Urban solar interconnection can be modernized, simplified and standardized

By T.R. Ludwig, CEO and founder, Brooklyn SolarWorks and Colin Mattox, head of product marketing, ConnectDER

Over the past decade, while solar has boomed in rural and suburban areas, urban solar has lagged. It’s not a mystery as to why. Urban solar comes with many challenges — higher, flatter, smaller roofs, more valuable real estate, onerous permitting, among many others. Most of those challenges stem from the essential truth that density presents building and construction difficulties.

Finding solutions to these challenges and making urban solar work offers tremendous promise. The benefits of building and siting solar where the energy demand is are massive.

A recent study, the Local Solar Roadmap, found that if we invest in local solar and energy storage and other distributed energy resource (DER) technologies — on schools, businesses, apartment buildings, and homes — we can save $473 billion on electricity bills between now and 2050. The researchers found that scaling local solar is the most cost-effective way to meet our climate goals. It will also boost resilience as local communities and businesses contend with wildly variant weather patterns — increased storm severity, more devastating wildfires, and longer and stronger hurricane seasons — stemming from the climate crisis.

This research confirms years of research and data showing the benefits of distributed energy resources and local power.

But how do we overcome these challenges and tap into these benefits? The quick answer is that there is no one magic solution — instead, we need dozens of solutions. And solar installers have been working hard developing those solutions, from solar canopies to community solar gardens to micro-grids and many innovations that have made urban solar more successful than ever.

Another important innovation is modernizing, standardizing and simplifying the interconnection of new solar systems.

Right now, many urban solar installation interconnections require substantial amounts of additional electrical work. All of those extra connections and wiring equals work, time, money, diminished safety and increased permitting — and in urban solar, that additional cost and time could be prohibitive.

Right now, Con Edison, the utility for New York City and Westchester County, is running a project using meter collars from ConnectDER to standardize, modernize and simplify interconnection. Modern meter collars can accelerate the transition to urban solar as a standardized connection point for rooftop solar systems, allowing installers to avoid costly circuit-breaker panel upgrades and time-consuming wiring work. The meter collars also provide the data collection and computing power of a typical smart meter and an individual home’s solar system.

The solar installers detach the home’s meter, hook up our meter collar, replace the meter and then plug the inverter’s power directly into the meter collar. The interconnection leaves the homeowner offline for a mere five minutes instead of several hours for a standard install. Simple for the installer, smooth for the customer and easy on the home.

This deployment project is done in partnership with NYSERDA. Right now, the units are free of charge to installers and will be delivering valuable data, including forecasting solar production — providing Con Edison with precise, real-time measurements of solar generation on distribution circuits that may face disruptions from the utility’s growing share of customer-owned solar. This current effort follows an earlier 300-unit pilot installation launched in 2017, which achieved savings of between $400 and $1,500 per installation.

All of these benefits — time, money, aesthetics, safety, increased information sharing — can grow exponentially as cities adopt more DERs. Importantly, the benefits flow to all parties of the residential solar installation — the customers and installers save time and money. At the same time, utilities gain valuable information that allows them to manage DERs more effectively.

Helping make urban solar work holds massive promise: Billions in savings, millions of jobs and tons of reduced pollution. Modern meter collars that simplify, modernize and standardize interconnection can be another key solution to overcoming urban solar’s challenges. This Con Edison project points the way toward the urban solar future.