Getting NYC to 80 x 50: Buildings

Publication | June 30, 2017

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In the second part of a four-part series analyzing New York City’s aggressive 80×50 carbon reduction goals, NYLCVEF hosted a forum on Thursday focusing on the role of buildings in reducing emissions across the city. Two panels representing a variety of stakeholders weighed in on what is already being done to radically improve the efficiency of heating and cooling systems in buildings and what kind of policies will help us get to net-zero. The City’s diverse building stock is responsible for more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions citywide, so cutting emissions in the building sector is a vital component in the road to 80×50.

On the first panel, experts dug deeper into the most effective policies for instigating change and addressed how energy efficiency can become a priority for all buildings in the city. The panelists acknowledged that there will be a variety of challenges to overcome in the next 33 years, but that it is already possible to achieve the goal of 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 with existing technology. One of the major shifts that is vital to greening our buildings is replacing fossil fuel dependent boilers with electric heat pumps that can be fueled by renewable energy. However, the panel pointed out that heat pumps need to be scaled so that all buildings can implement them, and the price needs to be driven down so that building owners will be willing to make the switch. Russel Unger, Executive Director of the Urban Green Council, remarked that in order to increase the widespread use of heat pumps, the government must develop pilots, prizes, and incentives to prop up the industry so that it will eventually be able to stand on its own. There is no single solution to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings in New York City, but the panel demonstrated that technology paired with effective policies is capable of generating the change we need to achieve our goals.

The second panel looked, even more narrowly, at how far technology can actually take us. Panelists from a range of backgrounds offered their perspective on which emerging technologies are the most promising and how they should be implemented into buildings. A representative from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), an engineer, and an expert in passive house design, in addition to others, all contributed something different to how they perceive technology as a driver of change. To Vishaan Chakrabarti, Founder of PAU, net-zero buildings could be everywhere but they might not make a substantial impact if people can’t get to them, and in that way buildings are inextricably connected to transportation. Like the previous panel, one of the major conclusions is that the market around energy efficiency technology needs to change so that building owners will have an incentive to make the green choice. This is particularly true for existing buildings which will make up about 90% of our building stock in 2050, as they will need to have a reason for adopting new technology into their aging structure.

Overall, the conversations that emerged from both panels around energy efficiency and energy reduction in New York City buildings were highly productive and demonstrated the kind of collaboration that will be necessary to craft effective policies. In order to meet the City’s 80×50 goals, emissions from buildings need to be slashed, and though this presents a major challenge, it is possible with hard work and communication between all stakeholders.

You can watch videos from the event here, and learn more about the issues by reading the background paper for this event, available here.

For additional press coverage of the event, click here.

By: Korinna Garfield

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