If You’re Not Going Solar, Ask Yourself Why

This post was originally featured on ScoreNYC

If you told every business owner in the largest market in the country that they could reduce long-term expenses, improve their company’s image, and take advantage of cutting-edge technology to improve the environment with one simple conversion, you’d probably be hard-pressed to hear the word “no.”

Which is why it’s a little surprising that New York’s skyscrapers aren’t dotted with solar arrays by now. Sure, solar power has been more widely adopted than ever before, but too many business owners are hesitating, despite the fact that solar energy represents the ultimate win-win-win scenario, benefitting not only businesses but also customers and the world at large.

Looking at the wider picture, the solar industry is amid a nationwide surge. The installation of solar panels nearly doubled from 2015 to 2016, making it the United States’ number-one new energy source in the latter year.

Cities were at the forefront of that growth — the top 20 metropolitan areas for solar power churn out as much as the entire country did in 2010 — and New York was indeed a strong participant in that group. It ranked seventh for total installed panels in the nation, according to a report by Environment New York, a statewide advocacy organization, ahead of such places as San Antonio, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.

New York, which had five solar installers in 2005, had 55 by 2015, according to the city’s Economic Development Corporation. More impressively, the number of residential solar projects went from 186 in 2011 to more than 5,300 in 2016.

New York’s solar renaissance has been fueled in part by the initiatives of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. Cuomo mandated two years ago that half of the state’s power come from solar, wind, hydroelectric or other renewable sources by 2030, while de Blasio is aiming to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

According to a 2014 report in the New York Times, de Blasio’s goal is in line with the United Nations’ target for developed countries, in an attempt to curtail the effects of climate change. He went so far as to tell the Times that there is “a moral imperative” to act, while making reference to Hurricane Sandy, a 2012 storm that led to 44 deaths and $19 billion in damage to the city.

He has since unveiled a 3,152-panel rooftop solar installation in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and hopes to generate 100 megawatts of renewable energy on public buildings by 2023. That will not come without cost — it is estimated that it could run as much as $1 billion for all public buildings to be retrofitted with solar panels — but it bears repeating that the technology ultimately pays for itself.

As great as the city’s progress is in the solar realm, far more could be done. One study showed that 66% of New York’s rooftops could be used to harness the power of the sun, and that those panels could provide half of the city’s electricity needs at peak periods. The potential savings are mind-boggling.

There are many other places where far more could be done. While San Diego is №1 on the list of solar cities, just 14% of its small-building solar capacity is being realized. And California legislators have mandated that half of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2030; currently it’s about one-fourth, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Nationwide, the solar market nearly doubled its annual record in 2016, and for the first time since 2011, non-residential installation growth outpaced residential installations. Such businesses as Walmart, Costco, IKEA and FedExare at the forefront of the solar business trend, and that pattern is likely to become more widespread.

That, coupled with a boom that could see as many as 3.8 million homesequipped with solar panels in 2020 (up from 30,000 in 2006), figures to make the U.S. a major player on the world’s solar stage. A federal study revealed that if solar panels were installed on every roof in America, they would supply 39% of the total power used in the U.S.

Unfortunately, startup costs are the major factor preventing more residences and businesses from going solar. It is estimated that it can run between $20,000 and $50,000 to install a residential system, and while there is the specter of a rollback of federal alternative-energy incentives under the current presidential administration, city and state programs can foot a sizable portion of the bill.

New York, for instance, offers loan financing for residential, small-commercial and commercial projects through NY-Sun. Residential and small-commercial customers can finance up to $25,000 with a repayment period as long as 15 years. Commercial borrowers may finance up to 100% of any-sized solar projects; the interest rate ranges from 4% to 6.5%. NY-Sun also extends reduced installation costs to borrowers across any of these three categories.

And once more, there are savings on the back end. Solar-powered homes reportedly have cut monthly bills by as much as 85%, and it is estimated that solar energy’s ROI beats the stock market in more than 25 states, including New York.

There is, at least, far less red tape to cut through than there once was. The permit-approval process for a solar system, once as long as two years, has now been reduced to a few days. With the other steps — planning, inspection, etc. — the entire installation can take roughly a month, depending on the financing process.

And at that point, the utility company changes your electrical meter over, and it starts rolling backwards — a magical (not to mention profitable) thing.

This isn’t just pure speculation — in fact, I’ve enjoyed the benefits firsthand. We first installed solar panels in my building, Midtown’s Atelier, in 2011, making it the tallest residential solar installation in the United States. At that point the system generated roughly 10% of the building’s energy and cut utility costs by about $120,000 a year.

