The NYC Solar Map allows users to estimate the solar energy potential for every building in New York City’s five boroughs.

The big city glow of New York could be coming from more than the bright lights on Broadway. The Big Apple also is increasingly aglow with solar power, particularly from rooftop photovoltaic (PV) solar.

Earlier this year, the city unveiled the New York City Solar Map, a collaborative tool which gives an estimate of solar photovoltaic potential for the one million buildings in the five city boroughs. The interactive map, hosted by The City University of New York (CUNY), is based on information from flights over the city by an airplane equipped with an aerial laser system. The device, known as Lidar for "light image detection and ranging," gathered information on the shape, angle, size, and shade of rooftops along with the surface elevations of ground, buildings, and trees. Analysis of the data showed that the city has a solar potential of 5,800 megawatts peak output—more that 40 percent of the city’s electrical demand at peak times if all the rooftops were fully outfitted with solar. About two-thirds of the city's structures are suitable to house solar panels.

CUNY’s work on the NYC Solar Map was funded through the Energy Department in 2007 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Researchers used the PVWatts solar model from the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory to calculate the effects of azimuth and tilt angle in the map. One CUNY official noted that online users can access the data, analytics, drawing tools, and even the financial information to assist them in planning where to strategically place clean energy technology.

Yet even as the famous skyline was being measured for its solar fit, the interest in solar power was being reflected in the state capital Albany. In Albany, lawmakers were also supporting the spread of solar power. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced in early August that $107 million is now available through the NY-Sun initiative for a major solar power incentive program that will increase the amount of electricity generated by PV systems throughout the state. Then, in the middle of month, the state legislators passed a series of bills under the same initiative that will make solar energy more affordable for homeowners and businesses. The new laws include statewide tax credits for the lease of solar equipment and power purchase agreements, statewide sales tax exemptions for commercial solar equipment, and an extension of the real property tax abatement in New York City for solar installations.

The combination of the map and the state’s solar vision provide a well-lit pathway. Users of the New York City Solar Map can click on buildings and see where PV is installed, and how much electricity is being generated. For now, they will see that there are about 560 installations in the city generating about 11.5 megawatts. But that could change as quickly as a New York minute. With the map educating residents and the state providing tax incentives, the result could be that The City that Never Sleeps will keep on shining day and night thanks to solar power.