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Is New York City on the cusp of a green revolution?

Host 1: A couple of weeks ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that the company is investing 850 million dollars in an enormous solar energy installation. It is the largest renewable energy deal in history.

Host 2: Apple’s deal is the latest in a recent wave of major investments in green energy that’s leading venture capitalists to invest in green energy firms. A report by accounting firm price waterhouse coopers released last month shows that venture investment into cleantech increased by nearly 40% in 2014 compared the previous year. As Alistair Gardiner reports, the boom may not just be happening in California.


New York City’s first industrial wind turbine sits right on the waters edge in sunset park brooklyn at a company called sims municipal recycling. In the heart of the plant conveyor belts ferry and sort various recyclables. A green sticker on pipes in the room reads “solar”. It carries solar energy from the panels on the roof directly to the machinery.

The company’s Education Coordinator Eadaoin Quinn says that the company just installed the wind turbine and the plant got a lot of attention just over a year ago for their solar installation.

            QUINN: On the day we opened I think it was the biggest in the city. (00:02)

That’s despite the fact that the solar panels and turbine only generate about 20% of the companies energy use. She says that within a few years, both the solar panels and the wind turbine will have paid for themselves. But the firm had an additional incentive.

QUINN: Definitely the business choice is the one that makes it happen, but the original idea was certainly: we’re a recycling company we need to be doing this type of stuff. (00:07)

There aren’t many other businesses in New York City making investments like this, much less Apple’s.

Steven Kuyan is the associate director of the ACRE, the accelerator for cleantech and resilient economies. He says there’s a reason for that.

KUYAN: It’s no surprise that you can’t really put a wind farm or solar panels on the rooftop, because the rooftops are impermeable so you can’t really place anything, so there’s a lot of difficulty that existed in new york city. (00:10)

ACRE opened in 2009 as the first incubator for cleantech in the city and the NYU affiliate is still the largest. The 13 companies being housed by ACRE are not solar or wind companies – they’re working on technologies that aren’t so straight forward.

            KUYAN: So we have a company called hevo-power, that’s creating a solution for commercial vehicles to be completely electro-powered. And they would charge through wireless charging while they’re in a doc and dormant. (00:13)

Other companies are working on small ideas that will have a huge impact. One is developing a smart phone operated blanket for radiators that allows tenants to control when heat comes out and how much. That could help save some of the $2 billion dollars that their research says building owners throw away because they can’t control individual radiators. Kuyan says that could be a big deal in New York City.

            KUYAN: The million buildings in New York City use 94% of all electricity in New York City. And that’s where the markets are. It’s not going out and selling to GE or selling to these big corporations on how to put together wind farms. It’s these small wins about going to buildings and saying: OK this is what you can be doing to affect your bottom line and you’ll be saving the environment. (00:19)

Kuyan says deals like Apple’s won’t save the cleantech industry.

KUYAN: It’s gonna be the small $5-10 million investments. Each one of these buildings one by one becoming more energy efficient and implementing these technologies. That will eventually in the long run have a bigger impact than the $850 million that Apple spent. (00:26)

Eadaoin Quinn says that Sims Municipal could be in the market for technology like this.

QUINN: We’re always looking for how to be on the progressive edge of using alternative energy. And also saving money.

The experience will be bright for companies if they experience the same kind of widespread adoption that solar has in the city. In 2005 there were only 45. Now there are around 2600 solar installations.

For Columbia Radio News, I’m Alistair Gardiner.

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