We earned back the initial investment in the solar panels in a matter of months, then added additional panels over the next five years, slicing utility costs even more. We were, as a result, able to reinvest those savings back into the building, adding an ice skating rink among other amenities.

Then there are the environmental benefits. Solar panels are virtually noiseless. The only pollution they produce is during the construction process, and that pales in comparison to that which is generated by other forms of energy. After installation, they produce no greenhouse gases.

Looking long-term, there’s no reason for business owners not to throw considerable heft into solar conversion. It’s not only a better deal for the environment, it’s a boon for the bottom line.

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A New Yorker’s Guide to Using Solar In Your Business

The energy source no longer is the wave of the future — it’s good for commerce today.

This post was originally featured on Entrepreneur.com

With a constant increase in demand for electric power and surging oil prices, it surprises me that more business owners aren’t excited about solar energy.

Solar power offers reduced operating costs and a higher return on investment than many other energy sources. Plus, it’s largely maintenance-free, super-reliable and good for the environment. What’s not to love? If you’re planning to integrate solar energy in your business this year, make sure you’re prepared to make the switch.

Financing options.

Putting up a solar project is a long-term investment — a truth I learned during my Atelier experience. I also honestly can say it’s been 100 percent worth it. The initial expense can be relatively high, which is why leasing would have been more favorable in the past. Setup costs have gone down significantly in the past few years, however, making solar far more affordable to the average homeowner or small-business owner.

Single-family homes account for most of New York City’s solar projects. It costs $20,000 to $50,000 to install a residential system, but a combination of city and state public programs can pick up as much as half the bill. Then there’s this: Solar-powered homes reportedly have cut monthly bills by up to 85 percent, compared to previous monthly bills. If that’s not reason enough to front the startup costs, estimates reveal solar energy’s ROI beats the stock market in more 25 states, including New York.

Installation timeline.

Ideally, the entire process shouldn’t take more than eight weeks from start to finish. However, many factors at play could delay the timeline.

A few years ago, the permit-approval process alone could take up to two years. Today, there’s better coordination among government, installers, owners and utilities. New York City’s Department of Buildings now can issue permits in a matter of a few days. It’s a welcome change from the weeks (at best) that earlier applicants waited for a decision.

Signing the paperwork officially gives your installation team the go-ahead. It’s an easy step that should take 24 hours at most — if you have the capital in hand. If you need to secure an improvement loan from a bank or other lender, you’ll wait longer.

Next, your team’s engineers gather site-specific data and create a design for your system upgrade. By now, you’re firmly into week three. Simple designs might take just a week, but owners would be wise to budget roughly three weeks for complex or large solar arrays.

Once you approve the design, you’ll need to submit a permit and wait for the Department of Buildings to greenlight your application. Things move quickly after you get the thumbs-up: You’re now clear to schedule the installation and then await inspection from the utilities department — typically a week or two after installation. The utility company changes the meter, and you’re good to go.

NYC’s permitting process.

Before you install solar panels, you’ll have to go through the City of New York’s permitting process, which begins when you file a permit. You can file this request under a New Building or Alteration permit. You also have the option to file separately as an Alteration Type-2 at borough offices or The HUB itself. The Department of Buildings will inspect the premises and use that information to help make a determination about your application’s future.

Local and state incentives.

Through NY-Sun, the State of New York offers a range of incentives to build a more affordable and sustainable solar industry in New York City. The program offers loan financing for residential, small-commercial and commercial projects. The terms vary depending on the type of borrower. Residential and small-commercial customers can finance up to $25,000 with a repayment period as long as 15 years. Commercial borrowers may finance up to 100 percent of any-sized solar projects and secure an interest rate in the range of 4 percent to 6.5 percent. As an added motivation to participate, NY-Sun also extends reduced installation costs to borrowers across all three categories.

Net-energy metering.

Net energy is the difference between the energy produced and the energy consumed. Many households use less than solar panels produce. Excess energy is pushed back into the grid. The net-metering structure credits the owner for this power returned to the overall system. As an owner, you can use the offset to cover future bills, though you’ll still need to pay the monthly connection charge for the service of using the utility’s grid.

There’s no denying the decision to switch to a solar system can be tough. Even with government support, the one-time setup fee might be too steep for some. But solar undoubtedly is taking over. New York City experienced a surge in installations during 2016. That’s on top of the substantial increase over the preceding years, when residential and commercial installationsdoubled between 2014 and 2016.

The earlier you get on board with solar, the greater benefits you’ll enjoy over the long term.

