Solar Canopy vs. Tilt Rack: What’s the Difference?

In New York City, having a flat roof poses some obstacles to going solar: Physical obstructions and make installation difficult; NYC’s fire codes and regulations limit the number of panels you can have on your roof and consequently the energy you generate; owners want to continue using their rooftops as social spaces.

There are two solar systems – the solar canopy and the tilt rack – that were designed specifically to circumvent these problems. So what do they look like, and how are they different?

Solar Canopy

  • Elevates solar panels 9 feet above the roof surface
  • Sociable space underneath; can walk underneath
  • Ability to go solar when roof obstructions would have otherwise prevented a solar system
  • 40% larger system size than if panels were to be installed directly on roof surface
  • Cooler building during summer months
  • Withstands winds up to 110 mp

Tilt Rack

  • Elevates solar panels slightly off roof surface
  • Ability to go solar when roof obstructions would have otherwise prevented a solar system
  • 40% larger system size than if panels were to be installed directly on roof surface
  • Cooler building during summer months
  • Withstands winds up to 110 mph

Both designs get around many restrictive NYC fire codes, maximizing your roof’s potential to offset your utility. The main difference is that the solar canopy is elevated significantly higher off the ground than the tilt rack, allowing you the space to roam underneath. The tilt rack thus requires less materials and is therefore usually cheaper to install than a solar canopy.

Which design works for your home?

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions, and as always – shine on!

Gaelen McKee - "The Innovator" in New York Times

I woke up this morning to some awesome news, Gaelen McKee, President of BSW was featured in the New York Times as an Innovator in NYC solar. We are thrilled to be helping build more solar in NYC and making clean energy happen for our neighbors. 

New York is a special city and it requires special innovations to help solar become pervasive. As we look at the solar landscape here in NYC it looks like flat roofs as far as the eye can see, and as far as we are concerned, each one should have solar panels on them. Cheers to all our other friends HERE COMES SOLAR and our Customer Anne Schaetzel who was featured. #solarcanopynyc is making it happen. Thanks to our cohorts @ Situ Studio for helping to merge solar AND design for these innovations in our special city. 

How to Go Solar If You Rent

Solar power is a clean and sustainable energy source that has the potential to significantly offset people’s utility costs. Solar PV (photovoltaic) project installations continue to increase every year; in fact, the U.S. hit 1 million total solar installations this year in 2016 and is projected to hit 2 million installs in just two more.

Going solar is also getting cheaper. The average price for a completed PV project has dropped by nearly 30% in the past 3 years alone.

If you look at solar the way we do and see it as a practical solution to sustainable energy, then that’s fantastic – but what if you don’t own a property or can’t install a system of your own? If you rent, there is way to reap the energy, economic, and environmental benefits of solar, and it’s called Community Distributed Generation – Community DG for short. Community DG refers to any off-site solar, small wind, or other clean energy project that benefits communities of people through net metering. Since we’re talking about solar, we can refer to Community DG as Community Solar – or Shared Solar –  for short.

Here’s an infographic on how it works:

There are three parties involved in Community Solar.

  1. Utility – companies that distribute electricity, such as Con Ed.
  2. Sponsor – the intermediary; the project developer, a private company, or other entity that manages the solar installation project and determines its contracts and fees.
  3. Member – you and anyone else who wants to go solar without installing an individually owned system.

A sponsor will organize membership and interfaces with utility. Let’s say you contractually agree with your sponsor to use 10% of the energy generated by the solar system for a monthly rate paid to your sponsor. The sponsor relays that information to your utility company, and then your utility company allocates 10% of the energy credits generated by your solar system to you. This is known as net metering.

For more details on how this works, visit the New York State Energy & Research Development Association (NYSERDA) page here:

For more information on Community DG, check out this link here:

We’ve met a lot of people in the past few months who wanted to know how to go solar if they rent. We hope this cleared some things up, but of course, feel free to reach out to the Brooklyn SolarWorks team you have any questions.

As always – shine on!  


“Sorry, I have a flat roof.”

