The Urban Green Council’s new report Going Electric: Retrofitting NYC’s Multifamily Buildings identifies nine crucial steps to jumpstart electrification in the city’s 15,000 large multifamily buildings—and also facilitate compliance with the City’s groundbreaking building emissions law (Local Law 97). Local Law 97 is central to the Climate Mobilization Act (CMA), passed in New York City in 2019.

CMA is known as one of the most ambitious carbon reduction policies regarding buildings in the US, and is one of the first laws in the country, outside of California, to require significant whole-building reductions of carbon emissions. Local Law 97’s focus on buildings is due to the fact that buildings account for almost 70 percent of New York City’s carbon pollution. It requires greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from large buildings to be cut by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. The policy addresses most buildings in the city over 25,000 square feet and will phase in caps on GHG emissions beginning in 2024.

To meet the city’s stringent building emissions law, and the longer-term target of an 80 percent carbon reduction by 2050, NYC buildings will need to go electric. This transition means replacing fossil fuel boilers and furnaces, which contribute 40 percent of NYC’s carbon emissions, with highly efficient electric heat pumps. Heat pumps are electrically powered systems that function by moving heat inside in the winter and outside in the summer, a highly efficient method of heating and cooling year round. Heat pumps bring building emissions closer to zero while simultaneously increasing comfort and control over indoor temperatures.

 Going Electric found that the largest obstacles to heat pump adoption in multifamily buildings are: technical information gaps, financial costs and planning, and Regulatory uncertainties. Overcoming these barriers and electrifying our heating and hot water systems will be a multi-decade process, which is why it is crucial to start now. Going Electric identifies nine next steps to remove obstacles and jumpstart electrification in the crucial multifamily sector:

  1. Demonstrate the technology in NYC. Heat pump retrofit pilot projects in the private sector as well as in government-owned buildings will shed light on options and costs for design, equipment, and labor, and also demonstrate that heat pumps are safe and work as expected. 
  2. Increase incentives and promote transparency. The biggest challenge for near-term electrification is cost. Significant increases in government and utility incentive programs are necessary to encourage heat pump options for multifamily retrofits.
  3. Harness Local Law 97 to drive electrification. NYC’s groundbreaking emissions law sets carbon caps for buildings starting in 2024. The mechanics of the law’s 2030 targets will be finalized over the next three years and with the right structure, the law could be a major driver of heat pump retrofits.
  4. Support heat pumps with better electricity rates. NYC has some of the highest electricity costs in the nation. Heat pumps could help lower these costs by making better use of existing utility infrastructure. Rates that account for the value of heat pump installations could help speed adoption and strengthen the business case for electrification.
  5. Enable electrification in affordable housing. Some regulations in the affordable housing sector make heat pumps a tough sell, particularly when many building owners already struggle with thin margins and deferred maintenance. Targeted support and regulatory improvements may be necessary to spur heat pump retrofits in this crucial sector.
  6. Start electrifying one step at a time. Building owners can spread retrofit costs out over time with incremental upgrades, but they need guidance on how to plan a multi-phase heat pump retrofit. Their options include electrifying just hot water, retrofitting one portion of the building at a time, or upgrading buildings systems to be ‘heat pump ready.’
  7. Identify electrical infrastructure needs. Beyond space heating, electrification also includes installing induction stoves and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Together, these changes will require electrical upgrades in buildings and utility distribution networks. 
  8. Ramp up workforce training. Architects, engineers, building operators, and contractors will need education and training to make sure they install the most effective heat pump systems and maintain them cost-effectively. 
  9. Launch a building electrification campaign. Electrification is a massive shift for the NYC building sector and requires an equally sizable mobilization effort. The City should develop a large-scale, public-facing campaign to engage owners, educate residents on the benefits of heat pumps, and facilitate this long-term transition. 

Urban Green Council developed this report with the help of a 40-member Advisory Board of industry leaders. Representatives from real estate, unions, energy efficiency, HVAC, utilities, and government collaborated to assess why so few large residential buildings have embraced heat pumps. The report explores the technology behind electrification and examines the challenges to adopting heat pumps in NYC. It also outlines a range of near-term strategies to start this transition, like pilot projects in public buildings and new incentives for the adoption of heat pumps. The full report can be found here.

Need help navigating the clean heating and cooling options for your home or building? The New York City 2030 District’s Heat/Cool Smart Brooklyn campaign, in partnership with the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), is involved in Brooklyn Community Boards 2 & 6. Buildings with energy efficient envelopes and clean heating and cooling systems will keep you comfortable all year round, lower your energy costs, and reduce your carbon footprint. We are seeking residential and commercial property owners to do green retrofits, community members to volunteers with campaign outreach and students for our green workforce training classes. Visit our website to get involved with your building or volunteer!

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