PowerMarket community solar platform wants to bring ‘solar to everyone’

By Ryan Deffenbaugh

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new online platform from a Brooklyn-based startup is looking to offer Westchester customers a chance at tapping into power produced by community solar projects, which are new to New York but expected to grow quickly.

The PowerMarket, which launched in February, essentially creates a marketplace for people interested in buying the solar power produced by community solar arrays.

The arrays are not hooked directly to any end user, such as a home or commercial office. Instead, the power produced by the array is pumped into the grid and the contributions it makes are counted as net-metering credits. Those credits then can be used to offset the bills of members of the community solar project who pay to receive a share of the power credits. Every kilowatt that their share of the community solar array produces means a kilowatt off their electricity bill.

The PowerMarket’s platform wants to help connect people to those community solar arrays.

“We are basically the glue between the customers, the utility and the (community-distributed energy) developer,” said Nick Baudouin, a co-founder of ProjectEconomics, the company behind The PowerMarket.

The service is available in New York City’s five boroughs and Westchester.

ProjectEconomics describes itself as a community solar solutions provider. The six-person team is part of the ACRE clean energy incubator at the Urban Future Lab at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering in Brooklyn. The group also provides the platform that operates the Sustainable Westchester Inc. community choice aggregation program, which provides power to 20 Westchester municipalities.

For both residential and commercial clients, The PowerMarket matches expected energy use with net-metering credits to try to offset a person’s entire bill.

“We let Con Ed know how many credits to allocate on each household’s bill,” Baudouin said. “And that’s based on the household’s consumption. So if you’ve got a pool and you’re bad with efficiency and your bill is pretty significant, you will get a larger percentage of the project so the credits from that larger percentage will offset your bill.”

In an example posted on its site, a user with an average Con Edison bill of $282 could instead shift to a system where they receive two bills: a $46 monthly bill from Con Edison and a $212 bill from The PowerMarket for their share of the community solar project.

Baudouin explained that in the example given, the customer’s share of the community solar project generated a $236 net-metering credit toward their $282 bill. That means their original Con Edison bill drops to $46. PowerMarket then charges the customer for 90 percent of the benefits from the net-metering credits, so $212. This is to support the solar project, Baudouin said. In this scenario, the customer saves $24 for the billing cycle. 

The company expects users to save from 8 to 9 percent yearly on energy costs, but that’s not the whole pitch. The PowerMarket advertises the chance to shop for “clean, locally produced” power. One description pledges “farm-to-table energy, at a discount.”

Through buying the credits, customers can feel they are supporting a local clean energy project, even if they’re not directly running a line from their home to the system.

“The nature of community solar is quite convoluted and our job is really to try to smooth those complexities,” Baudouin said.

The concept for community solar is still new, especially in New York. The state’s first project, in Tompkins County, wasn’t launched until last year. But community solar could likely play a major part in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s major energy initiative, the Reforming the Energy Vision, a multipronged process led by the state’s Public Service Commission. That plan includes the Clean Energy Standard, which requires half the state’s energy come through renewable sources by 2030, as well as goals to rely more on local energy generation and microgrids. Installations for community solar nationwide are expected to grow to more than 400 megawatts in 2017, up from an estimated 200 megawatts in 2016, according to research by Greentech Media.

The PowerMarket launched with three projects for customers to choose from. That includes a 220-kilowatt project in Hawthorne, developed by White Plains-based Green Hybrid Energy Solutions, which is the first community solar project to go live in Westchester. Another 120-kilowatt project in Mount Vernon is expected to power up in a couple months. The third project is in Brooklyn. More than 30 households in Westchester have signed up so far, according to company numbers.

The PowerMarket’s goal is to have 1,500 to 2,000 people buying power through the platform by the end of the year. The company for its part collects a fee for each project it manages.

Through community projects, the base of customers for solar could in theory be greatly expanded. Baudouin cited himself, living in an apartment in New York City, as someone who wouldn’t be able to have a residential panel setup but could become a solar customer through a community project.

“The essence of community solar is that anyone can participate,” Baudouin said. “With traditional rooftop solar you only have 50 percent, or less even, of the country that can go solar. They may have a big oak tree in their yard or they are a renter. We want to bring solar to everyone.”

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About the author

Ryan Deffenbaugh covers energy, education, food and beverage and the Sound Shore for the Westchester County Business Journal. He previously worked for Westchester Magazine and The Citizen daily newspaper (Auburn, N.Y.). He started with the Westchester County Business Journal in March 2016.

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