2Sunrise Solar Solutions LLC will soon install what it says is one of the largest residential projects in Westchester: nearly 1,500 photovoltaic panels at the 205-unit Scarborough Manor co-op in Ossining.
Doug Hertz outside company headquarters in Briarcliff Manor. Photo by Ryan Deffenbaugh
The installation is expected to meet about 25 percent of the 1960s-era complex’s power needs, including common areas such as lobbies, hallways, clubhouse and exterior lighting.
The rooftop system at the two seven-story buildings that make up Scarborough Manor is the latest benchmark for Sunrise Solar, which announced in November that its solar systems had produced 7 billion watt hours. The Briarcliff Manor-based company has built up that production through more than 450 projects in the Hudson Valley. While those projects have mostly focused on residential, Sunrise Solar is now beefing up its portfolio of commercial projects.
The company launched in 2009. That was shortly after its principal, Doug Hertz, a home remodeler at the time, said he was searching for a solar company to work with on a home restoration. He found the options lacking. There was only one company in the area at the time, according to Hertz. He did not reveal its name, but said it has since gone out of business.
“I thought, wow, that’s so bizarre. They have a monopoly,” he said. “That’s an opportunity.”
Hertz took a year off for training and became certified with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. He then teamed up with a work associate, Eric Messer, who also had a background in the construction business, to launch Sunrise Solar Solutions.
In the seven years the company has been operating, it has grown to a staff of 30. But that doesn’t mean solar was always an easy sell.
“Solar is an ambiguous product,” Hertz said. “You can go flip on your light switch and you get power, so it’s not something you need. You already have the service. So why would someone opt for an alternative form?”
In the early going, the answer to that question mostly came from the environmental benefits. Hertz said early adopters were mostly environmentally conscious, with money to spend.
“But what we’ve seen in the last few years is that early-adopter mindset overtaken by people who now consider solar a mainstream option,” Hertz said. “Often, customers can look at it for financial benefit: can you provide me with energy at a lower cost?”
That mainstreaming has been driven in part by the continuing reduced costs of solar panels. Hertz said he has seen an eightfold decrease in the average cost of a system since his company launched.
The state and federal governments have also incentivized the purchase of residential and commercial solar systems. New York runs programs such as NY-Sun and Green Jobs, Green New York aimed at boosting solar energy production. The state Public Service Commission also approved this past summer the Clean Energy Standard, which mandates the state receive at least half its energy from renewable sources by 2030. One tenet of the initiative will require utilities to buy a set amount of renewable energy credits from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority each year to help fund clean energy projects.
“New York has become the most progressive state in the U.S. in terms of solar power,” Hertz said.
NY-Sun helps finance Solarize initiatives throughout the state, a public-private partnership that runs time-limited campaigns aimed at aggregating solar markets in various communities. Solarize Westchester, through two rounds of campaigns, has signed up more than 400 homeowners and businesses in 16 municipalities in the county through the program. Sunrise Solar was selected for six of those communities, plus Solarize installation contracts in Duchess, Putnam and Rockland counties. Installers are chosen through a competitive bidding process.
“The Solarize programs provide a very important role, which is information and trust,” Hertz said, who added that potential solar customers are often inundated with marketing materials from installers.
“(Solarize) can cut through that noise level, which can at times be very, very confusing,” he said.
The company is also targeting a new type of solar in the state, often referred to as community distributed generation. These types of projects allocate renewable energy from one solar array to residential and business consumers who may want locally generated solar power, but do not wish or are unable to accommodate solar panels.
Community distributed projects have been encouraged in New York through a state initiative started last year called Shared Renewables.
Sunrise Solar recently completed a 523-panel megawatt community distributed generation project in Kingston that Hertz said is one of the first projects of its kind in the state. He also presented plans in White Plains and Mount Kisco to potentially launch community distributed solar projects at landfills in the city and town.
“We can create energy and have a mechanism to get (solar energy) to customers who couldn’t get it otherwise,” Hertz said, adding that he estimates no more than 20 percent of Westchester homes are suitable for solar because of shade, incompatible roof materials or simply roof size as barriers.
Hertz said the mindset of today’s solar buyer often combines the early adopter mindset – focused on the environmental benefits – and the more recent emphasis on energy cost savings.
“We’ll have to continue to prove our case for every part of this,” Hertz said.