Last weekend, Brooklyn SolarWorks spent the day out in Park Slope at the Seventh Heaven Street Fair on Seventh Avenue. Our tent hosted solar powered toys, a solar powered television, and even a solar powered phone charger. As we passed out flyers about solar, one Brooklyn local shouted, “Sorry, I have a flat roof!” Sorry they have a flat roof?!

Physical obstructions and NYC’s fire codes and regulations make implementing solar surprisingly difficult on flat-roof buildings. Often times, people we talk to have been turned away by other solar installers and don’t realize that there is a solution; Brooklyn SolarWorks circumvents these problems by elevating solar panels 9-10 feet above flat rooftops through the solar canopy design.

 BSW at the Seventh Heaven Street Fair on Seventh Avenue

BSW at the Seventh Heaven Street Fair on Seventh Avenue

 Our solar powered phone charging station

Our solar powered phone charging station

We conceptualized the solar canopy because we believe in solar – we believe in harnessing solar energy to power NYC, more specifically Brooklyn. But when we look out onto our office rooftop overlooking Gowanus, we realize that there’s still a lot of unused roof space and untapped potential.

Don’t be sorry about your flat roof if solar hasn’t worked out for you before. Just know that you’re not alone, and there is a solution.

As always, shine on!

Brooklyn SolarWorks Gets Featured!

We’ve been in a pretty good mood lately. For one thing, the weather in Brooklyn has been beautiful, and if it’s at all indicative of the summer to come, then we couldn’t be more excited.

For another, we’ve recently been featured in five publications: Wired, 6sqft, The Architect’s Newspaper, Fast Company, and Treehugger.

Some highlights:

"[Trusses, beams, and angled columns] can be easily reproduced to yield a customized Canopy, potentially double the size of a rooftop solar system." - The Architect's Newspaper

"By lifting solar panels 10 feet in the air, it's possible to meet safety requirements and add enough solar to offset a family's energy bill." - Fast Company

"We think as more people go on their own roofs and they see their neighbors going solar with canopies, that's going to add a viral effect to going solar." - Wired

"The canopies rise above the height needed to meet the fire codes and leaves the roof space open, [making it] easier to get the solar power systems approved by the city." - TreeHugger

Whether you’ve worked with us before, are interested in what we do, or simply get excited about anything solar –  thank you for your support.

As always, shine on!

Time Lapse of a Canopy!

We would like to begin by saying thanks to everybody for making this possible. It's only been a little over a year since we dreamed up the idea of starting a company that focused on building solar canopies in NYC and here we are, 6 built and many, many more in the pipeline. 

Thanks to Situ! You guys have been incredibly helpful and super fun to work with (they designed and helped commission the canopy). Thanks to SolarOne. The Here Come Solar groups have been the bedrock of our growth. And thanks to Marvel Vision for the video work. Look forward to many more projects together. 

Here is a time lapse, put together by Situ with drone work by Marvel Vision, of an 18 panel solar canopy built on 7th St in Park Slope. Enjoy. 

Let's Talk About The Canopy

Understandably we get a LOT of questions about the Solar Canopy we sell in NYC. When you hear "Solar Canopy" there are not a whole lot of prefabricated notions of what to think of. We've spent alot of time working to find ways to give homwowners a better idea of what the heck we are talking about. 

What does it look like?

Once we have an initial discussion with a homeowner and they feel it makes sense to investigate solar we commission a full scale rendering. Much like something like this: 

It's always nice to have take a virtual walk through of your solar system. Many folks want to know to expect for their roof. We don't blame them. That's why we are working to improve the buying experience for NYCers to go solar!

Green Mountain Energy - not so green after all

If you live in New York City it's very likely that you have been approached by a representative from Green Mountain Energy. Usually it is a college student on summer break standing beside a pop up tent with a clip board and a bunch of reasons why you should switch to Green Mountain Energy as your energy service company or ESCO. "What is an ESCO?", you may ask. Well if you look at your electricity bill you will see a handful of different charges, the two primary ones being your supply and delivery charges. The supply charge is for the generation of your electricity. That is what your ESCO is responsible for. In the bill below, the supply charge, from Green Mountain Energy, is for $16.9  per kWh. Very high even by NYC standards. 


