Achieving New York’s climate and clean energy goals hinges upon a comprehensive and ambitious plan to increase energy efficiency savings in New York across all fuels. As NRDC and a large coalition of advocates expressed in a letter to Governor Cuomo, that means advancing not only technologies like more efficient lighting that reduce electricity use, but also clean heating and cooling options such as electric heat pumps that reduce the use of natural gas and fuel oil. For an overview of some of the many benefits that energy efficiency can bring to New York, see this new fact sheet (described here).
Fortunately, Con Edison, one of the state’s largest utilities, is already recommending incentives for greater deployment of these technologies as “non-pipeline solutions”’ through its Smart Solutions for Natural Gas Customers Program. NRDC recently filed comments supporting the approval of these incentives because of their many benefits, including the fact that by reducing the state’s reliance on gas, they could help avoid new pipeline construction.
Further, in following through on Governor Cuomo’s plan to release a “comprehensive and far-reaching energy efficiency initiative by Earth Day, April 22” two state agencies have signaled an intent to include strategies to advance efficient heating and cooling technologies as part of that broader initiative.
Going big on that vision for clean and efficient heating and cooling as part of the Earth Day plan therefore represents a golden opportunity to expand on Con Edison’s proposal, requiring similar strategies from utilities across the state, while also leveraging the ability of heat pumps to provide benefits beyond helping to avoid the need for new pipelines.
Why does efficient heating and cooling matter?
An important part of achieving our goal to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 will be encouraging “environmentally beneficial electrification,” which describes technologies such as heat pumps that contribute to reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and transportation.
As more electricity is generated from pollution-free resources like wind and solar through New York’s plan to achieve 50 percent renewables supply by 2030, the emissions-reducing potential of beneficial electrification will grow even further. Ground-source heat pumps, which use electricity rather than burning oil and gas onsite, work by drawing heat from the ground or from an outdoor water source and moving the heat indoors. Air-source heat pumps work by absorbing heat from the outside air and moving the heat inside.
These systems can be a much more efficient way to provide heating than burning fossil fuels. For instance, an air-source heat pump can deliver one-and-a-half to three times more heat energy to a home than the electrical energy it consumes.
A recent study (discussed more here) examines how states across the Northeast are increasingly encouraging the use of heat pumps as a critical strategy to reduce harmful emissions. The potential in New York is enormous because 56 percent of the state’s homes are heated by gas, and about 25 percent are heated by fuel oil. In addition, it is in the best interest of electric utilities to advance beneficial electrification because it will help improve their bottom lines.
Next steps to advance more efficient heating and cooling in New York
Con Edison’s Smart Solutions Energy Implementation Plan proposes to double its investment in programs to reduce natural gas use to $29 million annually. The proposal provides incentives for heat pump installations, as well as resources for education campaigns and technical support for expanding clean heating and cooling in low-income communities. These measures would reduce the amount of natural gas that would be needed for heating, especially during cold winter days when demand is higher.
While Con-Ed’s proposal is a good start, much more needs to be done across the state to enable clean heating and cooling to help reach the state’s nation-leading climate policy goals. Adopting a strong energy efficiency target that encourages savings across all fuels will be key to ensuring that utilities design programs that avoid emissions from fossil-fuel generation while also lessening the need for long-lived fossil fuel infrastructure assets such as gas pipelines.