Kiss + Cathcart PV :: Stillwell Av. Subway Station :: NYC
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Solar Power Brightens NYC Commute
By Aaron Dalton
Oct. 28, 2005
CONEY ISLAND, New York -- On a recent October day, torrential rains coursed
in a waterfall from the massive arched roof of the recently refurbished
Stillwell Avenue subway station.
Passengers traversed the water hazard with the grim resolve of New Yorkers
accustomed to the capricious whims of the subway gods. Conductors and other
subway personnel splashed through the cascade, muttering oaths under their
breaths and gesturing to the station around them.
"Hundreds of millions of dollars on this!" exclaimed one to a colleague.
"That's why we can't get a raise."
The Stillwell Avenue station has been heralded as a revolutionary design
thanks to its extensive use of solar power -- a rarity in municipal
transportation services in the United States.
On a sunny day, 60,000 square feet of integrated solar paneling on its roof
can generate 210 kilowatts of power, enough to meet two-thirds of the
station's energy requirements. The solar energy doesn't run the trains, but
is expected to contribute approximately 250,000 solar kilowatt hours per
year to the station's other energy needs -- primarily lighting and air
conditioning in the station and its attached offices and retail stores.
Those stores have not opened just yet. Though the beginnings of the
Stillwell Avenue renovation project date back to the 1990s, full train
service on all four convergent subway lines only returned to the station
this past June. That same month, RWE Schott Solar issued a press release
extolling its work on the terminal, which it called "one of the most
environmentally friendly mass-transportation sites ever built in the United
That claim may very well be accurate, but there isn't much competition when
it comes to American mass-transit green initiatives. New York seems to be
leading the way in adopting solar. In addition to the Stillwell station,
photovoltaic, or PV, cells help power a bus terminal and rail yard in
Queens, as well as the Whitehall Ferry Terminal at the southern tip of
On the other side of the continent, solar cells do double duty by both
shading cars in the parking lot of La Sierra train station in Riverside,
California, and powering elevators, ticket machines and lighting for the
Riverside County Transportation Commission.
Overseas, solar energy has been integrated to a much greater extent into the
public transportation infrastructure.
Craig Munger, an electrical engineer with building design firm Solar Design
Associates, cites a project in Edinburgh, Scotland, that uses solar energy
to illuminate bus shelters with high-intensity light-emitting diodes.
Berlin's Lehrter Station has had its own glass-roofed PV system in place
since 2002. The German station claims to generate slightly more power
(274,000 kWh) than the new Stillwell terminal. The main train station in
Zurich, Switzerland, also features a PV installation.
(pretty amazing page, well worth the click! rc)
In New York, architectural firm Kiss + Cathcart worked with the city's
Metropolitan Transportation Authority to produce the station.
Rather than drawing its power from traditional polycrystalline displays
mounted on a flat roof, the Stillwell Avenue station gets its juice from
2,730 building-integrated PV panels, or BIPVs, built right into a
curvilinear glass roof.
On a clear day, 20 percent to 25 percent of the sunlight hitting the roof of
the above-ground station shines through the glass and forms a dappled
pattern on platform and tracks that meets mandated light levels for safety
Of course, not all the solar rays shine through the roof -- some of them hit
the squares of amorphous silicon thin-film solar paneling manufactured by
RWE Schott Solar. The glass roof and its BIPV panels are designed to
withstand hurricane-force winds while lasting for a minimum of 25 years.
Should an individual panel need to be replaced, the unitized construction of
the roof would make it easy to lift out a defective BIPV section and replace
it with a fresh one.
The new sun-powered Stillwell station didn't come cheap. Total renovation
costs approached $300 million, though it's not clear how much of that came
from expenses related to the solar roof. Refurbishing and installing solar
panels in Germany's Lehrter Station cost Euro 4.3 million in 2002, according
to environmental group European Actions for Renewable Energies.
Whatever the actual cost, Gregory Kiss of Kiss + Cathcart claims that the
Stillwell BIPV system has a lot of intangible value.
"What is unique about our station is that it uses PV glass as the roof's
surface, so that the solar material serves more than one function at a
time," said Kiss. "By replacing a piece of glass that you would have
otherwise had to use, the PV glass provides savings on material costs. It
also has extra value in terms of spirit and perception. You look at the sun
shining through a semitransparent glass canopy and you understand that it is
both producing energy and keeping you sheltered."