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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bright Lights, Big City

Air Date: Week of

An artist’s rendering of what the billboard will look like when it is complete. The wind turbines are in columns on either side of the billboard. The solar panels are above. (Photo courtesy of Ricoh Americas Corporation)

Times Square is famous – or infamous - for its illuminated billboards. Starting in December, there will to be a new sign on the block – one that runs on 100 percent renewable energy. Living on Earth’s Jessie Martin goes to New York City to investigate


GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. It was poet Ogden Nash who wrote “I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree.” Well, if Ogden Nash were alive now to take a trip to Times Square in New York City – he might get quite a surprise - as Living on Earth’s Jessie Martin reports.


MARTIN: Times Square – there’s nowhere else in the world quite like it. Stand on the corner of 7th avenue and 42nd street, look in any direction, day or night, and you’ll face a wall of flashing billboards and glowing LED screens.


MARTIN: Some people love it.

WOMAN: I’m from New York, New York City. And I love Times Square. It’s awesome. Action, energy, everything. Awesome.

A wind turbine during its production in the PacWind facility in Torrance, CA. (Photo courtesy of Ricoh Americas Corporation)

MARTIN: And some don't.

MAN: Oh my good Lord. During holidays avoid it at all costs. If I have a choice I don’t go to midtown.

MARTIN: But starting in December, there’ll be a new glowing billboard in Times Square - one that really stands out - and not because it’s the biggest or the brightest.

POTESKY: It's the first of its kind so it is completely unique. And it will be you know 100% driven by wind and sun and it will shine hopefully a very bright light on Broadway.

MARTIN: That’s Ron Potesky, a senior vice president for marketing at Ricoh, the company that’s building the eco friendly sign. Sixteen wind turbines will be stacked in towers on either side of the billboard. They’re specially designed to use the quirky winds in Times Square, and they work at wind speeds as low as 5 miles an hour. And Potesky says the billboard will also use any sunshine that makes it into the Square thanks to 64 solar panels placed along the top of the sign.

An artist’s rendering of what the billboard will look like when it is complete. The wind turbines are in columns on either side of the billboard. The solar panels are above. (Photo courtesy of Ricoh Americas Corporation)

POTESKY: If there's not wind or sun for a period of time, we may not light and as far as Ricoh's concerned, that's fine. You know, this is a Ricoh advertisement. It’s certainly not a life or death situation if the light goes on. So we're fine. We think it’s kinda cool. You know, worst case you've got a lot of hot air in New York one way or the other, so we'll be fine.

MARTIN: But Potesky doesn’t think that the billboard will go dark too often because it's equipped with batteries that can save up enough energy from the sun and wind to power the sign for four cloudy, still days.

Ricoh estimates that running their billboard on wind and solar energy will save them twelve to fifteen thousand dollars a month in energy costs, but Potesky insists that saving money isn't the company's main aim.

POTESKY: The reason we've developed this ecoboard is to try to promulgate the idea that companies can be responsible and that companies can be creative in the way they save energy. So of course a company like Ricoh or any other large company - we advertise - and we don't think our advertising should leave you know one ounce of carbon to hurt the environment.

MARTIN: In fact, Ricoh estimates that by running their billboard on renewable power, they will prevent 18 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year.

And that impressed at least one New Yorker.

MAN: If I knew that this wasn’t a big electric bill going on here, I don’t think I would be as anti-Times Square.

MARTIN: The Ricoh billboard is scheduled to have it’s grand opening on Thursday, December 4th - if the weather cooperates.

For Living on Earth, I'm Jessie Martin.



Ricoh Americas Corporation


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