Kips Bay Receives Largest Multifamily Solar Panel Installation in New York

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorNew York—Solar Energy Systems LLC (SES), a Brooklyn-based integrator of commercial solar power systems, has installed New York’s largest multifamily residential solar array at Kips Bay Towers, a 1,120-unit property designed in the 1960s by I.M. Pei and known for its use of cast-in-place concrete.In late 2007, the new management, New York-based Cooper Square Realty, approached SES—a company that typically focuses on warehouses due to their flat roofs—to determine whether installing solar panels on a new roof would be feasible for the project, David Buckner, president of SES, tells MHN. “We went to the site—it’s a typical New York City residential multifamily roof with bulkheads and mechanical equipment, so it’s not always the greatest spot for solar because you lose real estate up there.” In this case, however, the buildings had flat bulkhead roofs, making it easier to install the solar panels, and large service panels were connected to the roof, allowing the electrical system to be interconnected fairly easily, Buckner explains.The solar photovoltaic systems, which total 54 kilowatts, sit atop the two 20-story towers and, according to Buckner, each system—one on each building—produces enough energy to power five average U.S. homes.The project received a rebate—which covered approximately 50 percent of the cost—from the NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) Solar Electric Incentives Program, as well as state and federal tax credits and a property tax abatement. Buckner notes, “If you can realize all those benefits, the payback is inside of five years.” As an added bonus, he notes that if the buildings produce more energy then they use, it will be sold back into the grid for use at a later time. “Installing solar panels on the bulkhead of a 20-story building in the middle of Manhattan presents an obvious physical challenge. From an electrical standpoint, older NYC buildings can offer a variety of infrastructure challenges as well,” Buckner says. He notes, however, that the project is much easier to do with new construction and, if incorporated from the beginning, the system can save a lot of money.“The simplest thing to do is to call contractors and figure out if your roof is conducive to this project,” Buckner advises, adding that the most difficult challenge is “a matter of getting people on board. They can’t get on board until they understand the basis of it.”