftop (literally – that’s not an exaggeration!) to create the NYC Solar Map in order to help advance New York’s solar energy. The research shows that two-thirds of rooftops are suitable for solar installations, which could generate enough power to meet half of the entire city’s energy needs at peak times!
The CUNY team gathered the information during a series of flights over the city with an airplane equipped with a Lidar laser system. The system collects precise details about the shape, angle, and size of building rooftops while also providing information on the amount of shade a rooftop gets from trees and other surrounding structures. The available suitable rooftops, about 66.4 percent of all buildings in the city, could generate up to 5,847 megawatts — more than double the current nationwide solar energy output of 2,300 megawatts and way more than the city’s current 6.5 megawatt output.
The interactive map lets users type in the address of any building in the city to see its rooftop solar potential. For example, the top of the Inhabitat office building could support a 9.47 kilowatt installation, reducing carbon emissions by nearly 8,200 pounds a year. Plus, the installation would save the building owners more than $2,200 a year. You can even draw a system on your rooftop if you have an exact idea of where you would like solar panels to go, and then you can calculate the total energy and money you would save. The map also shows the city’s current 400 installations, providing all of the technical details for each location.
Currently, there are a lot of barriers to installing rooftop solar systems, like the upfront cost and the lengthy review process, which can take up to a year. But David Bragdon, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, told the New York Times that he is working on streamlining the application and permit process to make solar installations easier. Con Edison is also working to simplify the paperwork required to install solar panels, while also working to reduce the cost and time of an installation.
But no matter what red tape still stands in the way, the information provided by the NYC Solar Map is incredibly exciting and extremely interesting. Every single building owner can now know exactly how big of a solar panel installation they can support without having to personally pay for the research to be done. This is a huge step forward for solar power in New York City. And the fact that our government and electricity supplier are both working to make it easier and cheaper for solar installations to happen makes it all the more exciting.