First steps towards decarbonization

Why improving energy efficiency should be one of the first steps towards decarbonization

The transition from fossil fuel-powered technology and equipment to efficient all-electric options – a process known as electrification – is fundamental to progress in decarbonizing buildings and combating climate change. Electrifying buildings and transportation, which account for the majority of emissions across New York State, offers the greatest opportunity for emissions reductions, cleaner air and energy savings combined with energy efficiency.

New buildings must be fully electric – from 2026 for buildings up to seven floors, and from 2029 for all new buildings. Many existing buildings are supported by local regulations, such as New York Local Law 97, aimed at accelerating the decarbonization and electrification of buildings.

While electrification draws more energy from the electrical grid, integrating energy efficiency and demand management can significantly offset the increased electrical load. When combined with renewable energy sources, switching to electricity can deliver deeper emissions reductions and cost savings in buildings.

While full electrification is possible for most building types, a phased approach that starts with performance optimization and continues with partial electrification is often the most cost-effective path to ultimately eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

Take stock of the building’s energy loads

For existing buildings, understanding the current energy load is an essential first step towards electrifying and decarbonizing buildings. The assessment should assess opportunities to reduce energy consumption through efficiency improvements that are specific to the site and condition of the building.

Additionally, the readiness of the building for electrification and the impact of building electrification and vehicle charging systems (if applicable) must be taken into account. The key questions to ask are: Will current electric services increase demand? How will electrification affect peak electricity demand?

Ultimately, any study or assessment should provide a baseline of the building’s current energy consumption and estimated consumption in an electrification scenario. This helps create strategies for load reduction and efficiency gains, as well as options for efficient, zero-emission technologies.

Commercial, industrial, multifamily and other large buildings may be eligible for financing to complete site-specific energy studies through NYSERDA’s Flexible Technical Assistance (FlexTech) program.

Increase building efficiency

While many all-electric technologies offer increased efficiency, improving the building envelope should be the first step toward reducing energy load. Space heating is often the main source of on-site energy consumption, highlighting the value of insulating and sealing the building envelope. Other efficiency improvements, such as replacing windows and doors, may result from an assessment or targeted study of energy use.

Reducing the electrical load first with an efficient building envelope also means lower electrification costs. For example, lower electricity demand may mean fewer solar panels or a smaller heat pump system to meet the building’s energy, heating and cooling needs.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) increased the incentive amount offered under the 179D Commercial Building Energy Efficiency Tax Credit from $1.88 per square foot to $5 per square foot. Eligible energy efficiency improvements include upgrading interior lighting, HVAC and hot water systems, and upgrading the building envelope.

To qualify for the full deduction, buildings must achieve energy savings of 50%. In contrast, a building that saved at least 25% of energy would receive a credit of $0.50 per square foot, plus $0.02 per square foot for each percent savings above 25%.

Integrate efficient, all-electric technologies

Not all electrical appliances are created equal in terms of performance. Heat pumps for cold climates Link opens in a new window - close the new window to return to this page. they use approximately 65% ​​less electricity than electric resistance heating systems. Likewise, induction cookers are 10% more efficient than conventional electric cookers (not to mention three times more efficient than gas cookers).

Decarbonizing larger buildings typically involves a set of electrification and efficiency solutions. Recovering wasted heat from HVAC systems or industrial processes is a leading opportunity for multifamily and commercial buildings that has been recognized in projects funded by the Empire Building Challenge.

In addition to heat pump systems, large buildings, municipalities and campuses are assessing the feasibility of thermal energy networks to decarbonize heating and cooling on a larger scale. These systems use a network of pipes to connect multiple buildings and distribute thermal energy through geothermal processes, surface water or waste heat recirculation.

Electrification of multifamily and commercial buildings can include electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure for residents, employees and fleet vehicles. Employers and multifamily buildings can access incentives through utilities or the Charge Ready NY 2.0 program to reduce the cost of installing charging stations, with additional incentives available for facilities located in disadvantaged communities.

In addition to energy and emissions savings, it is important to consider how electrification strategies will impact building resilience as well as occupant health and comfort. For example, combining photovoltaics with battery energy storage helps buildings optimize their electricity load while providing backup power in the event of an outage.

Moving to all-electric equipment also allows buildings to better leverage demand response, which encourages reduced electricity use during periods of high demand.

Preparing for an electrified future

Energy efficiency is an integral part of the electrification and decarbonization of buildings. Improving a building’s energy efficiency is a key first step toward reducing energy burdens before selecting all-electric equipment and renewable energy systems.

At the same time, New York’s investments in transmission infrastructure, renewable energy generation and energy storage ensure a reliable supply of clean energy for increasingly electric buildings and transportation systems.