The NYC Urban Green Council Blueprint for Efficiency, Part 1

Michael Tobias
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    On August 2018, after several months of work involving many stakeholders in the building sector, the NYC Urban Green Council published its Blueprint for Efficiency. The publication provides many recommendations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from NYC buildings, working towards the 80x50 target - cutting emissions by 80% by the year 2050.

    The Blueprint for Efficiency includes special recommendations for affordable housing and nonprofit organizations, which face greater challenges when financing building upgrades. These buildings require a special approach, and the Blueprint gives them flexibility to reduce energy consumption at a low cost.

    There are 21 recommendations in the Blueprint for Efficiency from the Urban Green Council. This is a two-part article, where Part 1 covers the first 10, and Part 2 covers the other 11.

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    1) 20% Reduction in Citywide Energy Consumption by 2030

    We tend to associate emissions with vehicles, but building energy use is by far the biggest source of carbon pollution. For NYC to reach its 80x50 target, the energy consumption of its buildings must be reduced drastically.

    Energy-efficient technologies and renewable generation systems are gradually reducing their costs, and there are also emerging technologies that could reach the market in the near future. Reductions in emissions can be achieved with a series of interim targets with periodic reviews.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Achieve an average 20% reduction in building energy use between 2020 and 2030, across all sectors. Similar goals should be established for subsequent decades and reviewed at five-year intervals.

    2) Developing a Building Performance Metric Specifically for NYC

    The energy consumption of buildings varies according to its construction methods and occupancy, and local climate also has a significant impact of energy usage patterns. In order to compare the energy performance of buildings, an energy metric that accounts for these differences must be developed.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Creating a energy metric similar to the EPA Energy Star rating tool, but calibrated specifically for the conditions in New York City.

    3) Measuring Energy at the Source, Not the Point of Use

    Building energy consumption is normally measured locally, and this concept is called site energy. However, site energy does not represent the complete energy footprint. For example, electricity must be generated and delivered through a power network, and natural gas must be extracted and sent through piping.

    The concept of source energy includes the full energy consumption associated with buildings, and it provides a better picture of their impact. Source energy may change even when site energy stays the same, for example if generation and transmission become more efficient.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Measuring building energy consumption based on source energy instead of site energy. Since source energy involves external factors, the calculation must be adjusted as the grid composition changes.

    4) Establish a Single Requirement for Building Energy Consumption

    Three main energy sources are used by NYC buildings: electricity, fossil fuel combustion and district steam. Although separate management of energy sources allows greater control over emissions, building owners are burdened by excessive regulation. On the other hand, if regulations are based on total energy consumption, requirements are simplified for building owners and they can work more effectively.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Regulating whole-building energy use instead of energy by source, to minimize costs and paperwork for property owners.

    5) Efficiency Requirements Based on Current Performance

    Requiring the same energy savings from all buildings would not be fair. A 20% reduction can be achieved easily by a building with old and inefficient installations, but it can be extremely expensive to achieve in a building that already uses the latest technologies.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Establishing energy targets according to the building conditions, demanding greater reductions from inefficient buildings and lower reductions from buildings that are already energy-efficient. As long as the average 20% reduction is achieved per sector, requirements for individual buildings can vary.

    6) Avoid Work Accumulation Near the 2030 Deadline

    If property owners delay the building upgrades required for a 20% reduction in energy use, there will be an extreme demand for workforce when the 2030 deadline is near. In addition, financing and paperwork can represent a challenge.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Implementing measures that prevent or disincentive the accumulation of work near the 2030 deadline. Some options are establishing multiple compliance years, refinancing options, and creating exclusive incentives for early adopters.

    7) Prevent a Price Increase in the Affordable Housing Sector

    New York City has a shortage of affordable housing, and major building improvements are normally reflected as rent increases. This limits capital-intensive projects such as boiler replacements and building envelope upgrades.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Prioritizing energy efficiency measures with a low cost and high savings in the affordable housing sector. Significant efficiency gains are often possible with inexpensive methods such as control adjustments, leak reparations, heating system tune-ups, piping insulation and lighting upgrades.

    8) Special Help Recommendation #1 - Affordable Housing

    Affordable housing owners are less capable of financing energy efficiency upgrades, for the simple reason that they charge lower rent than market-rate apartments. To achieve the same results as other building sectors, considering their limited resources, the only option is providing additional assistance in the affordable housing sector.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Expanding technical assistance and incentive programs for the affordable housing sector, while providing better financing conditions. The end goal should be achieving the same results as market-rate buildings without causing an unreasonable increase in rent and without burdening property owners.

    9) Special Help Recommendation #2 - Nonprofit Organizations

    Nonprofit organizations face a challenge similar to affordable housing buildings, and for the same reason - their capital for energy efficiency measures is very limited. Therefore, the same approach used for affordable housing applies here, and the nonprofit sector requires extra assistance to achieve the same results as other building sectors.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Enhancing technical assistance, incentives and financing for the nonprofit sector, just like in the case of affordable housing.

    10) Leading By Example with City-Owned Buildings

    Some property owners may be skeptical about the proposed energy efficiency improvements, considering them unreasonable. New York authorities can prove it is possible by exceeding the normal requirements with city-owned buildings.

    NYC Urban Green Council Recommendation: Achieving an energy reduction of 20% in city-owned buildings larger than 10,000 sq.ft., shortening the deadline from 2030 to 2025 to set an example for privately-owned buildings. As building upgrade projects are completed, NYC can publish case studies to showcase the technologies used and share the lessons learned.


    Regardless of the requirements in building codes and laws, energy efficiency is normally an excellent investment for property owners, providing long-term benefits that are many times higher than the upfront cost. The best way to reduce energy expenses is by starting with an energy audit from qualified engineering consultants. By achieving energy efficiency improvements early, you can reduce the requirements imposed legally, while taking advantage of the benefits available for early adopters.


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    Tags : Energy Efficiency green construction green building energy conservation

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