Energy Efficiency
Climate Change

Public-private partnership driving renovation in New York City

Mark Bromiley
Mark Bromiley
June 3, 2020

New York City aims to be carbon neutral by 2050. The city is using deep retrofit projects of its buildings to start its energy-efficient renovation programs.

New York Skyline

Renovation in New York City is now firmly on the agenda since the city passed the Climate Mobilization Act in 2019. Supported by the office of the mayor and backed by scientific evidence, the city wants to reduce the carbon emissions from its buildings by drastic amounts over the next 30 years. It requires 50,000 of the largest buildings in New York City to cut carbon emissions by 40 percent over the next ten years and 80 percent by 2050, primarily using deep renovation projects.

New York City (NYC) has more than one million buildings accounting for 67 percent of their carbon emissions. Improving the efficiency of these structures will put the city on track to match other major urban centres around the world like Milan and Copenhagen, who are leading the fight against climate change. Taking urban climate action by putting energy-efficiency and carbon neutrality on the legislative agenda will help the city become more resilient, sustainable, and lessen its impact on the world’s climate.

How the NYC government is leading the way on urban climate action

Renovation in NYC was already on the rise (especially for residences) over the last ten years. By 2016, renovation spending in the city reached a new high, receiving more than $6 billion of private investment. It was an increase of 375 percent from 2006 levels with Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx having the most renovation projects. It is not just the city either, as state-wide legislation in the form of the new Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) are also on the books.

The CLCPA signed by Gov. Cuomo in 2019 calls for:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent by 2050.
  • Establish 100 percent zero-emission electricity by 2040.
  • Attaining net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the state.

Jurisdictions in the state that adopt the new energy codes from CLCPA can expect to save roughly 11 percent from the Energy Conservation Construction Code of New York State (2020 ECCCNYS) as part of the NYStretch Energy Code. Both NYC and the state remains committed to improving their built environments for maximum energy efficiency, comfortability, and future sustainability.

NYC and their history of innovation with renovation

The NYC government did not decide to legislate for renovation lightly. By 2006, one of the iconic landmarks in the city decided to go green. The Empire State Building, known for being the tallest building in the world when it was completed, allocated $500 million towards a retrofit program. A team of engineers and designers used the program to prove a business case for the large-scale renovation that achieves 20 to 30 percent greater energy efficiency.

At the time, the project team stated that what they achieved with the Empire State Building’s renovation project would become a model for New York’s future. The prediction seems to be true, as all the city’s larger buildings will have to increase efficiencies to the same levels over the coming decade. For occupants of the Empire State Building, the project delivered improved thermal comfort using efficient insulation materials, lowered energy costs from reduced demand, and greater insight over their energy use with individual metering.

Challenges facing NYC and their renovation efforts

For NYC to achieve the goals set out in the new legislation, it will require partnerships between private and public stakeholders. The city manages more than 4,000 buildings and facilities, giving them a unique opportunity to lead the way and develop the toolkits required. By prioritizing initiatives that affect their buildings first, the city can develop the necessary partnerships, supply chains, and technical expertise such a large undertaking needs.

Management of the efficiency programs (which will include retrofitting buildings like schools, emergency services, wastewater treatment plants, public libraries, and others) fall under the Division of Energy Management in the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). It serves as a hub for the city’s energy management initiatives and works with the 25 different city agencies responsible for the variety of buildings.

Multiple partnerships and consistent programs required

Ultimately, DCAS is responsible for achieving the city’s goals in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They have to work with the 25 agencies to limit emissions in city-owned buildings by 40 percent by 2025, 50 percent by 2030, and achieve citywide reductions of 80 percent by 2050. It will require collaboration between many stakeholders working together to achieve the same goals. With many administrative departments and budgets involved, it is a challenge for decision-makers to argue the case for energy efficiency.

To help everyone understand what benefits were available and how to quantify the effects of a project, NYC tested a new tool from C40. The tool provides a common language for different stakeholders when discussing deep retrofit projects. NYC was part of four major metropolitan centres selected to test the tool, using it to extrapolate real-world figures to inform future decisions.

The results from the NYC retrofit project analysis

NYC used C40’s tool to generate predictions for deep retrofits of 23 schools. It showed that a reduction of 10,470 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (tCO2) is available per year. Over the life of the project, they could save 314,138 tCO2 in 30 years. It is the equivalent of 1250 homes’ energy use or removing 2200 cars from the roads.

Indirect benefits include between 2,400 and 4,500 new jobs created, giving a net value of $21.6 million and making payback possible in 29 years. Additionally, the city will save on energy costs to the amount of $3.2 million and reduce maintenance expenditures by $1.7 million per year.

If the city extended its retrofit programs to 700 schools of different sizes, the numbers speak for themselves. Savings of 318,690 tCO2 per year is achievable while creating up to 138,000 new jobs and saving $52.2 million in maintenance and $99 million in direct energy costs per year. When stakeholders view the programs from these figures, it becomes much easier to make the case for energy-efficient renovation and retrofit projects.

For NYC to achieve the energy-efficient renovation goals, it will require continued development and strengthening of the public and private partnerships. Using the C40 pilot tool to quantify the broader benefits of projects can help NYC officials to establish a common language and the frameworks needed for achieving the city’s emission goals.

ROCKWOOL Group continues to work with NGOs (like C40) and city governments to establish deep retrofit partnerships and collaboration opportunities.

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