New York City to Cut Emissions by 90%

May 20, 2013
Aggressive new plan targets building efficiency.

What would it take to cut emissions in NYC by 90%? Your building is part of the solution.

Current initiatives under the PlaNYC goal are helping the Big Apple to reduce emissions 30% by 2030, but the efforts aren’t aggressive enough, argues the Urban Green Council.

The USGBC New York chapter is calling for a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions – 90% by 2050. The organization’s report, 90 by 50, demonstrates that the suggested emissions reductions are possible using available technologies and the cost is manageable from a citywide perspective.

The research targets commercial and residential buildings, which together produce 75% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions (see baseline models used on page 89). The results indicate that by 2050, New York City could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions more than 90% from 2010 levels through a combination of existing and near-term efficiency solutions.

To shift all remaining building loads to carbon-free electricity, recommended energy retrofit options include:

  • Substantial air sealing and heat recovery systems for ventilation air
  • High levels of insulation on all opaque elements of building facades
  • Vision glass fractions limited to 50% while retaining useful daylighting and triple glazing
  • Sun control devices to permit winter solar heat gain while minimizing summer cooling loads
  • Photovoltaic panels to produce on-site renewable electricity
  • Ground-source heat pumps, as well as air-source heat pumps to provide hot water and heat recovery

Using these off-the-shelf technologies, heating and cooling loads can be reduced to a point where all thermal loads can be met by heat pumps, eliminating building fuel use.

Contributions from rooftop photovoltaic panels will also be significant. Electricity generation from biogas derived from waste and sewage treatment provides an additional input of carbon-free power while consuming a potent greenhouse gas.

Despite eliminating fuel sources, the electric energy used in 2050 will be slightly more than today’s levels. To maintain the roughly 19 tWh of carbon-free power currently used by NYC, 27 tWh will need to be added to sustainably cover the expanded demand.

Several options are available:

  • 86 million square meters of PV panels with a footprint of 66 square miles, much of which could be on the parking lots, rail yards, and highways included in New York City’s 350 square miles
  • 2,600 4 mW wind turbines, occupying 35-40 square miles, either upstate or off shore
  • Several 1,000 mW nuclear power plants, tidal power, or increased hydropower from Quebec

Taking into account natural replacement cycles, the research provides cost estimates for retrofit measures (see below). Spread over 35 years from 2015 to 2050, the corresponding capital outlays for the entire city have a discounted net present value of $94 billion.

Over the period examined, the savings from energy use reductions will be comparable to the amortized cost of the improvements. The report also estimates that the accrued financial savings from building energy use reductions would have a net present value of $87 billion.

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