Why would you choose to pay more for your electricity when you could pay less with another ESCO? With Green Mountain Energy presumably because they produce their electricity from renewable energy sources. Or so they want you to believe. Opening this months Con Edison electric bill we were intrigued to find a list of all the ESCOs operating in ConEd territory with their fuel mix and emission profile. 

 Environmental Disclosure Statement

Environmental Disclosure Statement

 Green Mountain Energy's Locating ID's (F8 and A12)

Green Mountain Energy's Locating ID's (F8 and A12)

Green Mountain Energy, A12, turns out to have just below average emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides and just above average emissions of sulfur dioxide. 

 Green Mountain Energy's Emission Profile Relative to NYSG

Green Mountain Energy's Emission Profile Relative to NYSG

 Green Mountain Energy's Fuel Mix

Green Mountain Energy's Fuel Mix

Furthermore, their fuel mix (F8) is comprised of only 5% wind and less then 1% solar. The winner? Starion Energy. With 47% wind, Starion was leaps and bounds ahead of everybody else. 

Our suggestion? You guessed it. If you own your home go solar. With some creative loan financing you can go solar with no money out of pocket and lock in a lower rate then what you are currently paying with the added bonus of owning a solar system after 15 years. 

If you do not own your home you should look into community solar. It was just approved in NY and will allow anybody paying a utility bill to partake in the benefits of clean, renewable solar energy. 

And regardless of whether you rent or own your home, if you are connected to the utility grid, switch your energy service company to Starion

New Yorkers are signing on to go solar at historic rates

Our President Gaelen McKee is featured in the Daily News article, "New Yorkers are signing on to go solar at historic rates." Thanks to Katherine Clarke at the Daily News for putting together this article about solar in NYC. You can read the full length article here

Favorite quote around the office right now:

"Solar isn't just for hippies and rich people it actually does make a ton of sense" - Gaelen McKee

Just to give you a sense on how historic the amount of people going solar in NYC is here is a chart showing solar permits filed in NYC for the past few years. Its a rocket ship!

 Credit: NYC Solar Permits Look Up

Credit: NYC Solar Permits Look Up

Small Commercial Solar in NYC

It is a golden era for solar in New York City. Driven by high electric rates, rich incentives and the ever falling price of solar panels, building owners can now save hundreds of thousands of dollars by switching to clean, renewable solar energy. Whether you just bought your first brownstone or inherited the family business, if you are paying an electric bill and have a roof that receives lots of sun, solar is worth looking into.

Most solar systems that are installed in the country nowadays take advantage of what’s called net metering. Net metering allows for a system to generate electricity in excess of what is being consumed in the building and receive credit for the oversupply. The electricity literally flows back into the grid and the meter spins backwards accruing credit until demand exceeds generation, at which point the meter spins forwards and any built up credit is applied. For every kilowatt hour a solar system supplies the grid, the owner is able to pull one kilowatt hour back from the grid free of charge. In this manner, a system tends to over produce relative to a buildings needs during the day so that at night, the building can draw electricity back from the grid without being charged.

To find out home much energy you use and how much solar generation your site will support, interested business and homeowners should contact a NYSERDA certified installer to come out and conduct a site inspection, which will involve a look at the roof, a look at the electrical panel and a look at the utility bill. Once you know the size and cost, you can then calculate the incentives that are available for going solar, compare your savings to what you would have paid the utility and thus determine a payback period and a total savings scenario.

In terms of incentives, small commercial (under 200 kilowatts) in New York City has some of the riches incentives in the country, qualifying for a state rebate, a federal investment tax credit, a New York City specific property tax abatement and accelerated depreciation.

To illustrate these incentives let’s take a 100 kilowatt, small commercial solar system, which would produce roughly 120,000 kilowatt hours annually, enough to power most small businesses. A fair price for this system, assuming a straightforward installation would be around $3.5 per watt, bringing the total to $350,000 (100,000 watts * $3.5 per watt). The state rebate for this small commercial system in Con Edison territory is $.80 per watt for the first 50,000 watts and $.50 per watt for the next 150,000 watts. At 100,000 watts that comes to $65,000. Most installers will take the rebate directly and reduce it from the total cost of the system so in this scenario, a customer would pay $285,000 for the turn-key system.

