Alternative energy isn’t a big part of the electric power mix in New York. Renewables like solar, wind, and biomass account for just 6.5 percent of the electricity generated in the state. The US Energy Information Administration says natural gas is the most-used fuel for electricity generation, followed by nuclear and hydro.
Solar will be a bigger part of the mix in coming years, say electric industry experts. Analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein, a Wall Street research firm, say solar electricity is poised for big growth. And surprisingly, Bernstein says, New York is a prime market for solar – even though our weather isn’t as sunny as Arizona or Florida.
One reason for New Yorkers to seek power from the sun is high Con Ed electricity prices. Electricity costs so much in New York that it’s cheaper for Con Ed customers to get electricity from solar panels, Bernstein says. The firm figures solar could end up taking 14 percent of Con Ed’s electricity revenue.
Nationwide, Bernstein says, home and business solar panels contribute just 0.2 percent of the US retail electricity supply. But the firm’s researchers say home and commercial solar electricity installations are increasing at a rate of around 50 percent per year. It expects solar to keep growing at that pace as the price of solar equipment comes down.
New York regulators are trying to figure out how to accommodate solar and other alternate energy sources, and are seeking advice from consumers and the energy industry. [Here is my earlier post on the topic.]
But New York is already well ahead in the game.
The state passed a law in 1997 providing for net metering, which requires Con Edison and other utilities to account not just for the electricity its customers take from the grid, but also for the power they put back into it. The state’s decision in the mid-1990s to deregulate electricity markets – which likely has raised electricity prices – has aided the growth of solar and other alternative energy sources. Because of deregulation, Con Ed today generates very little power. Its main business now is maintaining the local electric grid. Deregulation has made the company agnostic on whether electricity comes from big power plants in Astoria or home solar panels.
Plenty of businesses are getting in on the solar trend. Companies like Sunrun and Solar City will arrange financing and hire local contractors to install home solar systems. You can get a solar setup with a lease, or you can buy one outright with a loan or cash. If you lease a system, you make a monthly payment similar to an electric bill. The installer retains ownership of the system, and will come around to your home every few months to make sure everything works properly.
Of course, solar isn’t the only possibility for homeowners. See my MarketWatch.com story for more on how new technology will let you make your own electricity.