The U.S. energy market is in the midst of a solar boom. Total installed capacity has increased more than 1200% in the last five years and costs have dropped significantly — system pricing dropped 17% in 2015 alone1. This is good news for NYC metro data center owners and operators, who can take advantage of local rebates and tax credits to cost effectively leverage this proven technology to increase reliability and uptime while reducing energy costs.

Increase Reliability and Uptime

Historically, the main benefit of solar PV to a data center came in the form of net metering. The electricity generated from the system would offset the cost of utility power. Solar could not be used for backup power due its inherent unpredictability: electrons only flowed when the sun was shining. However, a new approach to system design incorporates battery storage, creating a more predictable and resilient power source that can augment or replace other backup systems.

Batteries are nothing new to data centers. Uninterruptable power supplies provide instantaneous backup power for short-duration events until grid power is restored or diesel back-up generators come online. These lead acid batteries can be supplemented with lithium-ion, redox flow, and zinc-air batteries that provide longer discharges (2 to 12 hours), allowing data center operators to increase resiliency and manage peak load.

Installing an adequately sized solar+storage system increases resiliency by providing a power source that can power critical loads through an outage. These systems can augment existing diesel backup in a hybrid function similar to a hybrid electric vehicle. This can improve the overall resiliency of a data center. For example, in the event of a major storm like Hurricane Sandy, where fuel deliveries can be impacted, the renewable energy generation can reduce the need for fuel and extend the run time of the generators.

A solar+storage solution can also be used to manage a facility’s peak load contribution and limit costly demand charges from utilities. For example, Willdan has seen electric demand spike during equipment commissioning, costing our clients thousands of dollars in additional utility costs.

Reduce Payback Period

Solar tax credits and other local rebates significantly decrease solar payback. In New York, Governor Cuomo’s New York Sun initiative provides strong incentives for solar installations. In neighboring New Jersey, Solar Renewable Energy Credits offer attractive incentives and PJM ISO offers additional revenue streams for providing ancillary services to the grid. Willdan recently evaluated data center solar+storage systems for a data center in New Jersey and found that the payback is under five years.

Data center owners can also take advantage of the Federal Investment Tax Credit, which provides a credit equal to 30% of the qualified install cost of the solar photovoltaic (PV) system and the battery. Additional cost reductions are achieved if solar and storage are integrated through a shared inverter.

The time is ripe for NYC metro data center owners to increase reliability and reduce utility costs through solar solutions. The price for solar is lower than ever, but is unlikely to stay low  — utility incentives and tax credits will inevitably ramp down as the market for solar becomes more and more self-sustained.