Spencer Marr (CUNY): ‘Our resilient energy systems reduce vulnerability to grid outages’

Spencer Marr

In our series of interviews with Smart City Experts we talked to Spencer Marr, Esq. Spencer is working at the intersection of public policy and private enterprise to encourage the widespread adoption of solar + storage across New York City and State. He is focused on engaging the insurance and financial services industries, as well as policy makers as prime stakeholders in increasing the resiliency of buildings and infrastructure.

Prior to Sustainable CUNY (City University of New York) Spencer litigated insurance coverage matters for two New York City law firms. During law school, he worked at various sustainability and energy related companies and government offices because of his long held belief about the importance of sustainability. At CUNY, he gets to combine these experiences, as he is focused on lowering the ‘soft costs’ of installing integrated solar+storage systems (aka ‘resilient PV’) by helping the insurance industry position itself as a stakeholder in the resilient PV development market because these systems are likely to reduce the risk profile of a facility where they are installed.

What Smart City Initiative are you currently working on?

Sustainable CUNY received a Department Of Energy Award to spur solar electric systems for emergency power during power outages in January of 2015. Sustainable CUNY, in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Meister Consultants Group (MCG), is developing a strategic pathway to a more resilient distributed energy system through the NYSolar Smart Distributed Generation (DG) Hub – Resilient Solar Project, a three-year initiative.

Developed by CUNY, the three-year project has created a roadmap for the integration and tracking of resilient solar systems, conducted analysis for deploying resilient solar electric systems on designated critical infrastructure facilities, and is building a calculator for public use.

Sustainable CUNY launched the comprehensive NY Solar Map and Portal on June 20, 2016. The portal contains all the latest information on the Smart DG Hub, including resources on current processes for implementing solar+storage in NYC as well as how you can ‘go solar’ whether you live in NYC, Long Island or in upstate New York.

While the Smart DG Hub has been focused on the reduction of soft costs for quite a while, Spencer is specifically focused on creating a tangible, monetizable value of resiliency by engaging various stakeholders who benefit by having a more resilient energy system. He is focused on the microeconomic scale – how the installation of resilient PV inures to the benefit of the individual system purchaser, its insurers, its mortgage bankers, and its local government.

More detailed information can be found in the report Strategies for Integrating Solar and DG into Emergency Power & Resiliency Planning

Is this a city-only project or can the outcome of the project used elsewhere?

We are focused on New York City and New York State but the implications of the Value of Resiliency project will be global.

How do you set up a business case for smart city initiatives? How do you justify the investments?

The entire Value of Resiliency project is based on the premise that the ability to reduce vulnerability to grid outages through installing resilient PV systems has a real, concrete value that has heretofore not been realized on balance sheets or project prospectuses.

We seek to establish the data necessary to prove that a building with an installed system is less risky, more valuable, and imposes fewer externalities on the public than one without such a system installed, and then build consensus among the real estate community, insurers, banks, and governments as to how to turn these value streams into clear price signals.

What is your smart city vision for the future?

A completely resilient grid where price signals are levelized to encourage a constant uptick in the rate of installation of integrated generation+storage systems.

Where do you get your knowledge about Smart Cities?

Conferences, Greentech Media, Solar WakeUp, and generally interacting with the industry.

*) Note from the editor: are you a Smart City Expert interested in a similar interview, please contact us at info@smartcityhub.com


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