In recent memory, New York City's iconic skyline blazed all night long, lit from the lights of thousands of unoccupied offices, cafeterias, stores and other businesses, not to mention apartments of those burning the midnight oil and unshielded streetlights.
But now, after the age of Cheap Oil has apparently passed, building managers have gotten wise to the fact that they can save literally millions of dollars a year by not paying for lighting that no one uses.
As the New York Times points out, attitudes are changing, and it's no longer seen as so fashionable to illuminate the entire breadth of a skyscraper just for the sake of showing off. Today, more buildings are opting to simply illuminate the crowns, lending a muted, yet tasteful and "greener," glow to Manhattan. Companies are saving valuable energy dollars by installing motion sensors, timers and dimmers. In today's economy, it's likely every dollar saved counts.
According to the Times, the New York State Assembly passed legislation in June requiring that new outdoor lighting have shields that reduce glare and waste. The bills sponsor, Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), hopes the State Senate will take up the case, especially if Democrats win a majority in the next election.
On the city level, Councilman Alan J. Gerson has introduced measures to require full streetlight shields and motion detectors in all commercial and government buildings, and to mandate more efficiently lighted billboards. The proposals could be taken up soon, reports the Times.
Such rules can be seen as the natural outgrowth of the federal government's move to mandate more efficient light bulbs across the land, as well as Mayor Bloomberg's fights for congestion pricing and a requirement for hybrid taxicabs, both of which have been met with intense opposition from vested interests.
Of course it's not just energy at issue, there's also something called light pollution, which can disrupt wildlife and robs city dwellers of enjoying the natural night sky, and possibly getting as good a night's sleep.
Perhaps the changes are earning more wider acceptance after people hear rave reviews from some of the city's successful green building projects, from TDG's own home in Hearst Tower, to Bank of America Tower, 7 World Trade Center and the New York Times Building. These buildings have advanced integrated lighting systems that let managers optimize efficiency, remotely detect bulb failures and other features, many of which are starting to see broader deployment around town, including for retrofits.
Interestingly, a number of city landlords are beginning to charge their tenants for electricity use. That's a good thing, because it's an age-old law that people conserve more when they are charged for something. It's human nature.
Looking forward, some building managers are even beginning to install super efficient LEDs (light emitting diodes), which are also very long lasting, and which can offer a greater range of colors. LEDs can drastically lower our energy use, and they don't emit heat and are shatterproof. They're still pretty expensive, but large institutional buyers are in a great position to save money over time with them, and their high volume buying power can help make the economics favorable. Remember too, well lit employees are happy employees, and that means more productivity.
In the same vein, daylighting serves the twin needs of free lighting and more comfortable work spaces.
Also check out this gallery of images from the innovative Earth Hour program, in which folks volunteer to temporarily dim their lights, to let the night sky shine through.
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