Ever wonder where your electricity comes from? There are around 8.3 million people living in New York City and keeping up with the demand for so many people requires massive amounts of electricity. In 2007, New York City consumed 55,000 gigawatt hours of electricity, 32% of New York State’s total annual demand.  That’s almost twice as much energy as Mount St. Helen’s produced when it erupted in 1980. That’s also more than most countries, including Romania (49,400 gWh), and Portugal (48,000 gWh) both of which have significantly higher populations. That’s a lot of electricity, and the demand is only going up. 55,000 gigawatt hours is no small feat, and keeping up with this demand places a huge energy burden on the city.

Times Square alone uses thousands of kilowatts of electricity daily

In fact, New York City meets 80% of its own power demand from facilities right here in the city. According to the NYC Energy Task Force, these facilities are comprised of fossil fuel power plants that either burn natural gas or fuel oil. Newer power plants are being built to run solely on natural gas, because, as companies like Con Edison point out, natural gas is both cheaper and cleaner to burn. Most of New York City’s natural gas comes all the way from gas fields in Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf of Mexico. In 2003 alone, these pipelines delivered almost 700 million cubic feet of natural gas to the city. However, while natural gas is a cleaner alternative to oil, there are several problems with the current power distribution system in the city.

ConEd Power plant in NYC

NYC’s power plants are, on average, more than 30 years old, and several are more than 45 years old. These plants use up to 60% more fuel and produce several times the pollution of newer plants. This kind of inefficiency can cost billions of dollars in addition to producing immense levels of carbon emissions and other pollutants. Replacing these older plants with newer ones is a costly process, and one that is already underway. However, the city faces challenges in balancing the phasing out of these old plants, while still meeting the city’s vociferous demand for power.

There is a brighter alternative for meeting demand for power. Currently, solar power supplies only 1 megawatt of the city’s power. However, according to a study done by CUNY, enough solar energy falls on the city to more than double the city’s energy requirements.  If NYC put more of its energies into harnessing this raw energy, up to 18% of the demand could be met by clean, cheap solar energy.

Sustainable CUNY’s solar map of NYC, red spots indicate areas of high exposure

NYC’s energy plan to sustainably meet future demands relies heavily on the maintenance and expansion of natural gas pipelines and power plants. However, solar energy is an underdeveloped industry waiting to be tapped that doesn’t have to come all the way from the Gulf of Mexico, but can be produced cleanly and efficiently right here on our own rooftops. Check out PlaNYC: for more information about NYC’s plan to increase energy efficiency and New York’s Solar Roadmap for more information about the growing solar market here in the city.

By: Bekah Holloway