Kips Bay Towers in New York City isn’t a house, but it is home to about 4,000 people living in two residential high-rise buildings, each with 20 floors and about 1,120 units.
Sitting on 7.5 acres nestled between 30th and 33rd Streets, Kips Bay Towers – located in the historic Kips Bay area of the city – is home to a diverse professional community encompassing singles, couples and families.
Originally, the architecture was what made it notable. Designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, the building utilizes cast-in-place exposed concrete and offers a three-acre garden, playground, basketball courts and all the other amenities of a first-class apartment building.
Now it also offers a 54.28 kilowatt DC solar photovoltaic (PV) system, the largest residential solar system in the city of New York or – as far as this writer could determine – in the entire United States.
The solar array, designed and installed by Solar Energy Systems, LLC, was fortunate in finding a rooftop code-compliant interconnection point rather than one in the basement. This, and the aging electrical infrastructure in many New York high-rises, may be the limiting factors in “greening” New York City roofs – a project first proposed by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
The City’s largest commercial solar installation, also built by Solar Energy Systems but equipped for net metering, was recently installed on a 180-year old building roof in Brooklyn, proving that old doesn’t automatically exclude solar. The system, at a modest 40 watts, is the first to send excess electricity back to the utility company for use by other customers.
Solar isn’t new to the City. In the summer of 2005, The City University of New York (CUNY) introduced its Million Solar Roofs Initiative (MSRI) under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy. The university originally set a target of 500 solar roofs in the City by 2010. The target has not been met, but private solar initiatives, like that of Cabrini Terrace – which powers elevators, laundry rooms and security lighting in the residential building – are helping reduce the burden for New York City electricity providers like Con Ed.
Kips Bay Towers, however, remains the largest residential solar initiative, and the electrical connections in every unit were retrofitted with absolutely minimal disruption of service – a notable achievement in itself, and one that proves the feasibility of switching to solar, whether one lives in a coop apartment building, condo or private residence.
The Kips Bay project was completed under the auspices of the New York State Solar Electric Incentives Program, and qualified for a rebate that covered almost half the cost. Additional incentives, in the form of state and federal tax credits and a property tax abatement, made for a steal of a deal, and that’s not even factoring in the annual energy savings.
We could argue the meaning of residential ’till the crows come home to roost, but the fact is that 4,000 New York City residents are now served by a form of truly “green” energy that won’t fail them the next time Con Ed and its aging infrastructure has to throttle power down, creating another brownout, to serve all of its territory.