Call me a geek, but when Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man , talked about the arc reactor that provides enough energy to power Stark Tower “for a year” in the blockbuster hit “Avengers,” the first question that popped into my head was: “Why not use solar power and get clean, free, sustainable energy forever?”
So I decided to look into it further, because, well, like I said: Geek. Stark Tower was constructed, according to comic book lore, on the top of the existing MetLife (formerly PanAm) building at 200 Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan. It has a south-facing roof with plenty of real estate (even though the building does get more narrow as it climbs toward the sky), and as the tallest building in the immediate area, doesn’t have to worry about shading from other structures.
In fact, solar in New York City isn’t that much of a stretch at all. The City University of New York (CUNY) used a laser system known as LIDAR to map the city’s potential for solar and discovered that two-thirds of the city’s buildings could host an effective solar PV array. The report, shared in the form of a solar map released on the CUNY website, showed that literally hundreds of thousands of buildings could generate close to 6,000 megawatts of electricity. In the summer of 2011, when the report was released, only 400 New York City buildings were taking advantage of solar power.
So the question remains: Why an arc reactor?
Unlike many solar customers, Iron Man just really doesn’t care about cost savings. “Genius. Billionaire. Playboy. Philanthropist” is how Tony Stark describes himself in the movie. The “philanthropy” part may include a bit of eco-consciousness; so far, the arc reactor hasn’t created any ill effects to the environment (the “palladium toxicity” Tony suffers is another story altogether), so it could be considered clean. The technology is sketchy on how the arc reactor works, but it may be similar to a cold fusion reactor, so it’s definitely renewable.
In short, Stark uses the arc reactor because it’s new, exciting and cool … kind of like solar energy today. It’s not too early to be an early adopter with a solar PV installation, and although you won’t be able to power a suit that will let you leap tall buildings in a single bound (oops… some comic book Universe-hopping there!), it can power something equally cool by today’s definitions, like a 50-inch flat screen or a Nissan Leaf.
While we’re on the topic of the Avengers and renewable energy, I have another pet peeve. The entire movie plot was centered around the Avengers, a mismatched team of Marvel superheroes, attempting to recover the Tessaract, a “cosmic cube” that emits enough gamma radiation to power the world indefinitely, after alien super-villain Loki steals it. (Side note: In Norse mythology, Loki is the god of mischief who is often instrumental in bringing about necessary change … the analogies never end!)
This sounds like a very noble goal, since who isn’t for clean, free, sustainable energy, right? (Ask the Hulk just how clean or safe gamma radiation is… but the scientists in the movie say at low levels, it’s “harmless.”)
It was only after I left the theater that I thought about it. The Avengers were risking their lives to obtain something that’s already here. Renewable energy, in the form of solar, and (not to be biased) wind power is all around us. We just need to increase the rates at which we’re harnessing it.
Why not take the opportunity to be a superhero with one small step toward changing the world with your free solar savings report? We promise it will be easier than fighting a self-proclaimed god with delusions of grandeur and a knack for deception.