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Designing Solar for High Density Areas

Hear the term “solar energy” and you’re likely to think of vast fields of glistening panels and hillsides transformed into disco balls. Hear the term “solar energy” and you might picture suburban McMansions with roofs that reflect the sky. Hear the term “solar energy” and you envision… skyscrapers? Affordable housing units? Clusters of panels lurking in the crevices of a city skyline?

By 2050, solar energy is projected to be the world’s largest source of electricity, and it would hardly be reasonable to do so by means of blanketing entire stretches of usable or natural lands with sheets of silicon. Instead, part of the solution lies in designing solar for high density areas, which is quickly becoming the backbone of the solar boom, providing access to, and availability of, solar energy in densely populated areas.

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Solar Photovoltaics and New York Energy Code

Industry Trends

Over the past decade, the story of solar photovoltaic (PV) power has been one of both accelerating deployment and consistent, significant reductions in cost. This success has been driven by increasingly advantageous economies of scale, and supported by incentives and initiatives at all levels of government.

Figure 1. Solar PV systems have seen a dramatic reduction in cost

In late 2015, the federal Investment Tax Credit [3], a primary financial incentive for solar PV systems, was extended at its current rate of 30% through 2019, despite a contentious environment in Washington. It is scheduled to be stepped down through 2022, after which the commercial credit will expire and the residential credit [7] will remain at 10% indefinitely.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s annual solar benchmarking report [4] shows that over the past seven years, PV system costs have dropped 58.5% in the residential sector, 59.3% in the commercial sector, and 68.2% in the utility-scale sector. As a clear sign of the times, utility-scale solar achieved the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative’s goal of $1.00/W early this year, three years ahead of schedule [9]. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) [8], these trends should continue, leading to solar power’s increasing presence as a key component of the national electrical generation mix. The EIA projects solar to be the fastest growing form of renewable energy, increasing by 44% by the end of 2018 for a total deployed capacity of 31 GW and accounting for 1.4% of utility-scale electricity generation.

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Why the Whole Building Approach Matters

At Steven Winter Associates, Inc., we support the whole building approach to design and construction by doing our best to ensure that projects meet sustainability, energy efficiency, and accessibility requirements, among other design strategies and goals. From our perspective, accessibility compliance is a key factor in determining whether a project is truly sustainable and efficient.

The Whole Building Approach to Design (from the Whole Building Design Guide, “Design Objectives”)

As an example, I was recently contacted by a New York City-based housing developer. They received a letter from an attorney stating that three of their recently constructed projects in New York City were “tested” and found to be noncompliant with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the New York City Building Code. SWA toured the buildings and confirmed that the allegations were in fact true. We identified issues such as excessive cross slopes along the concrete entrance walk, the presence of steps between dwelling units and their associated terraces, the lack of properly sized kitchens and bathrooms, the lack of compliant clear width provided by all user passage doors, etc. It quickly became apparent to us and to the developer that the cost of the remediation required to bring the projects into full compliance would be astronomical.

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2016 New York Energy Codes: Commercial Edition

By Sunitha Sarveswaran, Energy Engineer

Multifmily Buildings

Multifamily buildings greater than three stories follow the commercial section

It has now officially been over one month since the 2016 NYS energy code went into effect. In a recent blog post, we covered some of the significant changes for residential buildings in New York. In this post, we will explore the substantive changes made in the commercial code section, particularly with respect to envelope and air barrier requirements.

As a reminder, in this post, we are referring to retail, commercial, or larger than three-story R-2, R-3, or R-4 buildings. New York buildings can choose between one of two compliance pathways: ASHRAE 90.1 2013 or IECC 2015, by applying the appropriate state and city amendments. Prescriptive as well as performance options are available, depending on the chosen pathway. Read more

2016 New York Energy Codes: Residential Section

By Steve Klocke, Senior Sustainability Consultant

A week has passed since the new energy code went into effect in New York State and New York City. Did you miss it? Hopefully not, but we thought it might be helpful to review some of the new requirements in the residential section (stay tuned for future posts on the commercial section).

Attached Single Family

Attached single-family dwellings follow Residential section.

In case you need a refresher on what constitutes a residential building, we’re talking about “detached one- and two-family dwellings and multiple single-family dwellings (townhouses) as well as Group R-2, R-3 and R-4 buildings three stories or less in height above grade plane.” Here are the documents you’ll need:
1. 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)
2. 2016 Supplement to the New York State Energy Conservation Construction Code (NYSECC)
3.2016 New York City Energy Conservation Construction Code (NYCECC)

New York City did us a favor and put everything into one document, but we weren’t so lucky with the state code – you’ll have to cross reference the supplement with IECC (links 1 and 2 above). All of the residential codes are now denoted with an “R” prefix (as compared to “C” for commercial).

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