One advocate's energy plan: Electrifying energy needs


The 2020 New York State Renewable Energy Summit ended with a mission statement: “Does your town have an energy plan?”

All the solar installers agreed New York could install far more renewable energy if the barriers would fall a bit, rather than creep up and up as they have over the past two decades. Solar developers spend thousands of dollars to prepare engineering studies. As they come forward to the town for a permit, a town can implement “home rule” and say no to solar.

In addition, our old transmission infrastructure needs updating, and the renewable energy installers have to pay to upgrade equipment (this is the plan nationally, too). New York’s leading solar developers won’t be here much longer. Demand is great, costs keep plummeting, but the state has barriers, and the margins are under attack.

Newsflash! All of the software tools exist to manage the grid: sun, partly cloudy, wind, no wind. No fear! The New York Independent Systems Operator wants more “no fuel” power generators to place first on its daily auction.

It takes between 4.5 and 7 acres to build one megawatt with solar modules. Megawatts of solar farms won’t happen in our densely populated city.

One elevator cannot be supported by the solar system on an apartment roof. We need wide open spaces, and they are all upstate — except for the Atlantic Ocean.

Here in the city, we can barely comprehend how energy-wasteful it is to have puffy black smoke from untweaked boilers, air-conditioners handing out of windows in winter, and old-fashioned lighting in the back hall. These three energy gobblers set our buildings high on a fat pile of energy wastefulness.

An infrared camera will expose heat escaping a building on a night when the building is about 20 degrees warmer than the outside air. It’s as obvious as those windows we see open in winter. We benchmarked our buildings and turned around and said, “It costs too much to fix it.”

Does it really? The new lending is all about energy efficiency. If you fix your leaky building, you will pay less for heating and cooling. You can pay the loan off with savings. Wall Street loves this formula.

What to do? Electrify. Electric motors, induction stoves and electric heating and cooling curtail gas usage. Have you seen those funny white boxes with a fan inside? They are finally appearing on New York rooftops, terraces, side yards, and can be hung on a bracket alongside your apartment.

We call these “air source” or “heat pumps.” The heat or AC actually comes from warm molecules captured from the air. The pipe into your home takes up a 2-inch hole instead of a whole window.

It’s the same with electric cars. Extracting oil, making gasoline, delivering gasoline to thousands of gas stations, burning gas in an inefficient engine, and discharging heat and polluted air? Driving around the block looking for a parking spot? We need quiet, no service electric cars and convenient garage spaces where we can all charge equitably.

Con Edison is doing a four-year study of five chargers to be located on the street in parking places. Why so long?

Loud, gas-powered mowers, blowers and trimmers smell horrible and pollute us with deadly particulate matter. Go electric and check out the interchangeable batteries that power multiple machines like snow blowers and lawnmowers. Forget the gas can. Electric motors are cheaper to operate.

Lastly, while other countries have built giant wind farms and mastered the technology to bring big wind onto shore, New York City builds more gas lines. We can get a new gas line from New Jersey to Greenwich Village. We can fill that pipeline with fracked gas, which may have polluted someone’s well water.

What will power our future? Here in Riverdale, it will be clean energy and conservation.

The author is president and founder of the New York Solar Energy Society, and vice chair and fellow for the American Solar Energy Society.

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