Could This NYC Energy Plan be a Blueprint Around the World?
A politics-neutral report on how to vastly reduce New York City’s energy use could serve as a model for cities around the country, and around the world.
Some of the plans make a huge amount of sense, especially for a city like NYC with a well-developed transit system and large inventory of existing buildings.
In NYC, most of those buildings have flat roofs. I have long advocated using those roofs for food and energy self-sufficiency, through garden spaces and solar collectors. The report points out that solar hot water is 60-70% efficient–far better than photovoltaic (solar systems that change sunlight into electricity). In my own very non-urban house, my experience bears this out. Our solar hot water system works extremely well, but our photovoltaic panels generate a much smaller percentage of our energy than I’d hoped. The three hot water panels immediately sliced out a big part of our electric bill (we had been heating our water with electricity), while the four PV panels made a much smaller reduction.
Better still, says the report, would be a crash program to retrofit existing buildings with low-energy light bulbs and capture the heated or cooled waste air that escapes (often because tenants in overheated apartment buildings actually keep windows open in winter!).
Combine that with a serious program to switch from cars and trucks to other transit alternatives, and NYC would slash its energy use.
While this report mentions a number of technological alternatives to conventional fossil fuels, I feel one area where it’s weak is in evaluating those technologies. It gives lip service to the major problem of food displacement if there was a widespread switch to biofuels, but doesn’t go into any detail. And then it brings up tired dead horses with high energy and pollution costs, such as oil shale extraction. Haven’t we learned something in the last 30 years?
Still, this report has enough easily- and cheaply-implemented strategies to be well worth a look–as long as we use a critical thinking filter to evaluate the ecological and dollar consequences of each recommendation.