Developer plans off-site projects for big-city dwellers

EnterSolar (No. 65 on the 2016 Top Solar Contractors list) may be headquartered in midtown Manhattan, but hardly any of its solar construction business happens among the city’s major skyscrapers. The buildings don’t have the roof space to support a solar system big enough to offset the large electric loads. That’s why EnterSolar is especially supportive of off-site, remote net-metering projects for its corporate clients.

“You might have large users of electricity that are poor candidates for solar, like a lot of these big, tall skyscrapers,” said Peyton Boswell, EnterSolar managing director. “You might have very large warehouses with very little load that are great for solar but are not able to utilize the solar energy. Being able to have that off-site flexibility is particularly a good match for markets like this.”

Many industrial facilities in the outer boroughs are great solar candidates, and EnterSolar sets up partnerships between its larger corporate clients and these solar-ripe buildings. In September 2015, for example, the company completed a 1.5-MW project across multiple warehouses near JFK International Airport in Queens that powers Bloomberg L.P.’s global headquarters in Manhattan and a downtown data center—all through remote net metering.

The project came together because the warehouse owners wanted to go solar, Boswell said, but there wasn’t an economic way to use the electricity on-site. Meanwhile, Bloomberg wanted to get involved with solar, and local utility Con Edison wanted to see distributed generation to ease grid congestion. EnterSolar convinced the warehouse owners to host solar panels for Bloomberg. The resulting remote net-metering project was installed like a typical on-site-usage project, except for the addition of one small component.

“There is a new meter installed—what Con Edison calls a host meter—that is in the name of the off-taker. There is no on-site load at that meter. It’s a portal to export all of the surplus generation from the solar,” Boswell said. “The utility tracks what that surplus production is each month. The benefit of that production is then allocated to the satellite account—Bloomberg’s corporate headquarters. It’s a means to basically replicate for Bloomberg what it would look like if this 1.5-MW system in fact was on their headquarters. It gets them financially to the same place.”

EnterSolar doesn’t focus on off-site projects, but remote net metering has become a large part of its business. Community solar can be looked at in the same way—remote projects with multiple off-takers.

“It’s become an increasingly important part of business, but it falls out of, ‘How do we provide solutions for our corporate clients?’” Boswell said. “If they’re interested in it, then we’re going to have a solution there. A 100,000-sq-ft big box retailer may be able to site an 800-kW, on-site PV system that can offset on an annual basis 40% of their kilowatt hour consumption. They’re still going to have 60% that they’re buying off the grid. Off-site can be an interesting way to top that up.”

EnterSolar is lucky in that both New York state and the local utilities are supportive of remote net metering. Unfortunately, that’s not the case across the whole country, and the company often has to reshape people’s opinions on the validity of solar.

“There are a lot of misunderstandings out there. The nature of how we promote solar in the country is balkanized by state and utilities,” Boswell said. “The numbers for the same physical building in one utility or state can be dramatically different economically for a solar perspective versus another one. A lot of the bigger corporates, they’ll have spent time to really look at solar in one particular market, and that may be a market where that doesn’t pencil. They draw the conclusion that solar doesn’t work for them.”

What doesn’t work in one location might work in another, and EnterSolar’s mission is to make solar happen. “Remote net metering allows a project to happen that otherwise—if we could do anything—would have been a much smaller system,” Boswell said.

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