Last week I attended a special hearing of the New York City Council’s Infrastructure Task Force, on the topic of Distributed Energy Generation in NYC – essentially, how to encourage it. Let’s begin by defining Distributed Generation: “Small, modular, decentralized energy systems for heat or power production that are located in or near the place where energy is used” (from Solar One‘s event handout). Such systems – solar panels on apartment buildings and factories, wind turbines, fuel cells, co-generation (which captures waste heat from generation of electricity and uses it for heating or cooling) – could be hugely beneficial to New York City, especially by reducing demand on our strained power grid during peak electricity demand in the summertime. Yet there is currently less than 2 megawatts of distributed power in New York City, a micro-drop in the proverbial bucket (our peak demand is 11-12,000 megawatts!). Why is this, what are the potential benefits we are missing out on, and what can we do to encourage more distributed generation? These were the topics addressed at the forum.
Solar One has a great summary of the day’s events, as does the NY Times. Both focus on what for me was perhaps the most meaningful topic raised: the possibility of creating Solar Empowerment Zones in New York City. These would be “designed to scale up solar capacity in the city at an exponential, rather than incremental rate”, by expediting the permit process, assessing the local grid’s capability to have power flow in both directions rather than just one, and encouraging neighbors to plan solar projects together to take advantage of bulk pricing. Members of the panel seemed to agree that the outer boroughs represent great untapped solar potential, with thousands of square feet of flat open roof space on apartments and industrial buildings. I began to envision Flatbush as a Solar Empowerment Zone, with photovoltaic panels springing up on roofs throughout the neighborhood. I can see it! Can you?