New York City has announced the launch of the NYC Retrofit Accelerator, the nation’s first city-run, data-driven, one-stop shop service to help owners navigate the process of improving the energy and water efficiency of their buildings.
The accelerator does exactly what its name implies. It takes the city’s focus on building efficiency as an essential component of its strategy to reduce climate-changing pollution to the next level by providing the resources, advisors, and personal assistance that building owners need to successfully implement efficiency retrofits. The accelerator will assist owners of up to 1,000 properties per year with retrofits that are expected to reduce city-wide greenhouse gas emissions by approximately one million metric tons.
Most NYC building owners have yet to tap into the significant energy and water savings potential in their buildings. That means that their buildings are sending a lot of excess carbon dioxide and money up the flue as a result of inefficient heating, cooling, domestic hot water and ventilation systems; energy-gobbling lighting and appliances; leaks and openings in the building envelope; and other inefficiencies that turn buildings into expensive energy hogs. Upgrades to these systems can:
- Save owners and their tenants a lot of money, often paying for themselves in less than five or ten years, and
- Significantly improve a building’s value and its carbon footprint.
The accelerator is designed to help the city’s thousands of owners of large buildings — especially owners of affordable multifamily housing — make the most of their properties’ energy-efficiency and water-efficiency potential. That’s important because there is a lot of potential out there: New York’s large buildings — those that exceed 50,000 square feet — make up only 2 percent of the buildings in the city but account for close to half the city’s total energy use.
Using Data to Conduct Targeted Outreach
What’s particularly exciting about this new Retrofit Accelerator is that it will use the wealth of data generated from the city’s Benchmarking, and Energy Audit and Retro-commissioning ordinances to identify and reach out to building owners who have the most to gain by upgrading their buildings. That’s a key next step in the city’s path-breaking efforts to make New York’s building stock among the most efficient in the world. The accelerator builds on efforts that began with the city’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan and includes the establishment of the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation (NYCEEC) and the Building Energy Exchange (BEEx), plus the New York City Carbon Challenge, which has announced a major expansion.
The outreach and assistance that the accelerator will provide to building owners is a necessity because, with tight margins, complicated building systems, and tenant issues to worry about, efficiency upgrades are often last on an owner’s agenda. With the exception of large real estate firms that employ sustainability managers, few building owners have the technical expertise, staff, or bandwidth needed to navigate the efficiency upgrade process.
The accelerator will help to address those issues by providing access to energy efficiency advisors that will help owners identify optimal times for upgrades, such as when building systems begin to fail or when owners plan to undertake significant renovations. Accelerator energy advisers will develop relationships with owners, identifying the most appropriate government and utility efficiency program incentives, connecting owners to knowledgeable and competent building auditors, engineers, contractors, and others necessary for a successful retrofit, and providing guidance throughout the retrofit process to help owners overcome hurdles as they encounter them. The accelerator model is based on the NYC Clean Heat initiative, which has successfully assisted owners of thousands of buildings with the process of conversion from No. 6 or No. 4 oil to cleaner fuels.
Of key importance is the special emphasis that the accelerator will place on working with the owners of affordable apartment buildings that are home to many of the city’s low- and moderate-income residents. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability has partnered with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to extend the accelerator’s services to all of the affordable multifamily buildings in their portfolios, including smaller buildings.
This focus on housing makes sense from both an environmental and an equity perspective. The energy used in residential buildings accounts for 37 percent of New York City’s carbon emissions–the single largest source of emissions in the city.
Water and energy retrofits can help preserve NYC’s affordable housing by lowering operating costs for owners, while also reducing the burden of energy bills for the city’s low and moderate-income residents who spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy bills. The Program Design Guide published by the Energy Efficiency for All project where I work highlights the key importance of one-stop shop solutions like the accelerator when it comes to providing access to efficiency resources for the affordable multifamily sector.
For many years now, New York City has been a national and a global leader in improving the efficiency of its building stock. That leadership has continued under Mayor de Blasio, who last year during Climate Week announced his One City: Built to Last plan to reduce New York’s global warming pollution by 80 percent by 2050.
With this announcement of the newly minted NYC Retrofit Accelerator, New York takes that leadership one step further on a path that other cities can and should follow.
Lindsay Robbins is a senior advocate for the Urban Solutions Program in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Washington DC office. She focuses primarily on the Energy Efficiency for All Project, a partnership between NRDC, National Housing Trust, Energy Foundation and Elevate Energy to increase energy efficiency in affordable multifamily housing.