In Buffalo, N.Y., SolarCity, the newly acquired Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), is trying to build the largest solar panel installation in the world in the United States. After Solar City signed a contract to install 4,000 solar panels on the Hewletons campus in Palo Alto on Tuesday, the company announced that it has plans to build a 1,500-megawatt solar power plant on the campus of Buffalo Niagara Medical Center in Buffalo.
The Buffalo plant is expected to produce enough electricity to generate 1.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, more than 1,000 times more than the first plant. The solar plant will be built on an 88 hectare site that was previously a Republic Steel plant that the state of New York purchased from the city of Buffalo. When fully completed in early 2016, the plant will produce up to one gigawatt per year of solar panels for RiverBend Development Park in South Buffalo and Buffalo Niagara Medical Center.
Tesla also makes its solar roof at the Buffalo factory, which presses solar cells - a solar cell-style technology - into individual roof tiles. He said that solar panels on rooftops made sense because the factory's roof surfaces could be filled with solar panels.
NREL research shows that Syracuse can meet 57 percent of its electricity needs with rooftop solar panels, compared with 18 percent in New York City because the city is much less dense. What makes Syracuse a more attractive rooftop location for solar panels is its flat roof compared to the population, said Michael D'Amato, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at the University of Buffalo.
Add in the federal tax credits, which effectively reduce the cost of rooftop solar by 30%, and SolarCity can save customers in states like California, where electricity is even more expensive than it is on the utility bill. But the cost is not high enough to make solar energy profitable in many states, even with the tax credit. The state of New York apparently believes solar energy can create enough jobs to give Buffalo's battered economy a much-needed boost. Buffalo have good reason to be excited about rooftop solar panels, from the jobs created by solar cell factories to the economic benefits solar panels bring to the city of Syracuse.
But current employment levels do not meet the requirements Tesla needs to hire and invest billions of dollars in New York, as set in the interim targets set in April.
The solar business that Tesla has left is the installation of third-party solar panels, just like any other solar-system manufacturer. New York has a significant stake in the solar industry, and the SolarCity modules in Buffalo could have a big impact on a solar business that it sees as a growing market. Solarcity will provide solar panel installation services in addition to the factory it is building in Buffalo.
New York continues to grow in residential, commercial and utility assets, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The government's goal is to build a 3 gigawatt solar power capacity by 2023, enough to power 400,000 homes. Solar power production has increased by 575% over the last decade, adding more than 525 MW to New York's total solar power generation capacity.
Researchers at NREL found that rooftop solar panels could meet 39 percent of the nation's electricity needs, and that New York is well suited for solar panels. Vermont and Maine rank second and third in the United States in the number of solar panels per capita, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The two arrangements generate enough electricity to supply around 1,000 households with a total capacity of 2.5 megawatts (MW).
The cloudy north-east is also particularly suitable - for rooftop solar panels, and while the potential for rooftop soaring is high in the north-east, solar panels are often installed on houses there. Rob Gauchat, whose company Solar Liberty has been installing solar panels on rooftops in the Buffalo, New York area for 12 years, says he has seen increasing interest in western New York as the cost of installing panels continues to fall. Tesla declined to give details on whether it has installed a solar roof on its western New York streets, but said there are customers waiting for a roof to be installed in their homes.
SolarCity acknowledges that low demand for electricity in New England has the potential to offset some of its rooftop solar installations with wind and solar power from other parts of the country, such as New York and New Jersey, but it can help to reduce costs to some extent.
Buffalo, located on the eastern shore of Lake Erie, is considered one of the most energy-efficient cities in the United States and is considered by many to be the second and sunniest city in New York. Think of it this way: if you have the same amount of roof space, you don't have to have the same solar resource, do you?