July 25, 2016

NY-Sun: A Multi-Faceted Roadmap for Creating a Self-Sustaining Solar Industry

By Maria Blais Costello

NY-Sun is a bold initiative that is driving New York’s solar industry and building momentum toward a sustainable, subsidy-free market by 2023. Through a comprehensive approach that offers incentives, reduces industry barriers, and addresses soft costs, NY-Sun has helped lead to a dramatic uptake in solar capacity, while reducing costs. More than 18,000 solar projects were installed across New York in 2015, increasing the State’s solar capacity by nearly 202 megawatts (MW) to 568 MW. Looking forward, projects already in the initiative’s pipeline will more than double the total amount of current capacity. NY-Sun aims to install 3 gigawatts of solar by 2023, while building a self-sustaining solar industry.

A Multi-Faceted Approach

NY-Sun is a comprehensive initiative established by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in 2012 to develop a sustainable and subsidy-free solar industry in New York State. It consists of numerous components administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), in collaboration with the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). The components of NY-Sun include a photovoltaic (PV) incentive initiative, consumer education, a community solar joint purchasing initiative, an initiative to add solar to schools (K-Solar), a program to improve access to PV by low- and moderate-income (LMI) households, a Shared Solar initiative that enables residences to buy into a solar project, solar workforce trainings, and soft cost reductions associated with customer acquisition and installation. In 2014, NY-Sun was expanded into a $1 billion initiative featuring the “Megawatt Block” incentive structure, which adjusts incentive rates based on market activity in each sector and geographic region. NY-Sun stands apart from other initiatives in that it is not just an incentive initiative, but rather a multi-faceted roadmap for creating a self-sustaining solar industry.

Declining Block Incentives

The design of the Megawatt Block incentive structure reduces the available incentives by set increments as the solar market reaches pre-determined capacity targets. This structure allows solar customers to clearly see available incentives, and it gives the solar industry the transparency and certainty needed to forecast project economics and to attract investment. Real-time information on incentive levels and block capacity is available online. The program design divides the state by region and by market sector, allowing different parts of the market to accelerate over time at their own pace. As incentives decline, NY-Sun has more impact per dollar spent. In 2014, NY-Sun awarded more than $95 million in solar incentives, and had 121 MW of PV installed (effectively $0.79/watt). Last year, it awarded more than $125 million in incentives and saw 202 MW of PV installations (effectively $0.62/watt). 

Solar Accessible to All

Affordable Solar, a component of NY-Sun launched in 2015, expands access to solar energy to LMI households. It doubles the per-watt incentive provided by NY-Sun for solar on owner-occupied residences of LMI households. NYSERDA also launched a financing pilot program using low-interest Green Jobs-Green NY financing to prepay solar leases for LMI solar customers. NY-Sun support for LMI customers participating in Shared Solar projects will be introduced in 2016, which will enable residents to buy into or purchase shares of solar projects so they can receive bill savings without putting solar on their roofs. 

Soft Cost Strategies

NY-Sun is reducing soft costs in a variety of ways, including promoting customer aggregation, training, and streamlining. A statewide Solarize program helps homes and businesses use group purchasing to secure low prices and simplify the contracting process through aggregated demand. The K-Solar initiative provides technical assistance and an aggregated solar procurement process to public schools throughout the State. As with other aspects of NY-Sun, K-Solar relies on a high level of collaboration across New York State agencies. It was implemented in partnership with NYPA and the State Education Department.

NY-Sun has given considerable attention to municipal governments, because New York is a “home rule” state that relies on municipal governments to implement solar-friendly building, zoning, and taxation policies. NY-Sun’s PV Trainers Network provides technical training, general education, and tools to local officials involved in policymaking, purchasing decisions/negotiations, permitting, system inspections, and emergency response. In its first year, the network completed 100 trainings, reaching over 3,000 local officials. NY-Sun has also streamlined its internal processes and program requirements to eliminate unnecessary documents, reduce unnecessary document reviews, and expedite the process through which incentives are awarded to projects.

Program Highlights

  • By combining incentives with soft cost reduction, customer aggregation, targeted financing (especially for the LMI market), and training for stake-holders, NY-Sun is a comprehensive initiative to develop a sustainable and subsidy-free solar industry in New York State.
  • Growth in the New York solar market significantly outpaced national growth in 2014 and 2015. The total number of solar installations in New York State increased by 62 percent in 2015.
  • With 438 solar contractors participating in NY-Sun, projects currently in the pipeline will more than double the total amount of New York’s current solar capacity.

NYSERDA’s NY-Sun program was a recipient of a 2016 “State Leadership in Clean Energy Award,” presented by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA). You can learn more about this program and other award recipients at http://cesa.org/projects/state-leadership-in-clean-energy/2016/.

CESA hosted a webinar highlighting NY-Sun on July 26, 2016 – slides and a recording are available at http://cesa.org/webinars/state-leadership-in-clean-energy-award-winning-programs-in-california-and-new-york/.

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