Upstate New York Has a Surprisingly Strong Solar Energy Industry

By Matt Buccelli

Those of us who grew up around or currently live in the Hudson River Valley know that it has a lot of wonderful things to offer, from beautiful natural scenery to engaging cultural activities and its close proximity to New York City.   Did you know it also has a leading solar industry cluster?

It’s counterintuitive to think of anywhere in the warm again, cold again, sometimes gorgeous sometimes dreary Northeast as being a leader in solar power, something that by definition requires… well, the sun to shine.  If anyone has ever seen upstate New York in November they know exactly what I’m talking about.

Yet beyond even fairly sizeable installations by local homeowners (7 MW of installed capacity in 2011), and strong utility support (Central Hudson Gas & Electric has been a leader in promoting solar in the region), the Hudson Valley-area solar industry benefits far more from more generic economic assets  – strong infrastructure, a location more or less in the center of the huge Northeastern supply chain, a highly skilled workforce (the region that regrettably produced Jersey Shore’s Snooki still holds college degrees at a rate far above the national average) – than anything else.   All of these factors allow businesses making a variety of parts, from photovoltaic (PV) power systems and inverters to thin-film and building-integrated PV (solar panels embedded in the roof or façade of a building), to flourish.  In September, a Chinese solar company announced that it was establishing its global headquarters at a former IBM campus in East Fishkill, of all places.

Aside from giving supporters of clean energy from upstate New York an opportunity to beat our collective chests, the broader lesson here is that as renewable energy grows, it can provide an opportunity for regions all over the map to take advantage.  Upstate New York may have nowhere near the sun or the space to build a massive utility-scale solar plant, as is now happening in parts of the Southwest.  But we can use our built-in economic advantages to get our piece of the pie, which is really what succeeding in this or any economy is all about.  The bigger solar and other clean technology sectors get, the more opportunities there will be for locations all over the country to share in the riches.

This isn’t just about global warming – in fact it doesn’t have to be at all.  People who want to see a strong economic recovery should support the advancement of an industry with huge growth potential, and the promise of creating good jobs that can’t be outsourced in regions large and small.  Renewable energy in America is in its infancy; with a true commitment to its future, it will only take off further.

A Bright Future in Solar/Photovoltaics (Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation)