New York City’s recent legislation, titled Int. 2317-2021, will effectively ban natural gas as a fuel source for heat energy in select buildings throughout the city. This legislation will come into effect as early as 2023, and today’s building owners and operators must be prepared to explore alternative sources of heat energy in their buildings if they are to maintain their operations. The number of considerations that must be made in order to execute this, in addition to the relatively short time span, will require a reevaluation of the existing alternatives as others continue to emerge. Among the most prevalent of these are geothermal heat pumps, which are readily available today and provide a host of benefits.
Geothermal heat pumps have seen a rise in usage not only in preparation for the passage of the recent gas ban, but rather in response to New York City’s climate change goals, which remain the most ambitious in the world. Local Law 97 – the greenhouse gas emissions-based legislation in question – was passed in 2019 and sets emissions limits for buildings that stand at over 25,000 square feet. These caps begin in 2024 and become more stringent over time, with an ultimate goal of reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Because those dates are also rapidly approaching, geothermal heat pump technology has emerged as a promising method of reaching these goals.
The reason that geothermal heat pumps will be useful for both purposes is that they achieve these energy savings while also not relying on natural gases; instead, they use the earth itself as a heat source. The temperatures below ground are warmer and much more consistent than their above-ground equivalents, meaning that they can be tapped year-round in order to achieve the desired results. In the colder months, this heat can be transferred into buildings directly, and during the warmer months, the heat can be cooled through underground pipes to optimal temperatures used to keep temperatures consistent throughout the year. Using the environment in this way can significantly cut down on energy costs and also falls in line with the natural gas ban restrictions that will likely be firmly in place one year from now.
For owners and operators, geothermal heat pumps will not only help them to avoid the steep fines that will accompany not being compliant with Local Law 97 and the natural gas ban, but they can also cut down on existing costs. In addition to being more cost-effective, this tech is far more efficient and sustainable, and maintenance is required far less regularly once the initial installation has taken place.
It stands to reason that New York City is poised to be at the forefront of this innovation; between Local Law 97 and Int. 2317, hundreds of thousands of buildings will be affected. Cities around the country will be looking to New York for inspiration and guidance in terms of what works and what doesn’t, which is why it remains so critical for today’s operators to get things right. New York City is the fifth-largest consumer of petroleum in the country and the sixth-largest natural gas consumer, making eliminating our reliance on natural gas while also pursuing climate change goals is a formidable task. However, these figures also mean that New York has significant room to improve, and geothermal heat pumps will play a crucial role in that process.
Climate change itself is also fueling the need for a reassessment of our heat sources separate and apart from any legislation that may pass. Temperatures have varied wildly across the country over the past year, and constantly adjusting for it is simply not sustainable if we are to continue relying on natural gas. February of this year was the coldest since 1989, coming months after states such as Washington, Montana and Wyoming experienced the hottest Decembers on record. In the Tri-State area, residents of these regions have recently experienced days when the temperature had risen or fallen by as many as roughly 40 degrees in one 24-hour period. Adjusting for these volatile temperatures while relying on natural gas inevitably results in a significant amount of wasted energy as our HVAC needs fluctuate wildly on a daily basis, and an alternative must be found for as long as these circumstances continue.
Fortunately, geothermal heat pumps are receiving more recognition and widespread use today than they did when they first appeared in the 1930s. With the government now stepping in to formally mandate the usage of these types of energy sources – in addition to other alternatives – the stage is set for residential and commercial owners to become better educated on the far-reaching benefits that geothermal heat pumps provide and begin to take steps to make use of them. With luck, New York will be able to set a standard that the rest of the country can follow, enabling us to eliminate both our carbon emissions and reliance on natural gas before more dire measures must be taken.
By Danielle Gill
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