New York’s decarbonization goals may be unachievable without a new technology push

The following is a contribution from Arnold Wallenstein, a director of the Energy Law Group.

New York plans to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions by phasing out fossil-fuel power generation by 2040 and electrifying cars and trucks. But the state’s only solution to decarbonizing buildings is to mandate all electric space heating — a very costly approach with disproportionately negative impacts on environmental justice communities.

In New York, buildings — not transportation or power generation — are the largest source of carbon emissions, responsible for 32% of greenhouse gas emissions nationwide. New York State has aggressive plans to decarbonize over 7 million homes and commercial buildings by mandating all-electric heating. The governor of New York recently announced a plan to decarbonize New York’s high-rise buildings.

In 2019, New York City passed Local Law 97, requiring all buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. This will affect 50,000 buildings – nearly 60% of the city’s buildings – 59% residential and 41% commercial.

The New York Climate Protection Council plans to meet the state’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals by converting 1-2 million homes and 10% to 20% of commercial space statewide to all-electric heating and cooling with heat pumps by 2030. Each year after 2030, more than 250,000 New York City homes and thousands more commercial buildings would be retrofitted or built to be energy efficient and install heat pumps for heating, cooling and hot water, which would be more than a tenfold Increase over current annual adoption rates.

The main tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings is the mandatory phasing out of the use of oil, natural gas or propane for space heating in buildings and the requirement that buildings use 100% electricity for space heating. The replacement technology would be either air or ground source heat pumps that run on electricity – a very expensive option for home and building owners. Furthermore, without derating, all-electric heated and cooled buildings could increase New York’s peak load by 58 GW!

New York’s aggressive plans to decarbonize buildings have already drawn outcry about the impossibility and intolerable increases in utility costs: The New York Post editors called the state’s all-electric building decarbonization plan “…crazy, impossible…” and declared that the plan was ” It’s not going to happen.” The editorial board of the Albany Times Union also questioned the feasibility of New York’s building decarbonization plans.

Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy reviewed New York City Local Law 97’s building emissions reduction requirements and found that the ordinance would fall short of decarbonization goals in the next decade. Even the Climate Action Council concedes that this aggressive plan to decarbonize buildings would fall short of its goals and needs to be supplemented with some amount of natural gas heating support.

As such, it is highly unlikely that New York State will be anywhere near converting its 7.3 million homes and 370,000 commercial buildings from using fossil fuels for space heating to all-electric heat pumps in 10 or even 20 years.

To make progress toward the state’s building decarbonization goals, the NY Climate Action Council staff recommends that buildings be all-electric, and the state building code would need to be changed to require new construction to use fossil fuels Heating is prohibited Use of maximum energy efficiency techniques.

What the state has overlooked is that building decarbonization can also be significantly accelerated by mandating the installation of newly developed clear photovoltaic solar windows for use in commercial and residential buildings. These innovative see-through photovoltaic solar windows enable commercial and residential buildings to self-generate electricity with zero greenhouse gas emissions to meet the power needs of an all-electric building. These transparent solar PV windows are now being beta tested. A clear solar PV window being developed by Stellaris has an efficiency of about 14% and a cost competitive with standard opaque solar PV modules.

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