 

Why Go Green?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “green building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and deconstruction.” The design of green buildings is created to reduce the overall impact on the natural environment and on human health. Just in the United States alone buildings account for 40 percent of total energy use, 12 percent of the total water consumption, 68 percent of total electricity consumption, and 38 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions (epa.gov). We have the potential of reducing energy consumption by up to 60 percent if we use energy efficient technologies. Even implementing a small change can make a difference.

The Atelier is currently home to the tallest residential solar installation in the country. In a desire to reduce operating costs and benefit the environment, hundreds of solar panels have been installed on the roof and side of the Atelier. According to Daniel Neiditch, President of the Atelier, just a year and a half after the panels were installed, they made their initial investment back. As of early 2015, the Atelier has seen about $120,000 in savings per year and has reduced energy consumption by about 15 percent. People think that the cost of installing the panels is too high but through energy savings you make your money back fast. Moreover, you are eligible for a tax rebate and will have positive environmental impacts. The Atelier is also going green through a newly implemented sustainability initiative. In addition to the solar panels, “other energy improvements include delamping, lighting upgrades, occupancy sensors, supply procurement and demand response” (mcenergyinc.com). Daniel Neiditch hopes that once people learn about the impact that the solar panels are having on the Atelier and how beneficial the panels and going green is for the health of the environment and humans that more people will install them and have their buildings go green. Below are some of the many perks of going green.

Environmental impact

  • Reducing trash, pollution and degradation of the environment
    • Protect biodiversity and ecosystems
  • Conserve natural resources
    • Efficiently using water, energy and other resources
    • Improve air and water quality, which directly benefits your health as well
    • Reduce waste streams

Economic benefits  

  • Savings
    • It may cost you more to get started but over time the savings add up- it’s an investment
      • Save on energy costs
      • Reduce operating costs
  • Impact on the economy
    • Create market for green product and services

Your health

  • Protecting occupant health and comfort
  • Improving productivity
  • Helping the environment helps you and will improve your overall quality of life

This article was originally published on DanielNeiditchRealEstate.com

Solar Energy Has Big Apple Potential But New York Real Estate Entrepreneurs Haven’t Seen the Light

New York developers have been reluctant to embrace solar, despite big cost savings and beautiful new designs. That creates opportunity for the bold.

This post was originally featured on Entrepreneur.com

I love New York. I can walk outside, look up and get a lesson in history just from looking at its buildings. Not only is it the birthplace of the American dream, its skyline is an icon of industry, capitalism and our intention to always go bigger and do better. As a local contributor to that skyline, it’s personal, but this home of mine is slower in keeping up with the sustainability Joneses than a city of 8.4 million people should. Meanwhile, smaller cities in California and Arizona are saving money big time by installing solar panels on large commercial buildings — something that NYC lacks.

Don’t get me wrong, New York State is one of the top 10 “solar states”, but when you break it down per city, per capita, medium-sized cities like Phoenix and Denver are ahead of NYC, and you can’t blame it on sunlight either. Indianapolis, which gets less sun than New York, ranks higher. In larger cities like NYC, the arguments against solar panels are starting to fall short, especially because solar panel installations have become “ridiculously cheap” according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and the price continues to decrease.

With Mayor Bill De Blasio’s ambitious goal for NYC to hit 80 percent renewal by 2050, why is New York still seemingly behind the times?

I have a couple of educated guesses:

The cost factor.

Currently, while there are a slew of federal incentives to promote sustainability, state-level credits vary dramatically. California gives an investment tax credit (ITC) that comprises 30 percent of the total system cost, on top of an existing 30 percent federal tax credit. New York isn’t quite there, but does offer a close 25 percent in tax credits.

Given that New York is a highly developed state with world-class economic, social and political institutions, it is surprising that it lags ever-so-slightly behind California. After all, not only is it easier and cheaper to install solar panels than ever before — it’s untapped money. Our West 42nd Street Atelier property, for example, recouped the installation cost of our solar panels within two years. Clearly, there isn’t just a “green” environmental dimension; there’s also a “green” financial one as well.

To complicate the discussion further, the outcome of the recent presidential election has thrown the future of the solar installation program into jeopardy. According to the analysts at S&P’s Global Plattsdivision, we could see a cut in the solar installation ITC under the Trump Presidency:

“Trump’s possible efforts to end incentives for alternative energy development would boost near-term demand for fossil fuels,” said a report by analysts at S&P Global Platts. “A potential cut in the Investment Tax Credit to 10 percent from the current 30 percent would slash solar installation demand by 60 percent.”

In other words, the cost factor, which wasn’t much of an issue in 2016, may become the decisive factor for developers in 2017. For now, it’s too early to tell, and developers don’t like the unknown.

The aesthetics factor.

