NESEA 2021 BuildingEnergy Magazine Volume 40 - Number 1

20 • BUILDINGENERGY VOL. 40. NO. 1 | 2021 FEATURE: NESEA STORIES In the last half-decade, we’ve witnessed a radical transformation of mainstream narratives around climate crisis mitigation and adaptation, economywide decarbonization initiatives, changes in low carbon technology readiness, and policy action at various levels of government. There is now broad agreement and recognition that removing fossil fuels from buildings through electrification is required to achieve emissions reductions necessary to significantly impact climate change and meet overall international goals. As such, replicable strategies to decarbonize large and complex commercial and residential buildings are now a major priority among policymakers, government agencies, and industry experts, particularly in New York. In 2019, the State of New York enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) putting the State’s economy on a path to carbon neutrality by mid-century. The same year, New York City enacted the Climate Mobilization Act, including the building emissions and performance standard commonly referred to as NYC Local Law 97 (LL97) to mandate significant carbon emissions reductions from the buildings sector, which dominates total carbon emissions in the city and is responsible for one third of the economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions in New York State. This shift in policy on decarbonization has been met with both optimism and skepticism. Optimistic stakeholders explain the benefits of electrification on greenhouse gas emissions, local air quality, opportunities for jobs creation, and better temperature and indoor air quality control. Skeptics call into question the “Electrify Everything” narrative and say this mild-climate California approach is not adaptable to the cold climate of the Northeast. Through a thoughtful and rational approach, building owners can successfully transition their assets to low or zero carbon operations before self-determined timeframes or regulatory deadlines. Resource Efficient Electrification (REE) combined with an integrated design approach is focused on making incremental changes and enabling steps over time to achieve deep decarbonization without the need to rely on silver bullet solutions. As is evidenced by the recent wildfires on the West Coast, severe flooding in New York from recent increased rainfall, and catastrophic flooding in Europe, climate change is here and doing nothing to address it is not an option. The Empire Building Challenge In partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), some leading real estate development companies are tackling these complex issues head-on. The industry and its ecosystem of consulting engineers is discovering a framework for decarbonization tailored specifically to large buildings in cold climates. In the United States, New York is at the forefront of this school of thought. NYSERDA launched the $50 million Empire Building Challenge (EBC), a publicprivate partnership to spur economic growth in New York by developing solutions to decarbonize skyscrapers and tall multifamily buildings in conjunction with some of the world’s largest real estate holders, manufacturers, technology experts, and entrepreneurs. This first-of-its-kind program in the United States addresses high-rise buildings, a difficult building typology to decarbonize, as part of New York State’s comprehensive effort to make low-carbon solutions for tall buildings widely available and deliver cost-efficient and replicable decarbonization solutions. Ten real estate partners made commitments to reach carbon neutrality in at least one of their properties by 2035, representing 52 million square feet of real estate. These commitments include some of the most iconic buildings in the New York City skyline and the potential to scale across entire property portfolios. The 130 million square feet of EBC Partner portfolio buildings is as much real estate as is contained in some mid-sized American cities. The decarbonization investments of the partners alone are expected to total up to $300 million and create up to 2,600 jobs in the clean energy economy.1 For more information on the Empire Building Challenge, please visit the NYSERDA website.2 Decarbonizing Cold Climate Buildings Requires a Novel Approach The real estate industry and the industries in its sphere of influence are awakening to the realization that fossil fuel-powered equipment has a limited future in buildings. As asset managers, sustainability managers, and their consultants pursue decarbonization plans, they often stumble over what we refer to as decarbonization “blind spots,” or a linear mindset that can delay needed action and progress such as: A RATIONAL APPROACH TO LARGE BUILDING DECARBONIZATION: Lessons from New York’s Empire Building Challenge BY JARED RODRIGUEZ, MAYRA LUJAN, BRETT BRIDGELAND, AND MICHEL BEGUIN