New York state is going to need 23 GW more solar power

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The New York Senate, and as of last night/early this morning, the House have voted to move the state’s electricity generation to 70% renewables by 2030 and 100% carbon free by 2040.

Now, the United States has two future renewable monsters on the coasts – California and New York – who between them have about 60 million people, almost a fifth of the population of the country. New York’s electricity demand would make it around the 25th largest nation on earth. Meaning it’s going to take a lot of work to get to 70% renewables in the next decade.

Roughly, New York’s retail electricity sales was 148 TWh in 2018, per the EIA. For the purpose of this analysis we’re going to grow that value by 1% compounding annually as we’re suggesting electric vehicles and general electrification outpace efficiency gains.

Meaning we’ll have to cover 70% of 167 TWh – about 117 TWh – with, “solar thermal, photovoltaics, on land and offshore wind, hydroelectric, geothermal electric, geothermal ground source heat, tidal energy, wave energy, ocean thermal, (or) fuel cells which do not utilize a fossil fuel resource in the process of generating electricity” (pdf of Senate legislation).

Currently, the state gets about 60% of its electricity from CO2 free sources – including about 29 TWh worth of hydroelectric, wind and solar power. As well, the state has contracted or legislated further renewable electricity generation. There is 9 GW of offshore wind, 6 GW of DG solar, and 7.1 TWh a year of already contracted large scale wind+solar in 2017 and 2018.

When summed up, these sources will generate about 84 TWh of the 117 TWh that we project will be needed in 2030. Leaving the need to build out capacity that can generate another 33 TWh of renewable electricity.

As an editorial decision, we project that of the future electricity, 80% of it will come from solar, and 20% from wind mirroring the large scale bids going on in the state currently. Meaning that the state will need 26 TWh of future solar and 7 TWh of future wind. Using capacity factors of 20% for the utility scale solar, and 26% for the onshore wind it turns out that we’ll need about 15 GW of utility scale solar and 2.6 GW of wind – in addition to what the state has already solicited through large-scale auctions, and the 6 GW of distributed solar required under the new law, which puts us over 23 GW of future solar power capacity.

There are many factors that can affect these numbers. For instance,will the state overbuild in order to limit the amount of storage and backup gas needed? Will electrification grow demand greater? Will offshore wind grow faster? Will the state ever build the powerline down from Quebec to get that sweet sweet hydroelectric power? As a smart person once said, “it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future” – but what we can predict is that there will be a lot of new solar power capacity built in the state of New York during the 2020s.

Edits were done to this article after 10 AM due to technical issues as we published the article. Please pardon our technical issues.