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Coney Island Subway Complex Gets First-of-its Kind Solar Energy Installation

The New York City Transit Complex on Coney Island has a new solar thermal installationConey Island, home of famous hot dogs, sideshows, and a heart-numbing roller coaster, has just added a pioneering solar energy installation to its roster of  points-of-interest.  The  new solar array has been installed at the New York City Transit Complex, a maintenance and repair facility that services many of the city’s subway cars.


Though by nature investment in mass transit is a sustainability measure, the new installation underscores how much can be accomplished by retrofitting existing systems.  In addition to reducing energy costs and cutting greenhouse gasses, the installation’s cutting-edge solar thermal technology enables it to function in cold weather without using toxic antifreeze chemicals.

Solar Thermal Technology and Anti-Freeze

Solar energy thermal installations use a heat-exchange mechanism to capture power from the sun and transfer it to water, as compared to photovoltaic systems that convert solar energy directly to electricity.  Solar thermal installations are used to provide hot water for various uses.  In warm climates an anti-freeze is not necessary, but it is essential in cold weather, and partly for that reason large-scale solar thermal arrays are still relatively rare.   Because of its closed-loop pressurized design, which uses a vacuum to provide insulation, the Coney Island installation operates without any antifreeze at all, making it the first of its kind in the U.S.

New York City Subways and Energy Efficiency

The Coney Island installation consists of 48 panels, replacing an electric hot water tank.  It will help provide hot water for cleaning subways cars as well as for wash-up facilities used by the employees.  The $1.1 million array, combined with new high efficiency lighting system recently installed at other transit facilities, is expected to save about $170,000 per year in energy costs and cut the city’s mass transit greenhouse gas emissions by more than 3,000 tons.  The New York Power Authority, which provided financing for the projects, has invested a total of $3 million on energy efficiency upgrades in recent years, including the solar installation and lighting upgrades, wireless remote-control power systems, a fuel cell, and a photovoltaic array.

Mass Transit and Greenhouse Gasses

There is no such thing as a no-brainer when it comes to broad new climate change initiatives, but more investment in mass transit sure comes close.  Making the present system less reliant on fossil fuels is just part of the picture.  Availability and affordability are also essential, and yet due to the economic crisis many U.S. transit systems are cutting operations while raising fares.  Senator Chris Dodd’s new emergency funding bill for mass transit is desperately needed as a stopgap measure, but only a permanent, massive shift in public resources away from fossil fuel subsidies will accomplish the long term goal of making sustainable mass transit more available and affordable.

Image (altered): Coney Island rollercoaster by nitdoggx on

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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