Keeping the skyline sparkling

Keeping the skyline sparkling

Editor’s Note: Energy is at the core of the Big Apple’s ability to run. So how can a grid that’s reached capacity keep up with a city whose population shows no signs of slowing down? In this #FutureMakers profile, New Yorker David Armour, Chief City Executive, shares a behind-the-scenes look at his beloved home. To read more #FutureMakers stories, visit and


“No one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I gotta have me some Siemens’, but walk down the street you’ll pass us every other step without even noticing.” From the automation of the Reflecting Pools at the World Trade Center to the control system that runs the elevators at the Statue of Liberty, Siemens technology is quietly working in the background everywhere you look. And the company’s systems automate the lighting, security, and operations for a number of properties, including the New York Stock Exchange and Madison Square Garden.


It’s the task of adding modern-day innovations to decades-old buildings that presents one of the biggest challenges to Dave and his team. Take the Empire State Building. “When construction started in 1930, the only major electric loads you had were lights,” explains Dave. “You didn’t even have air-conditioning then. Fast forward to now and we have considerable loads like computers and other types of technology.”


Challenges also arose when it came to bringing Carnegie Hall into the 21st century. “Because it has landmark status, we couldn’t approach the renovation like a traditional engagement. Siemens solutions had to be tailored to work within the boundaries set by the City and the Federal Government and, more importantly, to the exacting standards of world-class musicians,” says Dave. Siemens enabled the facility to achieve LEED silver status and helped make it possible to monitor and control the entire facility from one computer screen. “If Carnegie Hall can be sustainable,” says Dave, “then no other building has an excuse not to make the journey.”

Subway system reveals the underlying problem


“Here, when people need to get around, they head underground,” says Dave. The city is home to the largest subway system in the world, but it’s struggling to support the six-million-plus journeys that are made every day. “It’s at capacity in several ways” says Dave. “It needs more budget to handle the additional customers, it physically can’t fit any more people in the cars and, in terms of performance, it’s not as reliable as it used to be.”


Ranking bottom for punctuality compared to any other major rapid transit system in the world, the subway has reached crisis point. One of the culprits, as identified earlier this year by The New York Times, is the signaling system. “We’re currently dealing with a signal system that’s, in some cases, nearly 100 years old,” Dave explains. “That said, even if we could flip a switch and change everything to 21st-century technology, it still wouldn’t help, because the entire system is maxed out on traction power.”


Understanding how everything is connected


“It’s amazing how cities work,” he says. “If you think about it, there are so many things that have to connect and work in synchrony. It’s a marvel that something the scale of New York is successful. When I was younger, people were moving out of cities because they were tired of the density, noise, and all the other challenges you have in the cityscape. Now, the opposite is true and it’s creating more and more challenges.”


Like balancing a check book, the city is constantly depositing and withdrawing power. And Dave predicts that, over the coming years, New York will need to drastically change how it produces, consumes, and stores power in order to support its infrastructure and buildings. “We’re pushing for more subway cars, more electric buses, and more buildings — all at the same time — when the grid is already operating at capacity.”


In addition to keeping a steady flow of energy going in and out of the grid, Dave is thinking about how to avoid wasting any surplus. Sustainable energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels present increasingly viable options, however, the main challenge with renewables is that they’re temperamental. “The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow,” says Dave. “Sometimes you’ll end up generating more power than you need, and at other times the opposite is true.”


“It’s not a problem unique to New York,” Dave says. “Every city around the globe faces similar challenges. Our mission is to build awareness and come up with ideas as to how we can bring historically separate disciplines together to cooperate on a city scale.”


Published On: September 5th, 2018