Code Consulting Keeps Solar Grid Installation on Track

By Robert Proffitt, R.A.

Last year, energy management experts at Bright Power and architects at Thread Collective approached Metropolis Group for assistance with a pilot program in Brooklyn: creating a solar-powered electrical grid in an urban environment. Our experience with solar grid installation, extensive code and zoning expertise, and creative problem-solving skills are paying off as the leading-edge project moves closer to fruition.

Standalone Solar Grid

The client has offered incentives to building owners in Red Hook and Coney Island to install solar panels on their properties and join the experimental grid. Participating buildings will be connected to a warehouse, which houses a unique battery system that converts solar energy into electricity. Solar energy will power the buildings during the day; any unused energy will charge the battery system. In the evening, connected properties will draw electricity from these batteries.

Project Challenges

As an early member of the team, Metropolis has used their building code consulting services to help the client address potential issues from the start, beginning with site selection.

  • Panel placement. When the solar panel boom started a decade ago, New Yorkers started complaining about glare, blocked views, etc. The vertical nature of city construction also exposed panels to high winds, creating safety issues. Consequently, today’s zoning regulations limit where panels can be placed and angles of installation. The building code governs how these panels connect to buildings, and the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) enforces requirements to ensure roof access for emergency responders. Understanding this intricate network of regulations allowed Metropolis to recommend properties that would be good candidates, and to guide design professionals to ensure the installations complied with city codes.
  • Safety hazards. Batteries with long lives often use corrosive and/or carcinogenic materials. Potential consequences of their use can be especially devastating in the dense population of an urban environment. Nine months before the anticipated filing date, Metropolis experts began analyzing the relevant fire and safety codes. They realized that the water-based sprinkler system required by code would crack the battery shell and release acid. Partnering with client engineers, they recommended a dual system that uses water at low temperatures and a chemical fire suppressant at higher temperatures. The team has already met with FDNY to present their solution, six months before the filing date.

Innovative Projects, Innovative Solutions

The more creative the construction project, the more likely it will collide with existing codes designed to protect today’s buildings, based on history. Partnering with clients during the planning stages allow prompt identification—and resolution—of issues that can cause expensive delays. In the above example, everything remains on schedule for filing at the end of summer.