January 11, 2009

‘Green’ Billboard Ready For Times Square

A new "Eco-board" that relies upon only wind and solar power is ready to make its debut in New York's Time Square.  The giant billboard, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, weighs 35,000 pounds and will be powered by 64 solar panels and 16 custom built vertical wind turbines.

Its maker, Japan-based Ricoh Company Ltd., said that wind whistling between the city's skyscrapers should keep the Eco-board constantly lit.  The company aims to have the billboard operational by the end of January.

"On the corner of 42nd (Street) and 7th (Avenue) there is a lot of wind. So we expect that this will be lit 24 hours a day seven days a week, mainly by wind power, a little bit by the sun," said Ricoh spokesman Ron Potesky.

He said the power generated from the wind turbines will comprise 95 percent of the energy required to run the Eco-board, which is 47 feet high by 126 feet long and carries the company's name in large red letters.

"We wanted to make a statement that we can put up a advertisement and not impact the environment, so that began the journey to Times Square."

Times Square, a congested section of midtown Manhattan, hosts hundreds of large, brightly lit billboards and video screens, and is an ideal location for the Eco-board's debut.

The Eco-board's turbines, purpose build by California wind technology company PacWind LLC, are installed vertically.  The design was remarkably efficient in comparison to traditional propeller types, said PacWind CEO Mary Watkins.

"They make more energy than typical turbines, traditional style, because they can spin for longer amounts of time," she told Reuters.

"When other turbines have to stop spinning because the wind is too high, our turbines can keep going and the higher the wind the more power they produce."

However, according to Potesky, the costs for the project exceed $1 million for the technology and installation alone.

"Yes we are spending money. We are spending money on Times Square property and we are paying for the technology, but we are not paying for energy," he said.

"That billboard will be lit by the wind and the sun and that will be free. So we think there is a long-term payback but a short-term investment."

The most significant environmental factor and the biggest difference between Ricoh's board and others is what it will not be producing -- 18 tons of carbon per year.

Potesky said he hopes other companies follow in Ricoh's footsteps.

"You could light a city for a year if we just converted billboards to non-fossil-fuel-based energy," he said.


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