Sustainable CUNY in New York City, New York

With the help of the City University of New York (CUNY), New York City has not only achieved a SolSmart Gold designation but has also made solar energy more accessible for millions of New Yorkers.

Staff celebrate NYC’s SolSmart Gold designation on a rooftop covered in solar panels.

The NYC Solar Partnership is led by Sustainable CUNY, which works collaboratively with the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the NYC Economic Development Corporation, and CUNY to promote an equitable and self-sustaining solar market. The city’s goal is to install 1,000 MW of solar by 2030, with a target of 100 MWh of energy storage to support resiliency during outages.


In 2006, solar production was negligible in NYC due to extensive technical and policy barriers and a lack of incentives, standardization, and cohesion among agencies and utilities.

Sustainable CUNY, a program of one of the largest university systems in America, initially formed the NYC Solar Partnership in 2006. Sustainable CUNY is working with the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) in developing and implementing a comprehensive plan for large-scale solar and associated economic development in New York City. The plan now involves over 40 partner organizations, including federal, state, and city agencies, plus nonprofit organizations.

In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio launched an initiative titled One City: Built to Last that included two new programs: Solarize NYC and Shared Solar NYC. These programs make solar energy more accessible to all New Yorkers, including renters and low-income residents of housing developments.

The city has also helped make solar energy more accessible and easy to implement by creating an interactive solar map at, which allows property owners to enter their address and get an instant assessment of whether solar energy would work for them.

NYC Solar Ombudsmen and Solar Pioneers

The city’s initiatives include the use of a team of Solar Ombudsmen, who provide assistance with permitting for solar installations by assisting with permit requirements, coordinating solar projects between city-owned properties and other entities, connecting installers and their customers to financing and incentive opportunities, and providing installers, businesses, and residents with educational resources to help accelerate investments in solar power. Meet the Solar Ombudsmen.

One of the goals of the Solar Ombudsmen is to expand solar access to ensure it is more equitably distributed by targeting additional assistance for communities that have historically had limited access due to financial hardship, technical constraints, or other reasons. This includes community-based group purchasing and shared solar programs.

The city has also established a Shared Solar NYC Gateway to help property owners compare quotes, examine bidder information, and get technical assistance as needed from the ombudsmen. The Gateway is an online marketplace created for property owners in NYC to explore the opportunity to host a community-shared solar project and connect with vetted solar developers.

One of Solarize NYC’s programs also helped train local youth in promoting and installing solar energy. The training program, called Solar Pioneers, involved a one-day “boot camp” to educate youth trainees in Brooklyn about the benefits and other aspects of solar power, help them develop messaging for use with local residents, and provide an understanding of how solar can be installed on local homes. More than 30 young people were trained through the program, which was recognized by DOE’s Solar in Your Community Challenge.

Going for Gold

New York City was designated as a SolSmart Gold community in 2017. As the biggest city in the SolSmart portfolio, New York City showed that it could streamline permitting processes across agencies and clearly demonstrate a commitment to solar. The city has also worked to eliminate zoning codes and restrictions that were unnecessarily prohibitive to solar PV development. Beyond making procedural enhancements, NYC has made solar information more transparent and easier to access with online checklists and services, like the NY Solar Map.


As a result of the work of Sustainable CUNY and the NYC Solar Partnership, installed capacity of solar energy in the city has grown from 2.6 MW in 2010 to over 200 MW in 2019, with 50 MW being added in 2019 alone. Some of the other initiatives that have helped make this accomplishment possible, in addition to those described above, are installer training, interagency workshops, a zoning guide, commercial solar initiatives, and the designation of strategic zones. The city is well on its way to its goal of 1,000 MW of installed solar capacity by 2030.

This case study was written by the National Civic League