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Could Improved Building Energy Efficiency Help NY City Slash Emissions 90% at Low Cost?

2 min. read

In case you missed it, this article by Will Oremus is well worth reading.  Referencing a new report by the Urban Green Council, Oremus describes a simple, elegant way for cities like New York to "slash...its [greenhouse gas] emissions by a whopping 90 percent by 2050 without any radical new technologies, without cutting back on creature comforts, and maybe even without breaking its budget."  How is this possible, Oremus asks?

The strategy has plenty of familiar components — electrifying the transit system, converting to renewable power sources. But it all hinges on one seemingly mundane yet surprisingly potent move: retrofitting almost every building in the city to keep the heat in during the winter and out during the summer. In a nod to Rudy Giuliani, Bill Bratton, and James Q. Wilson, I’ll call it the “triple-pane-windows theory” of greenhouse-gas reduction.

The report takes as its starting point this foundational statistic: 75 percent of the readily measured carbon emissions in New York City come from buildings....

To get those emissions under control will require three main steps, all difficult but none inconceivable. The first is probably the most ambitious and innovative: gradually retiring the city’s massive, aging steam heat system and replacing it with high-efficiency electric heat pumps. Low-rise residential buildings would get individual mini-split pumps, a relatively easy fix, while high-rises would need to convert from steam to central geothermal heat pump systems. That’s an expensive proposition, but it would also save staggering amounts of energy over time, with cost savings that would help offset the capital outlay. And the retrofits wouldn’t happen all at once — they’d be done as each building comes in for renovations that it would need anyway.

As we've noted on numerous occasions, energy efficiency offers tremendous potential for saving businesses and individuals a lot of energy, and a lot of money. For instance, see this post, in which Jennifer Layke of the Johnson Controls-funded Institute for Building Efficiency, on the enormous savings and value potential in making buildings more energy efficient.