On a frigid but sunny day on the deck of NJIT’s Campus Center, with a bank of 160 rooftop solar panels as backdrop, the director of Environment New Jersey delivered an upbeat assessment of the state’s energy future: New Jersey cities are national leaders in installing existing technology – photovoltaic panels – while researchers at universities such as NJIT are hard at work on devices that will harness the Sun’s energy in powerful new ways.
Among American cities, Newark ranks eighth for per capita solar power production at 78 watts a person, and 16th for capacity overall, according to the group’s report, “Shining Cities,” released at a press conference on Monday, the first day of the United Nations’ climate change conference in Paris.
“With prices going down, concern about global warming going up, and continued policy leadership at the city level, solar power is growing rapidly in New Jersey’s cities,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “As the Paris climate talks kick off, our cities can be clean energy catalysts, and help us to meet the EPA Clean Power Plan and reduce air pollution by allowing solar to shine.”
O’Malley called NJIT “an innovator that a decade ago took a leap forward and said, ‘solar makes sense.’ ”
The university’s rooftop panels, which produce 50 kilowatts of power, were installed in 2004 by LB Electric Co., a company founded by alumnus Leon Baptiste ’91 that began as a start-up in NJIT’s Enterprise Development Center. LB Electric later followed up by installing a solar and hot water heater system on the roof of Oak Hall, an NJIT dormitory.
“Achieving a sustainable world is one of NJIT’s core missions, and we view new forms of energy production as central to that goal,” said Donald Sebastian, president of NJIT’s New Jersey Innovation Institute, who noted that the university’s scientists, engineers, and incubator companies had taken up the challenge in diverse ways, from research and development on efficient silicon cell manufacturing technology, to higher-efficiency thin-film photovoltaics, to next-generation, paintable carbon nanotube photovoltaics, to novel architectural design concepts for building-integrated photovoltaics.
“We get it. We love it. We embrace it. And we’re doing everything we can to advance solar energy,” he said. “As Newark emerges as a leading Smart City, NJIT will be there as a partner to infuse cutting-edge technology into practical solutions for sustainable urban living.”
“New Jersey has incredible technical resources,” Lyle Rawlings, president and CEO of the pioneering solar company, Advanced Solar Products, said at the press conference.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka noted that despite fluctuations in the solar market over the past few years, the city has forged ahead with new solar installations by prioritizing the creation and promotion of sustainable development activity throughout the city.
“The city has seen the need to reduce operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions while creating green job opportunities and we have continued to support solutions to reduce the impact of climate change, promote renewable energy, and save money on our increasing utility bills,” Baraka said in a written statement on Monday.
At the Paris climate talks, world leaders also held out the promise of new energy technologies to combat global warming, while they acknowledged the difficulties of securing a binding global agreement on carbon reduction.
“Nobody expected that the price of clean energy would fall as fast as it has or that back in the United States, the solar industry would be creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy,” said President Barack Obama, at a Dec. 1 press conference.
“I hope this is a big issue in the presidential campaign,” said Nicole Redona ’16, (left) a communications and media major from New Brunswick, who said she’s interning with NJPIRG (New Jersey Public Interest Research Group) Student Chapters, an organizer of the press conference, in part to learn more about the impact of energy consumption on both the environment and aspects of civic life, from taxes to education.