New York City appears to be a dreamland for solar installers — with millions of identical residential rooftops and few trees casting shade, who wouldn’t capitalize on this endless opportunity?
But the city’s complicated fire safety and building code requirements mean not many installers make the effort. That’s why Brooklyn SolarWorks (No. 280 on the 2023 Top Solar Contractors List) finds itself in a unique spot. Through development of its own canopy and tilt-rack designs, BSW is dominating NYC flat-roof solar. Because of that complex understanding, BSW CEO TR Ludwig — for better or worse — is also a significant voice in state policymaking.
“We have some really important things that just so happen to be occurring when we’re alive and in our careers right now in the city. I just don’t want it to be ignored,” he said. “We have been able to advocate for very good things here for solar. Being involved in it, and making sure that it happens the way we want it to happen, is really important, and not to just leave this policymaking to policymakers, but have it come from the folks that are really going to make it happen. It’s pretty critical right now. If I wasn’t doing it, I’d be lobbing in suggestions to the people that were.”
BSW and other city players are currently navigating new building codes that require railings on all flat roofs. Even when safety measures are not relevant, railings are still required, which can limit solar generation.
“This last year was kind of the year of the railing — you couldn’t get a solar system built without putting up railings,” Ludwig said. “We would try to keep the design intact, but we would add in railings that are required and hope they don’t shade the solar system. We’ve been struggling with FDNY and the Dept. of Buildings, trying to get a clearer view on what they want.”
Ludwig works with state organizations like NYSEIA to ensure BSW’s city-specific solar perspective is heard.
“I weigh in on residential stuff statewide, but New York City is such a big animal in itself,” he said.
Energy storage is also a significant policy focus for NYC advocates. The city has strict indoor battery installation codes, which has led many vendors to shy away from entering the complicated market. The rest of the state is installing batteries without issue, so BSW is working to make sure policymakers understand these holdbacks.
“Obviously, this stuff is relatively safe, it’s being deployed en masse throughout the country. You just can’t do it here right now,” Ludwig said. “That needs to change, but this goes back to that New York City-specific [way of doing business]. A lot of people just don’t want to [try installing here]. We’ve always been on the edge, whether we like it or not, of making it happen.”
While advocating takes up a lot of BSW’s time, so does installing. The company logged nearly 2.5 MW of solar in New York City last year, all on flat roofs. The company’s canopy and tilt-rack place panels above roof obstructions and keep them high enough for firefighter access. NYC residents also seem to respect that BSW is local.
“Having the canopy and being able to immediately get a large solar system up on a roof is great. For folks working on pitched roofs all the time [who] then try and come into a brownstone or a row house — it’s not the same thing,” Ludwig said. “Our install crews are super privy to all that, and it shows that people enjoy working with us because they know we are not coming in from New Jersey or somewhere. If they need to find us, we’re right down the road.”
Ludwig said there are enough tailwinds right now, with extra incentives in the IRA, that solar and storage will continue to grow in NYC despite some of the building code setbacks.
“The density of New York City is like no other. As storage starts to evolve, even if that starts to expand slightly, that’s a whole other market opportunity for us, cross-selling back to our existing base,” he said. “Although it seems niche, the market is quite large because we’re in New York City. There are just blocks of flat roofs anywhere you look.”
This story was featured exclusively in our 2023 Top Solar Contractors issue. See the issue and full list of top U.S. solar installers here.