Led by Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York’s solar ambitions are a key component in his agenda for to ensure “vital progress on the climate” is continued. This is a post on the claims made by New York State for the NY-Sun program. The opinions expressed in this post reflect my personal opinion.
NY-Sun is supposed to make solar affordable for all New Yorkers. According to the NY Sun section on the NYS website Leading on Climate Change and Protecting our Environment:
- NY-Sun is developing a sustainable, self-sufficient solar industry in the State by incentivizing New Yorkers, businesses, and communities to invest in solar energy.
- The Governor’s $1 billion NY-Sun program has grown solar power in New York State by nearly 800% since 2011, and has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 25%.
- The program aims to add more than 3 gigawatts of installed solar capacity in the State by 2023, enough solar energy to power 400,000 homes.
I will address each of these claims in this post.
Self-Sufficient NY Solar Industry
My interpretation of self-sufficient solar industry is one where solar manufacturing provides New York solar farms with the panels it needs. I think this is a reference to the SolarCity gigafactory in Buffalo, NY. According to a May 2016 CNBC article:
The Queen City is the crown jewel in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s multibillion-dollar business-development strategy to revitalize economically depressed Upstate New York by turning it into a 21st-century manufacturing powerhouse. His Buffalo Billion (as in dollars invested) project — although the subject of federal and state bid-rigging probes — is highlighted by a 1.2-million-square-foot “gigafactory” that will be run by Elon Musk‘s SolarCity and fabricate up to 10,000 solar panels per day. In late May, New York’s Public Authorities Control Board unanimously approved a $485.5 million grant, part of the total $750 million the state will spend to construct and equip the humongous facility. New York will retain ownership and lease it to SolarCity in a deal negotiated by Albany-based SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the state university known as SUNY Poly.
An update on February 11,2019 from CleanTechnica is titled “The Latest News from the Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo Isn’t Good”. The lead to the article admits that they are “one of the biggest cheerleaders for Elon Musk and Tesla” but admits that the factory is “a disaster waiting to happen”. I encourage you to read that article but the key point relative to the NY-Sun claim that NY solar development would be self-sufficient is that one of the recently laid off employees claims ““Some weeks we produced enough solar modules for zero homes and probably the best I saw was maybe four homes in a week, so that is alarmingly scary to obviously be a part of a company who doesn’t have any sense of urgency to tackle these issues and get them working correctly”.
Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions 25% since 2011
I have previously evaluated New York State CO2 emission reductions and the claim that NY solar power has reduced CO2 emissions by nearly 25% immediately set off my BS detector. The Solar Generation CO2 Reductions table checks this claim. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Patterns and Trends – New York State Energy Profiles: 2002-2016 document includes a table that provides the generation by fossil-fired sources and solar and another table that lists CO2 emissions but the data only goes through 2016. I downloaded the annual CO2 emissions from the EPA Clean Air Markets Division through 2018 for your information.
Solar generation reduces CO2 by displacing fossil-fired generation. Assuming that solar only displaces fossil-fired generation means that we can calculate the CO2 displacement by multiplying the solar heat input by the fossil-fired CO2 rate in mass per heat input. In 2016 using the EPA data or the NYSERDA data exclusively indicates that solar is only responsible for 0.21% of the observed reduction. That is two orders of magnitude less than the claim that NY-Sun solar power has reduced CO2 emissions by nearly 25%.
On the other hand the total CO2 reduction from 2011 to 2018 is 25% so that may be where the number came from. However, that reduction is mostly due to fossil-fired fuel switching. CO2 from coal is down 93%, residual oil is down 55%, diesel and other oil is down 59% while natural gas is up 10%. It is worthwhile to note that coal and petroleum usage is down so low now that only small further reductions are possible due to fuel switching.
Three gigawatts power 400,000 homes
According to the US Energy Information Administration, in 2017, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,399 kilowatthours (kWh). At that rate, 400,000 homes would require 4,160 GWh of energy. Three gigawatts of solar operating 24 -7 would produce 26,280 GWh. The capacity factor is the ratio of the actual to the maximum possible generation and in this example it would have to be 15.8% to power 400,000 average homes.
The NYSERDA New York Solar Study in includes a table of Projected New York capacity factors. The highest values listed are 14.96% for MW-scale systems in Downstate NY. I calculated the number of average homes for three gigawatts of solar using their capacity factors. If all the homes were powered by residential scale systems in Upstate only 316,654 homes would be powered by 3 gigawatts. If all the homes were powered by utility scale systems downstate 378,076 homes would be powered by 3 gigawatts. NY Sun is funding all four types of installations across the state so the best number would be somewhere in between.
NY-Sun is developing a sustainable, self-sufficient solar industry in the State by incentivizing New Yorkers, businesses, and communities to invest in solar energy.
Depending on your definition of sustainable, self-sufficient there may be some validity to this claim but if the claim is taking credit for the Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo it appears very unlikely that this facility will provide much if any support for New York solar installations.
The Governor’s $1 billion NY-Sun program has grown solar power in New York State by nearly 800% since 2011, and has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 25%.
There is no way to salvage this statement. It implies that solar power growth has led to CO2 reductions in New York and that is simply not true.
The program aims to add more than 3 gigawatts of installed solar capacity in the State by 2023, enough solar energy to power 400,000 homes.
If the NY-Sun uses a different value for the energy needed by an average home then 400,000 may be legitimate. However, if you use the US EIA value then the capacity factor used by NY-Sun is higher than acceptable.