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Found a Huge Solar Thermal Installation In NYC… But There Was a Catch

On a recent winter trip to New York City, I was eager to find images of solar thermal and to seeing many of the city’s apartment building rooftops taking advantage of solar hot water.

Solar thermal applications in New York make financial sense because most apartments have central water heating systems. Thus, landlords and co-ops are paying for their residents’ oil or gas heated hot water bills for domestic clothes washing, bathing, and dish washing. With a properly sized and engineered solar thermal system, 50% to 70% of a multi-unit residential building’s hot water bills could be eliminated, capturing more net rental income for the landlord or reducing the co-op’s maintenance costs for its owners.

With New York’s fairly generous solar thermal rebates, plus the Federal 30% Investment Tax Credit for solar, I expected to see many buildings embracing solar hot water…. but I was wrong.

None of my solar connections could direct me to any solar thermal installations in Manhattan. A call-out for help through Free Hot Water’s Twitter portal and other social media connections went unanswered. Next, a quick internet search revealed a New York Solar Map, but there was only one solar thermal installation listed in Manhattan.

Since the solar map was populated by volunteers, I decided there had to be more installations than what appeared on the map. So, I walked from the 80’s on the Upper West Side down to Greenwich Village, confident that I would see at least one more installation taking advantage of the West side’s abundant southwestern sun exposure.

Sadly, it was a long walk…. But towards the end, I finally found what I was looking for… or at least I thought I did. It was big, it was tall, and from the looks of the building, the installation was perfectly suited for solar thermal:

Spotted from the West Side Highway: Solar Thermal Installation

 Walking towards the building, I discovered that the installation was sitting on top of an apartment building with a high-end fitness center renting the bottom floor. Between the fitness center and the apartment building’s normal residential hot water usage, I thought this installation was a perfect case study of the multiple applications of urban solar water heating applications.

Arriving at the building, I went inside the fitness center to see if I could do an interview with the building’s manager or the fitness center manager. And that’s when I got the true story:

While I had found this huge solar thermal installation in Manhattan, it turned out that the installation was no longer in use. In fact, according to the fitness center manager, it was a very old system that was installed in the 1980’s during the first solar thermal boom…and bust. The fitness center manager also told me that the system had been decommissioned in the 1990’s due to unspecified “problems.” That was all he knew. As for the fitness center, it was just a coincidence that their company had leased the space below the building. Asked about reviving the installation with a new system, his perception of modern solar thermal was that it was too expensive. It wasn’t the right time for a solar thermal advocacy or sales pitch, so I left him my card and thanked him for his time and information.

Does anyone recognize these old solar hot water panels from the 1980’s?

I learned two things from this experience. First, judging by the New York Solar map and my long walk down the West side of Manhattan, a huge potential for solar thermal business remains in New York City. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that local New York solar hot water installers and advocates have a challenging public awareness problem. Solar hot water businesses need to increase their marketing, education, and PR efforts if Manhattan’s market is to grow at the pace of a New York minute. 

If you know of more solar thermal installations in Manhattan, please let us know via solarfred@freehotwater.com. We’d love to update this post!


Nick Kvaal of JLM Energy writes, “It looks like Al Richie’s design to me. Must be Solar Roof. But all the way in NY??????”

Thanks for the update, Nick!

This entry was posted in 30% Investment Tax Credit, New York Solar Thermal, Solar Hot Water for Apartment Buildings, Solar Thermal Space Heating. Bookmark the permalink.

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