The Push for Solar Energy in New York Gets a Boost at a Bar

“Party for a Solar Powered New York” yields some innovative solar-powered toy cars

This past Tuesday night, Solar One, a green energy arts and education center in New York, hosted their second "Party for a Solar Powered New York" at Southpaw bar in Brooklyn.

The the event was held to raise awareness about solar energy, and it featured a solar powered toy car building contest. Contestants were provided with kits, which can be purchased for around $10. Materials included a small 1.5 watt solar panel, strips of balsa wood, a motor, wheels, axle, gears, and, of course, knives, scissors and glue guns to put the pieces together.

Minutes away from the contest's deadline, "Team Prototype 3" had a revelation. After about an hour of sketching designs, cutting wood, and gluing pieces together for their solar-powered toy car, they hit upon a winning idea—make it a solar powered, beer carrying car. They placed half a cup of beer on the base, glued a solar panel to it, and stuck the top on, complete with a straw for drinking the beer. After a quick test, they discovered that the car worked, and they were satisfied.

At the end of the night, five contestants emerged. The only criterion was that the car had to run when light was shone on it. The fastest car, which resembled a racecar, almost sped right off the table when it was hit with light. Prototype 3's car was not the most aerodynamic (and was weighed down by the beer), and inched forward, just barely qualifying. And, despite its tendency to veer sharply to the left, a car designed to resemble a Brooklyn brownstone, complete with a front stoop and tree, was a favorite. "It's a solar powered mobile home," exclaimed Colin Weatherby, one of the judges, and the lead educator at Solar One.

In the end, the first place title went not to the speediest or best functioning car, but to the most creative one. Prototype 3's beer-toting car, and Etan Marciano and Miguel Baliente's Brooklyn brownstone on wheels, tied for first place.

Aside from the car building contest, solar installers from Aeon Solar answered questions about purchasing solar energy for their homes, and industrial designer Elliott Montgomery solicited design ideas for a mobile solar-powered radio station. He plans to design the mobile station by drawing from all the ideas, and plans to broadcast WFMU's Sound and Safe radio program from the mobile solar-powered station monthly.

The evening's mood was festive, but its weighty goals and focus were a part of the program. Organizer Chris Neidl said that Solar One's broader goal is to make solar energy provide for a significant portion of New York's energy use. He would like to see 2,000 megawatts produced by solar by 2020, making New York the east coast capital of solar energy.

Final Contestants

These five solar powered cars battled it out for most creative design.

Migual and Etan

Etan Marciano and Miguel Baliente (from left) consult the instructions before getting started.

Designs

Sketching out a few options before committing to a design.

Timed Contest

Racing against the clock to build his car in time.

Warning

Building toy cars can be dangerous. Watch out for the hot glue and sharp knives.

The Crowd

A crowd gathers at Southpaw bar in Brooklyn to celebrate solar energy in New York.

Finishing Touches

Miguel and Etan put the finishing touches on their Brooklyn brownstone-inspired car.

The Fastest Car (But Not the Winner)

Despite being the fastest car in the bunch, it did not take home the blue ribbon.

Beer Car

The beer-toting car barely moved, but still shared first place for its creativity.

Team Prototype 3

Team Prototype 3 hit upon a winning idea: just add beer. From left: Emily Dinan, Devin Reitsman, Will Elkins, and Rachel Steinberg.