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Brooklyn solar company sees canopies as way for city to go green

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Built for New York City’s small, flat roofs, panels can work on rooftops anywhere

An early Brooklyn Solar Canopy Company installation in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
All images courtesy Brooklyn Solar Canopy Company

It’s no surprise that sunny states like California and Florida are considered growth markets for solar power. But a new company believes there’s another, often overlooked, growth market for this type of renewable residential power: New York City.

“This just seems like a ridiculous business opportunity,” says T.R. Ludwig, CEO of Brooklyn Solar Canopy Company. “When you drive around and look at all the rooftops in this city that can add solar, and the recent developments in the industry, it feels like it’s a magical time.”

A recent spinoff of Brooklyn SolarWorks, a company that started in Gowanus three years ago, the Brooklyn Solar Canopy Company believes its modular, nine-foot-tall, raised solar panels can help make the economics of solar add up for more New Yorkers.

Chris Neidl, the company’s director of business development, sees these canopies as a means to dramatically increase solar power production in denser, older cities like Boston and Chicago, and even add a boost to installations in Los Angeles, since they allow building owners to put up more panels.

There’s a roughly $5,000 to $10,000 premium to install the canopies versus typical flat panels, Neidl says. But add in local and federal solar power incentives and the additional generating power canopies provide, and he believes the difference is only a few thousand dollars per install.

A custom solution for New York City

The company, which began selling this year, was meant to solve a particular problem; placing solar panels on the city’s small, flat rooftops.

Existing examples of local solar installations, such as the Brooklyn Microgrid, have shown the potential of going green in New York City. Other incentives include the price of electricity, since Con Edison is among one of the most expensive retail electricity markets in the country. Add state and federal incentives for solar power, which can cover between two-thirds to three-fourths of installations costs, according to Neidl, and it’s more than doable.

One of the main issues for those looking to go green is space. Currently, due to relatively small roofs and building code requirements, most early adopters in New York City can only add a handful of small flat panels on the tops of their building. This makes solar a high-potential, but high-barrier, option.

The Brooklyn Solar Canopy Company designed its product to rise above those limitations. The modular canopies, which raise the panels nine feet into the air, allow flat, narrow New York rooftops to hold more panels and generate more power.

T.R. Ludwig, the company’s CEO, estimates there are 350,000 flat roof buildings in Brooklyn and Queens alone that could support solar panels, especially with canopies. In addition, a new state community solar rule allows energy generated on a rooftop installation to be shared among multiple utility accounts, making these types of installations much more attractive to apartment buildings. In addition, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), plans to add an incentive specifically for canopies.

“If I tell somebody they can offset 80 to 90 percent of their electricity bill with these panels, then they’re way more enthusiastic and way more likely to do it,” Ludwig says. “Just getting more panels on the roof furthers adoption. From a psychological perspective, simplifying permitting and design can make a big difference.”

Ludwig also hopes the canopies offer aesthetic appeal; an early version won a Green Innovation design award in 2016.

“We want it to be something you want, instead of just tolerate for green power,” he says.

Solar power’s potential grows, despite headwinds

So far, the company has sold a handful of canopies, designed by Situ Studio and manufactured in Warwick, Rhode Island, and has a few installations currently active in New York City, including one atop Habana Outpost, a restaurant in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood. Inquiries have come in from Hawaii, New York, California, Arizona, and Florida, and the company has plans in the works to install a 100-kilowatt solar canopy atop three adjoined co-op buildings near Prospect Park.

The company is launching at an interesting time for the solar industry: Despite President Trump’s application of a 30 percent tariff on solar panels earlier this year, the industry is still forecast to grow, adding 13,000 jobs in 2018 alone, according to the nonprofit Solar Foundation.

Brooklyn Solar Canopy Company sees rooftops as an important road to adding more renewables. A new report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows plenty of growth potential for rooftop solar, especially in low- and moderate-income homes (a recent study found that 38.6 percent of the U.S. energy load could be satisfied with rooftop installation, mostly single-family homes).

“If this tariff had happened a few years ago, it would have been really deflating,” says Ludwig. “But solar is just on a freight train now, we have so much momentum.”