Greater awareness of climate, energy security and financial benefits of renewable energy will speed a green recovery

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Aerial view of roof top solar panels
Roof top solar panel installation. Photo by NY State Solar.
If we are to effectively limit global warming, the pandemic recovery must be green. “Pandemic costs clean energy sector nearly 600,000 jobs”,[1] says a recent news headline. Yet a green energy transition is imperative. How to get there? In the end, whether of not the COVID-19 recovery is green or not will be highly dependent on choices governments make: do they throw a lifeline to the polluting sector or boost sustainable infrastructure?[2] Many international organisations have identified COVID-19 recovery action as an opportunity for accelerating the transition to a clean energy future.[3] But this turn of event is not automatic. China, Japan, South Korea are among countries that are steering recovery funds to coal. The US bail-out package is heavily weighted to the fossil fuel industry. There is a good economic argument to support energy retrofits and renewable energy in terms of both job creation and return on investment.[4] Widespread public awareness of the advantages of renewable energy can speed up the transition as Reid Garton, CEO, NY State Solar highlights in the conversation below.
    1. Can you start with an introduction to NY State Solar?
Established in 2015, NY State Solar designs, commissions and installs residential rooftop solar systems in the New York City metro area. Our focus is on customer ownership of their systems, often through the NY-Sun on-bill recovery program. NY State Solar was the #1 solar company on Long Island by total customers in 2019.
    1. What are the factors that have made NY State Solar successful?
Our success can be attributed to our passion for the customer. We believe that home owners should get the full benefit of a solar system. By owning the system, the customer gets the full long-term value of the system. NYSS also works with the customer to access available financial incentives for renewable energy.
    1. The relatively low cost of fossil fuels has been considered a barrier to more widespread use of renewable energy. How will low oil prices and lower energy demand during the lockdown impact investment and growth in the renewable energy sector?
It is not possible to say at this time, however the cost of renewable energy systems is decreasing. All energy systems have capital and operating costs. Our systems have a 25-year warranty and low maintenance costs. One large advantage solar power has over fossil fuels is that there are no fuel costs. Federal and state incentives reduce the capital costs by about 35% which makes it more financially attractive to install and own solar panels.
    1. Will COVID-19 affect the clean energy transition positively or negatively?
On a global scale, COVID will likely be a negative by delaying renewable energy projects. For example, we are currently not allowed to install new systems, even though we could do so safely – all our work is done outdoors and we could maintain appropriate physical-distancing and other safety protocols. In the longer term, the impact of COVID will depend on impact on customer demand during a time of economic uncertainty. Given that renewable energy systems are now financially competitive compared to fossil fuels, the industry can bounce back.
    1. What role can the clean energy transition play in the COVID-19 response?
Renewable energy projects could provide employment opportunities. The design and installation can be done in a way that follows COVID protection measures including physical distancing.
    1. Some people have expressed concern that the closing of the nuclear power plant at Indian Point will result in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels to replace the electricity from the Indian Point Energy Center. Is that a valid concern?
It is a valid concern, given that the production of nuclear energy is zero carbon. However, it is possible that the cost of replacing the electricity from the nuclear power plant with renewable systems, including improved storage, would be lower than the cost of continued operation of the plant or replacing the lost power through fossil fuels.
    1. Based on the experience of NY State Solar, what are the key lessons for a more rapid transition to a low-carbon economy?
There is a need for continued education of the public on the benefits of renewable energy (wind, sun and storage). Not only the climate benefits but also the financial and energy security advantages.
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