Green is the new Gucci in New York City. Carrying tote bags to grocery stores is as big a fashion statement as carrying the newest Birkin. New Yorkers grow food on their rooftops, pay millions to live in newly built energy efficient buildings, and love anything with a LEED certified rating on it. So the fact that the city is home to Times Square, and that its residents don’t object to its energy wastage, is surprising.
New York City, in a recent study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEE), was ranked third behind Boston and Portland among 34 cities in its efforts to reduce its energy usage. The city’s rating of 69.75 out of 100 was based on five areas: building, transportation, energy and water utility programs, local government operations, and community-wide initiatives.
New York City has encouraged energy efficient buildings and has included measures to reduce energy usage in many projects. Heavy use of mass transit and the density of the city are two factors that make the city energy efficient. Under Mayor Bloomberg, New York City joined a handful of cities where privately owned buildings must publicly report energy and water use. This effort is seen as a way to shame energy wasters into action, boost value for green buildings, and bring greater transparency to real estate transactions.
Yet, the city is also home to Times Square which uses approximately 161 Megawatts, the energy needed to power 161,000 homes, at any given time. The only other comparable energy user in the United States is the Las Vegas Strip.
It is difficult to estimate the exact amount of electricity the signs and lights in Times Square use since it is part of the theater district which sprawls out for numerous blocks in all directions and also shares a distribution grid with its neighbors. One sign in Times Square can use the same amount of energy needed to power a 30 to 40 story building.
Of course, the significance of Times Square has to be considered when its energy usage is discussed. Though ignored by native New Yorkers, it’s a must see for tourists. The layers of history under the streets, behind the facades of theaters, diners, and stores are undeniable. Once called Longacre Square, it was renamed Times Square for the New York Times in 1904.
By 1928, 264 shows were produced in 76 theaters. Currently, it is the busiest theater district in the world. Electrical signs coined term “the great white way.” Prostitution and sex theater became prevalent in the area after World War II until the area was revamped to what we see today.
It is home to a large collection of news and media outlets, namely Reuters, Viacom, Conde Nast, and of course the New York Times. The fact that it is a part of the city’s fabric cannot be ignored. But is there a way for it to be so while joining the trend of energy efficiency?
Times Square has come to terms with its own energy inefficiency and seemingly, in an attempt to make up for it, used a ball made of energy efficient LEDs for the ball drop counting down to 2012. This twelve thousand pound ball and its 32000 LEDs used as much energy as two wall ovens.
In 2008, the Times Square Arts Center had its lighting apparatus changed to install more energy efficient systems. This reduced energy usage by 190,000 kwh and saves two hundred thousand pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Another great stride towards eco-friendly advertising was made by the Japanese camera company Ricoh when they installed a billboard powered solely through solar power at 3 times square in June 2010. The sign weighs 35,000 pounds, is 126 feet high, 47 feet wide, and is powered by the sun using 62 solar panels and 24 thin film PV solar modules. It is illuminated by 16 LED floodlights.
The energy produced from this technology is enough to light six homes for a year and prevents 18 tons of carbon from going into the air. At any given time, there is enough energy stored to light the sign for four days, but surprisingly, Ricoh is willing to allow the sign to go dark rather than use the grid in emergency scenarios.
Residents of New York usually ignore Times Square as a tourist destination. Most New Yorkers do not go to that area unless they are going to see a Broadway show. And even then, they don’t spend much time loitering around Times Square. However, if residents don’t take on a more active role, it will be the slowest part of the city to adapt to the newer energy efficiency standards.