The emergence of New York as a leading state in clean energy has happened due to extensive policy work behind the scenes. In this interview, Alicia Barton, president and CEO of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), describes the dramatic expansion of her state’s clean energy goals in recent years.
CEFF: How would you describe the solar-energy market's current successes and challenges in New York?
Barton: New York is quickly coming into focus as a major United States solar market. Fueled by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ambitious clean energy goals, the New York solar market is growing rapidly and beginning to achieve scale.
These ambitious goals include the state’s mandate to obtain 50 percent of our electricity from renewable energy by 2030. They also include our NY-Sun program target of 3 gigawatts of distributed solar by 2023.
In 2017, New York climbed to the #3 spot in The Solar Foundation’s Solar Jobs Census. It was at position #6 in 2016.
There has been more solar installed in the state in the first half of 2018 – 127.6 MW – than there has been in any other half-year in New York’s history. Nationally, we were the #3 state in terms of new solar installed in the first quarter of 2018.
Also, NYSERDA awarded new contracts to 22 new utility-scale solar projects earlier this year. These are projects that will rapidly increase the state’s total installed capacity when they begin going online. That will occur as early as next year.
This growth comes during an evolution of our solar-energy policies. New York made a conscious decision to transition from our first generation of solar-development-stimulating policies that took the form of net energy metering to a more granular compensation method that considers time and place. The new method is named Value of Distributed Energy Resources (VDER).
As with any major [energy] transition, we are experiencing the opportunities and challenges of thinking and doing business differently as we make an effort to support long-term self-sustaining solar markets.
To make solar a resource that can deliver substantial amounts of clean electricity to energy consumers throughout New York, we must continue to refine the policy signals and compensation mechanisms to support market self-sufficiency.
We are committed to focusing on the long-term objectives of continuing the upward trajectory for solar growth that we are currently witnessing in 2018 and avoiding the damaging starts and stops that can occur without this focus.
CEFF: What is your perspective on the energy efficiency market's successes and challenges at this time in New York?
Barton: Energy efficiency is central to New York’s national leadership in promoting clean energy solutions and addressing climate change. Energy efficiency is already a robust part of our state’s clean energy sector.
For example, NYSERDA’s Clean Energy Industry Report for New York State shows that there were 146,000 clean energy jobs in 2016. 75 percent of those were energy efficiency jobs.
Doubling down on this success, Governor Cuomo recently set an ambitious statewide target for energy savings by 2025. It spans onsite electricity and fuel use in buildings and industry.
This goal ensures that energy efficiency will remain a foundational cornerstone of our greenhouse gas-reduction strategy. The policy ideas presented along with that target will ensure that we bring energy efficiency to the market with an emphasis on innovations in technology and business rather than relying on business as usual.
Achieving scale in the energy efficiency market remains the critical opportunity – and the challenge. Barriers to market uptake of energy efficiency share common themes across sectors. These include competition for the customer’s attention and capital, the need for greater confidence in savings, and the need for straightforward default solutions.
Only by creating market conditions that incentivize the industry to provide good, cost-effective solutions will we be able to bridge this persistent gap.
CEFF: What stakeholder decisions would catalyze forward movement in these two markets in New York?
Barton: To truly transform our distributed [generation] and demand-side clean energy markets, we need to be consistently aiming at new, integrated, value-driven customer offerings that make clean energy an easy choice.
We need to move beyond segmented and siloed policies toward policies that will send market signals allowing the private sector to deliver responsive solutions. These should address customers’ increasing demands for clean, reliable and affordable energy.
RetrofitNY is a strong example of how New York is collaborating with industry stakeholders including building owners, solution providers, and lending entities to build the market for deep-energy and net-zero building retrofits. This will begin in affordable multifamily properties.
Architects, engineers and consultants [who are knowledgeable about] high-performance buildings are crucial partners in the design of holistic solutions for buildings and the incorporation of energy into capital planning.
New York also sees a range of opportunities to harness advanced data analytics and intelligent building controls to drive energy efficiency. This can also reduce customer acquisition costs, increase market confidence in energy service contracts, and deliver real-time energy-management and demand-flexibility solutions.
In the long term, these new approaches require stakeholder creativity and a steadfast focus.
In New York, we are asking all stakeholders for their partnership in realizing this ambitious vision.
Note: Emma McDonald contributed research to this article.