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Once Upon a Time in Solar in New York…

Avatar for Tor "Solar Fred" Valenza
Published on 11/22/2009 in
Updated 03/04/2020

Once upon a time, I was a young “Solar Fred” growing up in Manhattan in the 1980’s. I don’t remember what first alerted me, but I somehow learned about what was then known as the Citicorp Center.

Citigroup_centerThat building was originally designed for small scale solar power. As a teenager, I didn’t realize the politics and economics involved in this grand plan, and ultimately, Citicorp failed to produce any solar energy, but it did inspire a young solar city dreamer.

I began telling my friends and family that I was going to be a solar engineer. I was going to design buildings and PV systems that would light up New York with solar power.  Nobody believed me.

To show I was serious about my career aspirations, I built a 5 foot model of a solar apartment building where I envisioned living one day. At a Central Park South art fair, I bought a little solar powered stick figure riding a bicycle  and a solar kit for building a solar oven, a sun dial, and other working solar toys.  I also opened up my first checking account so that my name could be on the brown paper sleeve of  Solar Today magazine, not my Mom’s name. I knew I was preparing myself for MIT and solar engineering greatness….

Solar BikeAnd then I took calculus. …I just didn’t get it and got my worst grades ever in high school. I had the vision,  but I didn’t have the patience to learn the technical process of creating my vision.

And so I turned to what came naturally. I became a writer in many fields, from television to a business writer in various health care specialties.  But then a few years ago, I saw a double feature of “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Who Killed the Electric Car.”  Walking out of that movie theater, I realized that there was still a use for me in solar.

As a boy, I thought I had to invent the technology. Thankfully, many brilliant scientists and engineers had done that work. But what they couldn’t do effectively was explain solar to consumers. As a lifelong communicator, that’s what I did best, and that’s why I’m here on

So what’s with the video? First, I have to thank environmental author Osha Gray Davidson for sharing the above video with me on his website, The Phoenix Sun. The video is a brief case study about The Kips Bay Towers in Midtown Manhattan, which recently installed a 55kW PV system. I know it sounds corny, but when I watched this video, I was moved. I think it’s because it represents my boyhood dream come true. We really can light up New York with solar, and with solar incentives, it’s not only possible, but also affordable.

I hope you’re also inspired by this video, and I sincerely urge you–where ever you live–to see if solar is right for your home, appartment building, or business.

Thank you for considering solar.

Last modified: March 4, 2020

8 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time in Solar in New York…

  1. Avatar for Morris Stephen Morris Stephen says:

    A lot of improvement, bit hoping for a better future with a better solar power plants.

  2. Avatar for PVAddict PVAddict says:

    I took a solar engineering class last May, and as much as I can do basic trig for shading (as far as designing/ installing an array), anything beyond that is nearly impossible for me to comprehend. I’d love to really get into the design and engineering aspect, but my math ability is less-than-stellar…so therefore I’m likely to just keep installing, which is fine with me. :)

  3. Avatar for Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" says:

    Great stuff, Peter. Thanks so much for all of your solar efforts!

  4. Avatar for Peter Peter says:

    Hi Fred, thanks for sharing our movie! And what a great connection with your childhood. Just FYI, we have several other NYC solar videos (and more coming) at our video blog:

    – peter

  5. Avatar for Jim Jenal Jim Jenal says:

    Great post & video. The economics are there and the sort of paybacks mentioned in the video are readily available for commercial building owners. We just need folks to pull the trigger and go forward!
    Getting that message out to a larger and larger audience is as important to this industry as any tech development might be. That’s the proper “calculus” for a successful solar future – go Solar Fred!

  6. Avatar for Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" Tor a.k.a. "Solar Fred" says:

    Dan, I wish I did have photos of that building. Those pics got lost with some other memorabilia when I went to college.

    Perhaps it was my frustration with calculus, but at a certain point, it just was taking up a lot of space in my room, and I admit I did trash it with a couple of friends of mine. I do remember taking pictures before that, but my parents moved several times, and you know what happens when you move. Boxes get put in the wrong place. Those pictures along with my yearbooks from grade school are all gone.

    But no worries. I’m glad I’m not playing with models anymore. As I said, this video was really wonderful. Thanks again for posting it on your site, Osha!

  7. Avatar for Osha Gray Davidson Osha Gray Davidson says:

    What a wonderful story! Reading it made me very thankful that you sucked at calculus. You’re doing important work right here!

  8. Avatar for Dan Hahn Dan Hahn says:


    This is so cool. Do you have any pics of that 5 foot tall building you built anywhere? I’d love to see it. Rock!

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