Long Island, New York is home to almost 8 million people. It’s a narrow landmass that stretches 100 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and has been developed from its westernmost end that touches New York City to its easternmost hamlet of Montauk.
For that reason, the land on the New York peninsula is highly valued, and for solar contractors trying to install sizable arrays in the region, they look elsewhere. Specifically, they look up.
Local solar contractor SUNation Solar Systems installed a 1.78-MW project on the commercial rooftop of Karp Associates’ manufacturing facility in Melville — the largest community rooftop solar project in Long Island. Karp is an American manufacturer of industrial access doors and roof hatches. Even with the scale of this project, this was one of the quickest sales SUNation experienced.
“A project of that size could take two years to mature — two to three years just to get to where we’re sold,” said Scott Maskin, CEO of SUNation. “This was done in 90 days. We were in contract, on the job.”
Initial contact for the project was made in September 2019 and SUNation signed the construction contract three months later in December. It helped that Karp had prepared for the transition and had a history of enacting ecological practices. The manufacturer had already invested in lighting upgrades and geothermal heating at the facility, and in manufacturing recycles shipping materials and uses no-emission paints.
Preparation proved vital in constructing this rooftop array. Everyone involved in the project, including SUNation’s design, processing, coordinators and engineering teams and Karp Associates, met with utility PSEG Long Island. It was one of the first actions taken in the development and done to identify the challenges of putting the array on the grid.
“The client goal right off the bat was to maximize their roof space,” said Jason Nendza, director of sales, engineering and project management at SUNation. “Even with the size of the building, the design itself enhanced it.”
Karp Associates approved of removing obstructions on the roof, taking away units that would have reduced the number of panels on the array. Rooftop gas lines were relocated to the perimeter of the building, too.
“So, with that, we were really able to dive in and I’d be surprised if somebody could fit another module up there right now,” Nendza said.
The Karp Associates building has two roof sections. The first, and original rooftop, is conventional TPO roofing material. SUNation installed most of the array on that section, totaling 3,456 ballasted panels. The second section is an addition that stands 40 ft tall with a metal standing seam roof. The remaining 972 panels are attached to that section.
The array is composed of LG 405-W and 400-W modules paired with Solectria PVI TL string inverters in 60-, 50- and 36-kW models each rated at 480 V. The racking used on the TPO roofing is the TGR ballasted system from TerraGen Solar. The standing seam section used TerraGen’s TGP flush mount paired with S-5! clamps.
The building has a border of access roads, and SUNation was able to gate off the eastern section of the street to set up a working area. Using a 12-ton telehandler, installers hoisted materials to the roof from the street and were able to move alongside the array as it was built out, which was helpful because it took nearly three minutes to walk from one end of the roof to the other.
“Just in terms of when you’re thinking about the sheer size of it, it takes a while to get from one place to another with the equipment,” Nendza said.
This array being Long Island’s current largest rooftop community solar project — and a community solar project — SUNation didn’t encounter many hurdles for permitting from the town. The greater concern was the feeder study from the utility. While in the planning phase, the potential array underwent a series of screenings to determine what equipment would be required for tie-in and communications.
That concern was increased when COVID-19 shutdown orders were issued. SUNation ceased construction on the Karp Associates solar project for several months before returning. Then, after starting back up, the installers encountered issues with the communication services on the array and utility PSEG Long Island.
“We were shut down for a couple of months, but it was more than that, because the client made a significant investment in this project and midway, we were shut down,” Maskin said. “If you go back to the COVID days, it was everybody was scrambling for payroll protection and all kinds of stuff. So, nobody really knew when this was going to end. Even though we were only shutdown for 13 weeks, the following four, five, six months was all like, O.K., what’s it going to be? Is my business going to remain open? And these are questions for Karp, for SUNation, for everybody.”
But SUNation pushed through, and construction was completed in early 2021 and the system received permission to operate from the utility in August.
SUNation is currently the only contractor in the PSEG Long Island utility territory with community solar projects running through its Value of Distributed Energy Resource program. The company owns and manages about 5 MW of community solar projects in Long Island. Community solar is important to decarbonizing the region because more than half of the ratepayers reside in places where individual arrays cannot be installed, Maskin said.
The array installed on Karp Associates is being managed by the manufacturer under the name Helios Solar. The facility can handle an estimated 175 off-takers, based on average energy consumption.
As an installer, SUNation focuses its solar construction efforts in the region it’s based in. The company has completed 7,500 solar projects and continues to build out the Long Island area with solar and is already planning similar solar projects to the one at Karp Associates — one that is already double the size, Maskin said.
“That’s really holistic and super important in our mission at SUNation that what we do is so hyper-focused on the local economy,” he said. “As opposed to out-of-country developers that are just coming in and signing feed-in to some power purchase agreements and all those revenue dollars are shipped off Long Island. So, we specifically look for those projects that are going to keep our economy here strong.”