Last month a low-flying airplane airplane equipped with a laser embarked upon two weeks of stealth missions over New York City. Not your average covert operation, these 9 six-hour flights were made in the name of green — as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC program, the flight crew was quietly making a 3D solar map of the entire city. The information is currently being digitized and will be used to figure out what buildings are suited for solar power, what neighborhoods need more green space, and who has been leaving their lights on. Well, we’re just joking about the lights.
To create its solar map New York hired a two-man airplane crew from Sanborn, a Colorado-based mapping firm. Just a pilot and a laser sensor technologist were needed to make the detailed 3D map. The plane was equipped with Lidar — short for “light detection and ranging”– which is kind of like Sonar except it uses lasers instead of sound waves. The lasers are able to measure distance and dimension of objects, and over the course of 9 six hour flights it was able to map every urban crevasse, street, roof and tree in the Big Apple.
The great green city of San Francisco already has a solar map and some coastal regions have used this technology to map areas prone to flooding. New York will also use their solar map to replace existing flood maps — those currently being used are from the 1980’s and are quite outdated. Information from the flights will be made public so NYC residents can see if their buildings are well suited for solar panels. The missions cost about $450,000 in total and were financed in part by the federal Energy Department. After the maps are analyzed the true renewable potential of New York City will be unveiled.