By Michael B. Licata
The recent news regarding Solar City’s acquisition of Silevo and the planned Steel Sun project in Lackawanna are impactful on many fronts. Both announcements, including Solar City’s commitment to substantially growing Silevo’s plans for the RiverBend project, are an economic development win for the region. These investments, plus the jobs that come with them, provide even more momentum for Buffalo’s already churning economic turnaround.
The Solar City acquisition and Steel Sun investment also say a lot about the strength of the solar power industry and add to Buffalo’s already strong position in the market. As far as solar power goes, Buffalo was already an ideal location, and now it can be a market leader further backed by Solar City’s investment and strong market presence.
That’s right: Buffalo is an ideal market for solar power.
While our climate has been the butt of more than a few jokes, the truth is that climate and economic conditions in the Northeast make the region very attractive for investments in solar power. First and foremost, there is ample sunshine. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that the Northeast receives, on average, approximately 4.5 hours of direct sunlight every day. At the same time, power costs tend to run significantly higher than in other parts of the country, and, here in New York State, there are strong incentives for renewable energy. Those factors combine to make solar power a sensible choice.
With that also comes the reality that solar systems perform better in cooler conditions. After 77 degrees, the warmer a solar panel gets, the less energy it produces. So, while Western New York has ample sunshine, we also have the benefit, from a solar power perspective, of not having an abundance of heat.
Of course, we do get snow, but so do New Jersey and Germany – the number one state and country for per capita solar installations. In fact, Germany gets less annual sunshine on average than the Northeast United States.
The heavy snow months are generally not good energy-producing months to begin with, so having snow on solar panels in winter has little impact on annual production.
Solar technology has been recognized by the NREL as the most reliable source of electric power. Locally, the presence of solar power continues to grow and it has been used to power significant projects, such as Riverview Solar Technology in Tonawanda.
Development efforts like that and many others, from industrial to commercial to residential and mixed use, as well as the regional economic development climate in general, can benefit from the strength of the solar power industry and significant role that Buffalo can play in its future growth.
Michael B. Licata is director of business development at TM Montante Development and Montante Solar.