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The Empire State Building energy retrofit

Bill McKibben, THE NEW YORKER

A 1999 graduate in sustainable design from the University of Virginia, Dana Robbins Schneider led sustainability efforts for many years at the commercial-real-estate giant J.L.L. As the director of sustainability at the Empire State Realty Trust, she oversaw an energy-efficiency retrofit of the iconic Manhattan skyscraper on Thirty-fourth Street, which demonstrated how landlords could save both carbon and money, and which helped pave the way for Local Law 97, the city’s effort to force large buildings to improve their energy performance. (Our interview has been edited.)

How did the Empire State Building retrofit come about? What are the bottom-line before-and-after numbers?
The Empire State Building’s ten-year energy-efficiency retrofit started as an exercise to prove—or disprove—that there could be an investment-and-return business case for deep energy retrofits. Once it was proven, it was implemented to save energy and reduce costs for both the tenants and Empire State Realty Trust. We partnered with the Clinton Climate Initiative, Rocky Mountain Institute, Johnson Controls, and J.L.L. to manage the project. Through the rebuild, we were able to cut emissions from the building by fifty-four per cent and counting, which has saved us upward of four million dollars each year, with a 3.1-year payback. We have attempted to inform policy with local, state, and federal governments to share what we’ve learned to reduce emissions—and to meet E.S.R.T.’s target for the building to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

As a result of the retrofit, the building is in the top twenty per cent in energy efficiency among all measured buildings in the United States. E.S.R.T. is the nation’s largest user of a hundred-per-cent green power in real estate and was named Energy Star Partner of the Year in 2021.
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How your water heater can be a secret weapon in the climate change fight

Todd Woody, BLOOMBERG,COM

California wants to replace millions of gas water heaters with high-tech electric ones to serve as “thermal batteries” for storing solar and wind energy.

Nearly every home has a water heater, but people tend not to think about it until the shock of a cold shower signals its failure. To regulators, though, the ubiquitous household appliance is increasingly top of mind for the role it could play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and weaning the power grid from fossil fuels

High-tech electric water heaters can double as thermal batteries, storing excess production from wind and solar generators. In California, officials aim to install them in place of millions of gas water heaters throughout the state.
That would reduce the need to fire up polluting fossil fuel power plants to supply electricity for water heating after the sun sets.

“Water heaters have significant potential,” says Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen of the California Public Utilities Commission. “We know we’ll need a tremendous amount of storage to get to our decarbonization goals. We’re challenged now in evenings when renewable energy production declines and demand peaks.”

The focus is on heat pump water heaters, which transfer warmth from the atmosphere to a tank. They’re up to four times as efficient as conventional gas or electric water heaters. Nationwide, about half of water heaters are powered by natural gas. In California, water heating is one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels and gas water heaters account for 90% of the market. Swapping them for heat pump versions could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from water heating in the state by as much as 77%, according to a paper published in January by the nonprofit New Buildings Institute.

Read more at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-02-11/how-your-water-heater-can-be-a-secret-weapon-in-the-climate-change-fight

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Why your house may burn while your neighbor’s survives the next wildfire

Dale Kasler and Phillip Reese, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

The sky was turning orange and the embers were flying from the Camp Fire when Oney and Donna Carrell and Donna’s father sped away from their Paradise home.

“I thought, ‘Oh, well, the house is done,’ ” Oney Carrell said.

A few days later, they learned otherwise. The Carrells’ home survived the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history with a couple of warped window frames, a partially charred down spout and a stubborn smoky smell inside.

Most of their neighborhood was destroyed. A guest house in their backyard, where Donna’s father lived, was reduced to ashes, along with a couple of sheds. Yet their beautifully restored 1940 Studebaker sat untouched in the garage.

The arc of destruction the Camp Fire carved through Paradise was seemingly random: Why were some houses saved and others incinerated? As millions of Californians brace for another wildfire season, a McClatchy analysis of fire and property records shows the answer might be found in something as simple as the roofs over their heads — and the year their house was built.

A landmark 2008 building code designed for California’s fire-prone regions — requiring fire-resistant roofs, siding and other safeguards — appears to have protected the Carrells’ home and dozens of others like it from the Camp Fire. That year marks a pivotal moment in the state’s deadly and expensive history of destructive natural disasters.

All told, about 51 percent of the 350 single-family homes built after 2008 in the path of the Camp Fire were undamaged, according to McClatchy’s analysis of Cal Fire data and Butte County property records. By contrast, only 18 percent of the 12,100 homes built prior to 2008 escaped damage. Those figures don’t include mobile homes, which burned in nearly equal measure regardless of age.

“These are great standards; they work,” said senior engineer Robert Raymer of the California Building Industry Association, who consulted with state officials on the building code.

Yet despite this lesson, California may end up falling short in its effort to protect homes from the next wildfire.

Read more at https://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/fires/article227665284.html

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Ygrene seeks green in energy retrofits

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Nearly two years after it launched amid national media attention, Santa Rosa’s Ygrene Energy Fund has financed its first projects for making older buildings green.

The company, which fashioned its business after a program pioneered by the County of Sonoma, is providing financing and administration to retrofit homes and commercial buildings in Sacramento and Miami. The public/private programs allow property owners to install solar electric systems and other energy- and water-saving improvements, with borrowers repaying the debt on their property tax bills.

via Ygrene seeks green in energy retrofits | The Press Democrat.