The general consensus is that solar panels are ugly right? Wrong. The dynamic and unique thing about New York is that it is always frenetic, always modernizing which has its challenges when working within the infrastructure of established sacred ground. But New York is great at adapting, and beautifying solar is currently in a New York state of mind, especially for me when we were planning the installation of solar panels in our Atelier project.

We made sure the Atelier’s solar panels would add a complementary sleek and modern feel to the structure, adding instead of taking away from the aesthetic value of the original edifice.

Image Credit: The Real Deal

The “eyesores” of yesterday have gotten facelifts and are fast becoming the high-tech structures of now. Travel farther East and you’ll find the antithesis of the “solar is ugly” argument in Spain. Its Gemasolar Plant is extremely efficient and startlingly beautiful.

Image Credit: Wikipedia Germany

States Santiago Arias, technical director of Torresol Energy, the entity that runs the station: “[…] the plant produces 60 percent more energy than a station without storage capacity because it can work 6,400 hours a year compared to 1,200–2,000 hours for other solar power stations.” Continues Arias, “The amount of energy we produce a year is equal to the consumption of 30,000 Spanish households.”

In case you’re wondering, that breaks down to around 30,000 tons of CO2; and did I mention it runs 24/7?

Image Credit: TechCrunch

Then, there’s Tesla. No one combines tech and sustainable like Elon Musk. Musk’s announcement of Tesla’s new solar roof tiles and spare Powerwall 2 battery for homeowners may be the most effective means of taking the perception of solar panels from awkward to “good-looking”. And his beauty has some bite. According to Elon, Tesla’s materials — terracotta clay, slate tiles, and high impact resistant glass — will hold up to more than just sun and rain, or even hail. With this “fashion statement”, Elon Musk reveals his intrinsic understanding of the public: Build it, they will come. Make it beautiful on top of that, and they will flock.

Though this speaks more to the homeowner than the big project developer, I would consider the “solar panels are ugly and inefficient” theory properly debunked.

So why aren’t real estate developers moving in droves to install solar panels on all commercial properties in New York City? Even if Trump cuts the federal ITC for solar, state tax incentives will remain intact — still a very compelling incentive. But even in our ultra-modern city, those attached to the purse strings of these projects can play it a little safe. Best answer may be that it just hasn’t happened yet, and that more and more “safers” will come around.

Until then, I’ll continue to urge real estate developers and investors to do their part; they’ll have to if we plan on getting to 80 percent renewable by 2050 (which I have all the faith in the world we will). We are in plans to continue incorporating solar panels and other sustainable initiatives in our properties. I’m hoping that our success in saving and making revenue because we use solar panels will be the best form of convincing.

4 Easy Ways to Live Green in NYC

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Finding an apartment in New York City can be a difficult task; in fact, at one point last year, there were literally no vacancies in Manhattan.  In response, new apartments are being built as we speak, yet they are filled just as quickly, due to the already large population and an influx of newcomers to the city. This is all great, of course; we welcome aspiring New Yorkers with open arms. Yet for those with an interest in living a life of sustainability and energy efficiency, finding an apartment to suit those needs may not always be possible.

However, there are some things you can do on your own, to ensure that you’re doing your part to protect and heal our environment, and our beloved city.

  1. Lighting: In the city that never sleeps, lighting is important. You don’t have to sit in the dark, but making simple changes like turning off the lights in rooms you’re not using, and purchasing energy efficient light bulbs, are a great first step in being more eco-friendly. Bulbs like compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)use much less energy than the standard halogen bulb, to do the same job. As a bonus, they lower the cost of your energy bill, and allow you to save more money over time.
  2. Shopping: Another relatively easy thing you can do is invest in reusable bags. When it’s time for grocery shopping or running errands, take your bags along. Doing so decreases the need for disposable plastic bags, which are one of the most common pollutants worldwide. They are such a problem in NYC that lawmakers have introduced legislation to begin charging consumers a 5 cents fee, to discourage their use.
  3. Laundry: When washing clothes, use cold water–even for whites, as hot water requires more energy. Afterward, consider skipping out on the dryer. You’ll find that many New Yorkers still air dry their clothes, and some buildings have clothing lines attached outside. If your building doesn’t simply hang them in the house using a drying rack, which you can easily find online.
  4. Thermostat: In terms of keeping your house cool, purchase blackout curtains or blinds to keep out sunlight. Use an oscillating fan to get a good flow of air throughout your space. If a fan doesn’t cut it for you, look for an AC with an energy star rating, and make the thermostat warmer when you’re not home.

This article was originally published on DanielNeiditchRealEstate.com