Making New York City 100% Renewable
It takes approximately 60,000,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity to power New York City annually. Of that, less than a quarter is renewably sourced.
For a city widely regarded as “the greatest city on Earth,” New York has a lot to improve on in terms of it’s sustainability. In fact, of all the mega-cities (cities whose metro areas have a population >10 million) on Earth, NYC ranks dead last in energy efficiency, consuming the most energy despite being just 9th in population size.
We wanted to take deeper dive into why the city that never sleeps is coming up short in the world of sustainability, and figured why not shoot for the moon. Here’s a look into the possibility of making NYC 100% renewable.
It’s important to note that of all the largest cities in the world, New York City’s infrastructure is among the oldest. As opposed to cities like Tokyo, which have experience massive growth and development within the last half century and boast modern infrastructure as a result, the majority of New York City was not built with energy efficiency in mind.
This means that where cities like Tokyo have things like electric railways, sustainable building codes, and designated bike and foot traffic roadways, New York City still has streets congested with cars and buildings with outdated HVAC systems.
While a lot of New York’s energy problems are a direct result of the antiquated design and construction of the city, there are still many options that could help make NYC much more sustainable.
To delve into the possibility of a 100% renewable New York, we broke it down by energy source. By finding out what it would take to fuel the city with each renewable source individually, we get a more encompassing picture of how much the city actually uses and the plausibility in using each one as a factor in making NYC 100% renewable. The sources we’ll be considering are hydroelectricity, solar and wind power.
Hydroelectricity is probably the most ideal renewable energy source. It’s highly predictable as it doesn’t rely too heavily on the weather (compared to solar and wind). And, with modern technology, hydro can convert approximately 90% of obtainable energy into electricity. That being said, building a hydropower plant requires a substantial amount of vacant space, something that is obviously not very available in New York City, and can be pretty expensive to build. Let’s dive deeper into the deets of how that factors into NYC.
Powering New York City with exclusively hydroelectricity would require the equivalent of 14 Hoover Dams (!). That sounds like a scary amount of water. Because it is. In fact, it’s probably more than New York would ever actually consider pursuing for hydroelectricity. That being said, all potential for hydropower is not necessarily lost. Firstly, the state of New York has extensive access to hydroelectricity from upstate lakes and rivers, a lot of which is already being harvested. In addition, NYC is making progress by using underwater turbines to produce electricity in it’s very own East River. Finding the equivalent of 14 Hoover Dams is probably out of the question, but a significant amount of waterways are still available.
Powering NYC with solar electricity would require 12.8 km² of solar panels (almost 5 square miles). Again, as is often the case in New York City, space is the issue here. That many solar panels would cover approximately one quarter of Manhattan.
On the flip side, as solar technology gets more sophisticated (allowing for more efficiency on small, flat roofs) and installation costs drop, we’ll continue to see more and more residential projects incorporate solar panels. In 2016, 5,300 projects utilized solar compared to just 186 in 2011. On top of that, the State of New York now is offering tax rebates as an added incentive for homeowners to install solar panels of their own. Though it’s definitely impractical to build a large solar grid in the New York City area, as panels to continue to be built around the state, the potential for solar power continues to grow.
Finally, wind power, like solar, requires a LOT of space. In fact, running NYC on exclusively wind energy would require the equivalent of half of Long Island to be covered in wind turbines. While this sounds less than ideal for a densely populated metro area like New York, the biggest appeal of using wind turbines to power NYC is that they don’t have to be built over land and can oftentimes be more advantageous over the ocean.
Currently, a Norwegian company called Statoil has begun work on building turbines in a 15 mile stretch of water off the coast of Long Island that has the potential to create 1,500,000 kilowatts of power (enough for 1 million homes). In addition to this, the US Department of Energy has said there are currently 25 different projects with a generating capacity of 24,000,000 kilowatts being planned in the US.
The largest opposition to offshore turbines thus far has been regarding the obstruction of ocean views for local residents, but advances in construction are now allowing companies to build turbines further offshore, out of sight from the coastline. The future of wind power looks bright, both for coastal residents and sustainable energy!
All in all, it’s going to take some work before New York City becomes 100% renewable. Like, a lot of work. But government officials and citizens are taking steps in the right direction. Mayor De Blasio moved to power all NYC government facilities with 100% renewable sources in 2015, and several grassroots organizations have popped up advocating for the city to reach 100% clean energy as soon as 2030.
That may be a stretch, but New York is certainly trending in the right direction, and if state and local government continue to invest in infrastructure to help generate wind, solar and hydro power, anything is possible.
New York has fallen behind a lot of the world in sustainability for now, but that gap appears to be closing quicker than we may believe.