Energy

Building Energy Performance Codes Pushing Decarbonization Efforts

On Tuesday September 12th, last week, New York City (NYC) Mayor Eric Adams launched “Getting 97 Done,” a new strategy to cut harmful carbon emissions from the city’s many large buildings as obliged under Local Law 97 of 2019. The plan aims to deliver the goals outlined in the broader “PlaNYC: Getting Sustainability Done,” New York City’s long-term strategic climate plan that Mayor Adams released in April 2023. It also builds on the US national administration’s comprehensive target of carbon neutrality by 2050, which also focuses on reducing emissions from various types of buildings. The new plan includes four key elements: identifying and targeting city, state, federal, and utility-based financing and funding for upgrades; providing buildings with needed technical advice through the NYC Accelerator; implementing key enforcement mechanisms via a NYC Department of Buildings rule package; and decarbonizing central systems in partnership with New York State. As the key elements of the plan show, the […]

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On Tuesday September 12th, last week, New York City (NYC) Mayor Eric Adams launched “Getting 97 Done,” a new strategy to cut harmful carbon emissions from the city’s many large buildings as obliged under Local Law 97 of 2019. The plan aims to deliver the goals outlined in the broader “PlaNYC: Getting Sustainability Done,” New York City’s long-term strategic climate plan that Mayor Adams released in April 2023. It also builds on the US national administration’s comprehensive target of carbon neutrality by 2050, which also focuses on reducing emissions from various types of buildings.

The new plan includes four key elements: identifying and targeting city, state, federal, and utility-based financing and funding for upgrades; providing buildings with needed technical advice through the NYC Accelerator; implementing key enforcement mechanisms via a NYC Department of Buildings rule package; and decarbonizing central systems in partnership with New York State. As the key elements of the plan show, the NYC mayor is clearly trying to find ways to incentivize building upgrades, whilst warning of enforcement and demonstrating his own environmental commitment, all to try and get buildings on board the 2019 program.

Prior to April 2023’s “Getting Sustainability Done” strategy, which includes transportation, food, and other aspects of NYC sustainability, Mayor Adams had already been tackling building energy performance in a more targeted way. In October 2022, Adams launched “Leading the Charge”, a $4 billion plan to combat climate change and create healthier educational environments for NYC residents. The plan requires all new schools to be made all-electric and strive for the conversion of 100 existing schools to all-electric heating by 2030. Presumably, this electrification initiative will work in tandem with clean energy upgrades to reduce carbon emissions from schools.

At a state-level, New York shares first place for the stringency of enforcement of its building codes, alongside California, Florida, and New Jersey each with a score of 99 in the FEMA rankings. The California Building Standards Commission’s Title 24 is among the most notable standards implemented by these progressive US states. Last updated in 2020, Title 24 is designed to reduce unnecessary energy consumption by driving upgrades during the construction of new buildings and renovation of existing structures. While in Massachusetts, the optional Stretch Energy Code offers more stringent building code that cities and towns can adopt.

Much of the US still lags behind in terms of building codes, with many states having no required energy performance standards at all. In that context, Local Law 97 is much more like the building codes seen in Europe.

In the UK, for example, on April 1st 2023, updates to the UK’s minimum energy efficiency standards (MEES) regulations went into effect. It states that the current prohibition on new lettings of sub-standard, non-domestic properties now extends to the continuation of any existing lease of a sub-standard, non-domestic property. The UK has also proposed a Future Homes Standard, low carbon heating and high efficiency as soon as 2025.

Local Law 97 encourages the use of renewable energy and energy efficient technologies. However, it is unique in the sense that it focuses on the carbon emissions of buildings rather than their energy use On the other hand, the UK's MEES require all rented properties to have a minimum EPC rating of E. This means that landlords cannot legally rent out properties that do not meet this standard. The aim is to improve the energy efficiency of older buildings, as they are typically less efficient than new ones.

Unlike Local Law 97, MEES does not set a cap on emissions. Instead, it focuses on improving efficiency, which can indirectly lead to lower emissions. MEES also doesn’t include any penalties for non-compliance, although landlords may find it harder to rent out properties that do not meet standards. While both laws aim to reduce emissions and improve efficiency, they differ in their approach. Local Law 97 focuses on capping emissions, while the UK's MEES focuses on improving energy efficiency in rented properties. Both laws, however, represent significant steps towards reducing the environmental impact of buildings.

New York Buildings Energy Performance

EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive

In the European Union (EU), the European Commission revised its Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) in 2021, as part of the 'fit for 55' package, to meet a minimum 55% EU reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. The EPBD requires member states to set minimum energy performance requirements for new buildings, major renovations, and for the replacement or retrofit of key building elements. Each EU member implements this directive individually, leading to stark variations and innovative regional leaders such as Denmark.

The bloc aims for a zero-emission and fully decarbonised building stock by 2050 by focusing on increasing the rate of renovation for the worst-performing buildings in each EU Member State. All new buildings in the EU will need to be zero-emission, with all public buildings reaching the same goal by 2027, but that is not enough for some, such as the EU Committee on Industry, Research, and Energy (ITRE).

On 9 February 2023, the ITRE adopted a report with even more ambitious proposals, advising that all new buildings be solar enabled by 2028, residential buildings to reach energy performance class E by 2030 and class D by 2033. Non-residential and public buildings to achieve the same classes by 2027 and 2030 respectively. They also propose the total phase-out of fossil fuels in new heating systems by 2035.

Many small affluent nations lead the line in terms of building code implementation. Singapore implemented a Super Low Emissions (SLE) rating alongside its Neutral and Positive certifications and expects to see 80% of new buildings in those categories by 2030. To drive more SLE buildings, a new SGD 63-million (USD 48 million) incentive scheme has been available since 2Q 2022 to drive energy performance renovations.

In Dubai, the Green Building Guide and Regulations is a framework designed without credits, points, or certifications to reward buildings for their gradual energy achievements. The Dubai Municipality simply obliges all developers, consultants, designers and industry stakeholders to follow the specifications as a condition for acquiring a building permit. This has spurred a wide range of innovative net zero buildings in the Emirate.

There are two common approaches to designing building energy codes: the more prevalent “prescriptive” strategy and alternatively a “performance-based” option.

Prescriptive codes typically set minimum specifications on a component-by-component basis and are often preferred by builders, designers and other practitioners for its explicit and straightforward approach. However, they lack the flexibility to deal with trade-offs. Performance codes typically rely on whole-building energy modelling, which allows for greater use of trade-offs but demands more sophistication by practitioners exploring all the options.

“Many jurisdictions around the world still lack building energy codes, or face traditional barriers such as workforce training, compliance-support programmes, or limited enforcement,” explains an IEA report. “Successfully implementing and enforcing energy codes requires resources to support staff time and expertise, acquire necessary training, and develop tools. While a performance-based code provides additional design freedom and can lead to innovative approaches, it involves more complex energy simulations and trade-offs between systems that are beyond the expertise of traditional plan review and field inspection personnel.”

According to the report, about 80 countries have mandatory or voluntary codes in place, representing a 30% increase since the Paris Agreement in 2015.

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