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Rockette Power

From Bea Wray

I love the holiday season. I especially enjoy all the lights and beautifully decorated homes. It is interesting to me that even though I have lived in cold and snowy places like Missouri, New Jersey, and Ohio, the beautiful lights so common in my neighborhood in South Carolina make the holidays special even without the snow.

My two favorite holiday traditions are actually not in South Carolina. They are Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I feel blessed that I was able to enjoy both this month. When I started thinking about these traditions, I wondered about energy use related to them. My first thought was the cost of lighting that huge tree. Then I started wondering about the kinetic power generated by the Radio City Rockettes and their high energy kick dance numbers. I recently learned about kinetic energy tiles. Some cities are using pedestrian walkways for kinetic energy generation. In Nigeria, a soccer field is built on top of the tiles so that the running during the game is also powering the stadium. (for more on kinetic energy, see our post:  I started to wonder, could the kicking of the Rockettes power the lighting of the tree?

So, I started to ask some questions and learn what that would take.

This year the tree at Rockefeller Center will be lit from November 28, 2018 until January 7, 2019 every day from 5:30 to 11:30 pm. On Christmas day it was lit for 24 hours. The 72-foot-tall Norway spruce tree has 50,000 LED lights and consumes about 1,297 kWh per day. Thankfully Rockefeller Center switched to LED from incandescent lighting, making a 63% decrease in the energy used to light the tree! That same year, 363 solar panels tied into the city’s power grid were installed on top of Rockefeller Center to help power the tree and more.

Each Rockette can kick up to 650 times in one day. They do more than 160 kicks per show and at the height of the season, they will do up to four shows a day. I remember driving into New York City each year as a kid to see the amazing performance but I only remembered about two or three numbers done with the Rockettes. When I saw the show this year, I realized my memory had failed me. These women are on stage nearly the whole time.

Despite the potential to “manufacture” kinetic energy courtesy of the Rockettes (if the stage were made of those tiles), it takes more energy than they can kick up to power the performance. The show is actually a great consumer of energy. Can you believe there are over 1,100 costumes are worn by the cast in each show? More than 350 loads of laundry are done each week by the wardrobe department. Another thing about the show that I enjoy is the amazing sound during the tap dance numbers. Turns out the shoes are miked. To fuel the sound transmitters placed in the shoes it takes 14,096 AA batteries throughout the run of the show.

Whether it is through the beauty or the entertainment of the holidays, this Christmas I am particularly mindful of the electricity consumed by it all. So, as I build my personal gratitude list, I am sure to add the people, companies, and innovative technologies that make our reliable power system possible.