Upon purchase the owner then receives a 30% investment tax credit on the cost of the system minus the rebate, or $85,500 ($285,000 * 30%) It is important to note that this is a tax credit, not a deduction, so assuming the business has the tax liability, they will get $85,500 back when they do their taxes. If they do not have the tax liability to use the credit in full in year one it can be carried over for the following four years.

On top of the federal investment tax credit, business owners installing solar in New York City will also qualify for a 20% property tax abatement. The abatement is also calculated on the post rebate value and in our example would equal $57,000 ($285,000 * 20%). This abatement is applied in quarters over four years, so each year a customer would pay $14,250 less on their property taxes.

The final incentive available to commercial projects is accelerated depreciation, more specifically, the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS), which is a method of depreciation where business investments such a solar can be recovered for tax purposes over five years through annual deductions. Although the value of this incentive will depend on one's tax bracket, it is roughly equal to 25% of the post rebate value and in our example, at a 30% federal tax rate it would equal $72,675 as a cash benefit.

So to summarize, a 100 kW system, producing 120,000 kWh annually would break down as follows:

Total Cost - $350,000

Rebate to installer - $65,000

Cost to customer to purchase the system - $285,000

Federal investment tax credit to customer - $85,500 (claimable in year one)

Property tax abatement to customer - $57,000 (applied in quarters over four years)

Accelerated Depreciation to customer - $72,675 (schedule for deduction applied over 5 years)

Net after all incentives - $69,825

If we assume the value of a kilowatt hour to be $.17 factoring out the demand charge that solar is not guaranteed to offset, than 120,000 kWh equals $20,400 worth of electricity annually. That means it will take about 4 years to recoup the solar investment. With guarantees on the equipment that span 25 years, a customer would save $673,944 by going solar over the same period assuming a 3% annual increase in electricity rates. And if the upfront cost is too much to swallow, there is a myriad of loan and leasing options available that will also produce consider savings and allow building owners to go solar for little to zero money out of pocket.

As you may imagine, these incentives are so rich that they will not be available forever. The federal investment tax credit is slated to expire at the end of 2016 and the state rebate is continuously dropping as more people go solar. With so much state and federal support for going solar if you have the ability to do so, now is the time.

NY Solar Summit

Yesterday was the NY Solar Summit. It was a time to reflect on all the success we have had so far in deploying solar in the Empire State and a time to plan for the future and where we want the industry to go. It was also a time to pitch our solar canopy to an audience of solar aficionados. That's right, Brooklyn SolarWorks was selected along with three other companies to participate in the NY Solar Summit pitch contest. The prize? $500 and some bragging rights. The result? Well, the competition was fierce. We went up against Blue Pillar, an energy management solutions system, Energy Sage, a solar quote aggregator and comparison platform, and Sunverge, an integrated solar management and energy storage system. All three companies have seen considerable success and for Brooklyn SolarWorks to even be placed in the same competition was an honor. That said, we lost. When it came down to it the four panelist decided that Sunverge was the company best suited to advance New York's Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) agenda. Yet while we did not win over the judges, we did win over the audience taking the peoples choice award. So we say, congratulations Sunverge! Let's give everybody what they want and build hundreds of canopies with Sunverge integrated solar and storage systems. 

It's Getting Hot Out There

Time to add a solar canopy on your roof. It provides shade and keeps things cooler during those hot summer days. It's also a great idea to paint your roof white. A white roof can reflect up to 90% of the sunlight that hits it, as opposed to a black roof which reflects 20%. Our recommendation, paint it white and commission a Prism bi-facial panel canopy so that the light that reflects off your roof hits the backside of your solar canopy, generating extra electricity. Prism Solar is also a New York based panel manufacturer. Keep it local. 

Here's TR and Matt measuring for a future canopy on top of a beautiful brownstone in Boerum Hill. Time to solarize Brooklyn! 

Rad Roof Imagery

Sometimes we just need to push things a little further out there. Many of my colleagues chuckle at my gadgetry and affinity for all things tech. Loving the Photosperes these days. What better way to get back to a place in nearly full reality. If you haven't checked them out, you should. You'll get hooked. Awesome way to take pictures from your vacations too. What say we help save you some money with solar, and you can take a vacation and go nuts! Just click on the image below and fasten your seat belt.