80x50: Live Better Electrically (Again)

With 80 x 50 in our sights, New Yorkers may be destined to live better electrically—again.

In 2014, the city committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. From a wealth of analysis that includes Urban Green’s 90 by 50 report and NYC’s 80 x 50 Roadmap, three broad strategies have emerged as the means for buildings to reach this ambitious target: cut energy use, green the electric grid and—perhaps the least understood—transition heat and hot water systems from fossil fuels to electricity.

It’s that last leg that had Urban Green thinking back to General Electric’s “Medallion Homes” campaign in the 1950s, which brought then-actor Ronald Reagan to American television audiences to tout the benefits of the all-electric home.                    (Photo courtesy of the Washington State DAHP).      
While no one’s dusting off the Medallion Home plaques just yet, Urban Green will be delving into strategies around building electrification at this October’s annual conference, It's Electrifying: Exploring NYC's Climate Plan to Electrify Buildings. With more questions than answers surrounding how and when we should electrify heat and hot water systems, we anticipate a lively discussion that will help shape the policy thinking for the years ahead.

The math is compelling: 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from buildings come from burning fossil fuels on-site for heat and hot water. Simply put, we won’t reach 80 x 50 without major reductions in these building fuels.

Indeed, the city’s Roadmap plots a course with 50 to 60 percent of buildings converting to high-efficiency electric heat pumps for heat and hot water. When paired with a decarbonized grid, the analysis shows this conversion cutting building emissions by 22 percent.

Getting buildings to 80 x 50

Source: NYLCV

But challenging questions loom. Some are technological and building-focused, including the feasibility of heat pumps for larger multifamily buildings and how to overcome potential space constraints. Some are economic, such as how to address the higher upfront and operational costs for these highly-efficient electric systems.

And still other questions bear on our energy system as a whole: will the electrification of heating systems shift peak load to winter and require new transmission infrastructure? How will building system conversions align with energy storage and electric vehicles? And what’s the timeline for a greening grid? While the state-level Clean Energy Standard mandates that 50 percent of New York’s electricity come from renewables by 2030, uncertainty lingers around offshore wind development, new transmission lines and the planned Indian Point nuclear power plant closure. Still, the Roadmap notes that even with today’s grid, deep energy retrofit strategies that include electric heat pumps would yield carbon reductions.

With a strong policy target driving the conversation, It's Electrifying: Exploring NYC's Climate Plan to Electrify Buildings will feature industry experts as they explore the path ahead for NYC buildings. To join the discussion, purchase your tickets here. We look forward to seeing you on October 4.

About the authors

Christopher Halfnight
Chris Halfnight leads Urban Green’s policy initiatives, working with stakeholders and policymakers to advance energy efficiency and green building in New York City and State. He was Vice Chair of and managed the 80x50 Buildings Partnership, a collaboration of more than 40 leading stakeholders to shape an energy performance policy for NYC’s large buildings.