Solar power comes to Brooklyn

Home solar power has been booming across the US. But here in New York City, how would one go about going solar? Solarize Brooklyn just guided 23 homes through the process.

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(Photo: Ellen Honigstock via
Solarize Brooklyn has 23 residential installations in the works. (Photo: Ellen Honigstock via

Home solar power has been booming across the US, as the prices of panels drop and systems become cost-competitive with electricity supplied by utilities. But here in New York City how would one go about going solar? The city has an interactive solar map showing how effective residential systems can be (thank you, Sustainable CUNY), but the logistics of researching various systems and incentives, and then choosing a reliable supplier, may seem daunting to a lone homeowner.

A recent community-led program called Solarize Brooklyn tackled this obstacle head-on. The group streamlined the process for homeowners in three Brooklyn neighborhoods; Flatbush, Kensington and Windsor Terrace. The program made solar accessible, affordable, and perhaps most ingeniously, made the effort to “go solar” communal.

Normalizing the idea of solar for homeowners in Brooklyn was the larger goal. Speaking to neighborhood blog Ditmas Park Corner, one of the organizers, Ellen Honigstock, explained: “There is a lot of misinformation out there about solar energy. We moved the needle toward normal just a little bit.”

Solarize Brooklyn began when volunteers from local organizations Sustainable Flatbush and Sustainable Kensington-Windsor Terrace decided to help their neighbors make the transition to solar. With advice from the educational nonprofit Solar One, they gathered a group of interested locals, and chose from a competitive field of solar providers to give estimates at group discount prices. Twenty three households in Kensington, Windsor Terrace, Flatbush and nearby areas are on their way to installing solar energy systems — both solar electric and solar hot water — through the Solarize program. The group’s introductory video describes their approach:

Solarize Brooklyn took the guesswork out of installing solar power by hosting information sessions that put solar providers and potential customers together. Participants came out of the sessions not only informed but with a free assessment (Solarize Brooklyn used EmPower Solar and Quixotic Systems as providers) to determine how well a building is suited for solar and how much it will cost. With information in hand, the client would be free to decide whether to take the next step in going solar.

Solarize committed to their motto, “Don’t do solar alone!” and participants were connected every step of the way to a network of people devoted to helping ease the process, as well as to their neighbors undergoing the same transition. Solarize provided an online forum and FAQ where participants could ask questions and receive feedback from the organizers at Solarize.

In 2013, the 23 residences that chose solar energy through Solarize exceeded the total number of all residential solar systems installed in Brooklyn in 2012. The success of the program points to the effectiveness of the method, and the philosophy that more is accomplished by doing things together than by doing them alone.

As a model for future NYC groups, Solarize Brooklyn may demonstrate that solar installation isn’t just about spreading renewable energy; it can build a community that works towards broader goals.

More tips on going solar can be found on CleanTechnica.