Manhattan’s largest rooftop solar array is about to…

Globally, buildings account for nearly 40 percent of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. That figure includes operational emissions — created by burning fossil fuels to light, heat and cool buildings — as well as emissions generated by the building construction industry.

At the Javits Center, Siemens set out to not only reduce the building’s substantial electricity bills but also improve its resilience during emergencies. Along with hosting big events like the New York International Auto Show and Comic Con, the facility has served as a distribution site for relief supplies after 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and as a temporary field hospital in 2020 during the initial outbreak of Covid-19.

In case there’s a brownout in New York City, you can at least run rudimentary services in this building and keep it safe,” Gratzke said. That’s really the driving force behind this.”

A large metal HVAC unit covered by a solar panel platform
Siemens’ partner Inhabit Solar built custom racks to hoist the solar canopies above existing HVAC units. (Maria Gallucci/Canary Media)

In 2019, the New York Power Authority, the state’s public utility, selected Siemens to design and install the solar-plus-battery system, which is expected to offset more than 1.3 million pounds of carbon emissions per year — equal to taking 262 cars off the road. The clean-energy project is now owned and operated by Calibrant Energy, a joint venture between Siemens and the financial services company Macquarie Group. Under their agreement, the Javits Center will pay Calibrant for the electricity the installation provides.

As Gratzke peered over the field of solar canopies, she explained that, while installing the panels was tricky, building an indoor battery system — the first of its kind in the state — has been a formidable challenge on its own.

The high-capacity battery system will sit inside a parking-garage-like room that engineers have designed with multiple layers of protection, including insulated walls and emergency systems to squelch any flames or contain any leaking gases. The project required obtaining special permits and waivers from city and state agencies, as well as the Fire Department of New York. The last of those are expected to be finalized in the coming weeks.

Along with installing solar panels and batteries, Siemens has developed a real-time monitoring system to optimize the performance of those technologies. That includes tapping the system to power the Javits Center when Manhattan’s power demand is at its highest, helping to reduce strain on the electric grid.

When you look at cities like New York, and you look at convention centers, everybody needs to meet sustainability targets,” Gratzke said. Gesturing at the solar-studded rooftop, she added, This is one very elegant way to get it done.”

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