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Where Are All the Green Roofs and Rooftop Solar Installations?

Many folks have talked for a while about the benefits of green roofs and rooftop solar panels. But how many commercial properties have these features? In New York City, apparently not many of them. Buildings account for 20 percent of the surface area in NYC, and out of more than one million buildings, a recent study could only identify 736 green roofs. That’s less than 0.1 percent of the total, according to the study in Ecology & Society, and most were concentrated in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. The researchers said other boroughs in New York had few to no green roofs.

Another study was conducted by Archipelago, a commercial property risk platform that analyzed nearly 300 NYC buildings for rooftop solar panels. None of the properties that responded to the survey said they had solar installed. Both these studies are relatively small sample sizes, so they may not statistically represent New York City buildings at large. But the findings are intriguing, given the recent incentives to increase the amount of solar energy production close to the places where it is consumed.

Despite the perception of a growing solar industry, rooftop solar isn’t as common as we think. Rooftop solar and green roofs are not new sustainability features by any means, so all these statistics added up are a bit surprising, especially in a city like New York facing the looming regulations from Local Law 97. Maybe green roofs and rooftop solar aren’t as great as marketed. Or perhaps the average building owner isn’t investing as much in green building tech as we’ve been led to believe.

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