New York City has long been known as a place of grit and grime.
But Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants the Big Apple to be known for its “green” values and its increasing reliance on clean forms of energy, such as solar power.
At a news conference last week, Bloomberg announced the installation of solar panels on ten city buildings as part of a pilot program.
“There are solar panels on schools, firehouses, police precincts and other buildings," he said. "In clean tech, the New York City government, I think, is leading by example and we are also being joined by a growing number of private sector companies.”
One of those companies is River 2 River Realty, which owns several luxury Manhattan properties. Company president Dan Neiditch took advantage of generous state and federal tax incentives and rebates to install rooftop solar panels on his 47-story luxury condominium complex in midtown Manhattan.
“We are one of the tallest buildings in the United States with solar on their rooftop," Neiditch says. "I believe it was over 50 percent of the project was rebated to us. Our electric bill we’ve already seen has decreased 20 percent from when we installed the units last year.
We love that, and we also like the fact that this is good for the environment. It’s saving the planet and it’s saving us money.”
The building’s solar panels have also drawn affluent customers who want to “live green.”
“Some people are very adamant about living in a building such as ours, and there are very few out there right now," Neiditch says. "But I think over time, as the technology gets better, the trend will be more in that direction. And I think every building in Manhattan should put solar panels on their roof.”
Not all solar installations need to go on the roof. Carlos Berger of Voltaic Solaire, a small alternative energy company in the New York borough of Brooklyn, recently outfitted the facades of a building with so-called “thin film” solar cells, which are made with a silicon-based material that can be made completely transparent.
“The light goes through it," Berger says, "but it also produces electricity.”
The trend toward solar is accelerating, says Jack Hidary, co-founder of Samba Energy, a New York-based provider of software and clean energy services.
According to Hidary, the data show that solar power installations in the United States have increased tenfold since 2009, and that the price keeps dropping as more efficient technology and installation techniques are developed. He notes that the solar cells his brother installed on his own home collect more energy than the family can use.
“The electric meter of that house in Brooklyn runs backwards, because they are getting a credit for the extra electricity they are producing, which they sell back to the utility," Hidary says. "And thus that house has a zero-dollar utility bill for the year. I am very happy about this. This is something where people can save money, businesses can save money and they are doing the right thing in terms of lowering the pollution.”
Indeed, emissions from nearby coal-fired electric power plants can pose a significant health hazard. New Yorkers have far higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses than the national average. Hidary believes the city’s move toward solar power can help.
“By installing lots of solar we can start to reduce the amount of coal we burn and so we can have a healthier population.”
And, says Hidary, there is no shortage of sunlight.
“Ultimately there is more sun, there is more solar power, that hits the land part of the earth - the place where we live - in an hour than we as humans - than seven billion people - use in a year. So the sun is ultimately going to be the source of energy for this planet. That is how we are going to power ourselves in the future. So we might as well just accept that and move to the future right now.”