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What Does NYC’s Climate Mobilization Act Mean for Building Owners?

Image of Existing Buildings in NYC

On April 18th, Introduction 1253-2018 was approved by the New York City Council along with several other major pieces of legislation as part of a Climate Mobilization Act. The Urban Green Council describes it as “arguably the most disruptive in our lifetime of the NYC real estate industry.” We agree. While it will take some time to more precisely gauge impact across the industry, here is an initial primer.

Context

Previous building energy legislation in NYC has focused primarily on providing the market with access to information in the form of benchmarking and audits. In response to increasing demands for more urgent climate action, this new local law will actually require energy performance levels – and significant retrofits in some cases – in most existing buildings over 25,000 square feet between now and 2030 and deeper reductions beyond 2030.

How It Will Work

The law establishes targets for carbon-emissions intensity per square foot for buildings based on occupancy class. For instance, multifamily buildings, office buildings, schools, and storage facilities will have different intensity targets. Mixed-use buildings will have their targets set based on a weighted average of their different spaces. Across all segments, these targets will get ratcheted down over time. Building on the type of data submitted as part of annual benchmarking, all tenant and owner energy used at a particular building will be converted to carbon intensity per square foot.

Starting in 2024, buildings will be fined on an annual basis for carbon footprint that exceeds their targets. Based on their performance today, approximately 20% of buildings exceed the 2024 – 2029 targets while approximately 75% of buildings exceed the 2030 – 2034 targets, according to the City Council’s press release. As an alternative to this performance-based framework, rent regulated multifamily buildings with at least one rent stabilized apartment will be required to implement a prescriptive list of upgrades by 2024. These upgrades include indoor temperature sensors providing feedback to boilers and apartment thermostatic controls.

What It Will Mean to the Market

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Buildings to Cool the Climate

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), viewed as the most credible source of climate change research, issued an alarming report on October 2018 removing all doubt – absent aggressive action the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 ° F above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. The significance of this report is that the effects of climate change will occur in our lifetime.

The building construction sector has a critical role in drawing down carbon emissions by 2040. As nations all over the globe tackle operational emissions from buildings, we must now address our total emissions impact.

Estimated cumulative carbon emissions from new buildings 2020 to 2070

Life-cycle emissions resulting from buildings consist of two components: operational and embodied. A great deal of effort has been put into reducing the former as it is assumed to be higher than the latter. Studies have revealed the growing significance of embodied emissions in buildings, but its importance is often underestimated in energy efficiency decisions.

According to the Embodied Carbon Review 2018 by Bionova Inc, embodied carbon is the total impact of all the greenhouse gases emitted by the construction and materials of our built environment. Furthermore, during their life-cycle, the same products also cause carbon impacts when maintained, repaired, or disposed of.

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What is the Carbon Footprint of Your Holiday Shopping?

Have you ever wondered about the carbon footprint of your shopping habits? Is online shopping better for the environment than brick and mortar shopping? There are many studies on the subject and there are myriad factors to consider when answering these questions. To try and make this process a little easier, we have pulled together existing research and have developed a guide to reducing your carbon footprint this holiday season.

Image of Santa gifting coal

One 2013 study by MIT looked at the impact of online vs. in-store shopping for a few items (a t-shirt, a Barbie Doll, and a computer) and concluded that a few key factors can tip the scales in either direction. While this study ignored the impact of the embodied carbon of these items (more on this later), let’s look at the biggest factors that could contribute to your holiday shopping carbon footprint and factor into the store vs. online debate.

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Linkageless Burner Retrofits for Steam Boilers

Going Beyond Carburetor Technology in the NYS Market

Fun Fact #1: Space heating and domestic hot water generation represent two of the greatest energy end uses in New York State.

Fun Fact #2: More than 70 percent of all New York City buildings utilize steam for space heating.

Background

The clear majority of the distribution systems in these NYC buildings are supplied by high mass steam boiler plants. Digging down a bit further, it is important to note that the most common air:fuel control for these boilers is a mechanical linkage that connects a single servo motor to both the combustion air damper and the fuel control valve(s). We know that adjusting one part of the linkage’s movement affects fuel and air rates elsewhere in the range, making accurate adjustment difficult. We also know that modern linkageless controls use separate servo motors to operate the fuel control valves, combustion air damper, and (in some cases) the flue damper, allowing for finer control.

mechanical linkage system and linkageless system

In fact, SWA recently completed a demonstration study (partially funded through NYSERDA’s Advanced Building Program) to evaluate linkageless burner retrofits on two buildings with respect to energy savings and carbon reductions, as well as qualitative or non-energy benefits. The retrofit materials were funded by Preferred Utilities Manufacturing Corp. of Danbury, CT, who also provided manufacturer’s technical support. The study also focused on quantifying the seasonal efficiency of intermediate-sized, high mass steam boiler plants, which had not previously been studied. The demonstration addresses this gap in the industry’s knowledge.

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Electrify Everything? (part 1/?)

So in utility and policy circles, electrification is all the rage. Grid electricity is getting cleaner (i.e. resulting in lower CO2 emissions), on-site renewables are taking off (sometimes even with storage), and heat pump technologies are getting better. More regional and utility initiatives are encouraging building owners/designers/developers to forego onsite fossil fuels entirely (or at least mostly) to help meet CO2 emission reduction goals. But is electricity really more sustainable than natural gas? Is it cheaper? Which is better, really?

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