Doing the climate math on New York’s uptake of green technologies in order to reach the 1.5°C pathway

A new report from Navigant shows that urban areas can get on track for the 1.5 degree target and eliminate air pollution in a cost-effective way by prioritizing investments in 1) electrifying cars, busses, trucks and vessels, 2) energy efficient heating and cooling of buildings, including district energy, 3) and sector integration.

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Limiting the global temperature increase requires drastic and early action. Countries must fully decarbonize their economy by the middle of the century.

Cities play a crucial role

Cities account for the largest part of world’s emissions. Cities only occupy about 3% of the Earth’s land, but they account for two thirds of the world’s energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions.

The world urbanized rapidly since the 1950s, with 55% of the world’s population now living in urban areas; a number that is expected to increase to almost 70% by 2050. That is why cities really have a key role to play.

At the same time air pollution is also a real and growing concern in cities. Around 91% of the world’s population live in places where air quality levels exceed the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) limits.

A 1.5°C pathway can be used to efficiently eliminate greenhouse gas emissions as well as urban air pollution.

What can cities do?

A new report from Navigant assesses how urban areas can get on a 1.5°C pathway while also reducing air pollution.

Most of the scientific scenarios that looks at how to achieve 1.5°C temperature limit don’t have the geographic and technological detail to actually see what that means at the city level. But the new report from Navigant examines how fast cities need to deploy technologies to achieve the 1.5°C goal.

The report shows, that urban areas can get on track for the 1.5 degree target and eliminate air pollution in a cost-effective way by prioritizing investments in 1) electrifying cars, busses, trucks and vessels, 2) energy efficient heating and cooling of buildings, including district energy, 3) and  sector integration.  

Just by implementing these existing technology solutions, that are easy to implement, urban areas can bridge half of the gap needed to reach the 1.5°C target in urban areas. 

The biggest contribution will come from transport. 28% of the gap will be closed by electrifying transport and 20% from investments in energy efficient heating and cooling of buildings, including district energy. Both enabled by sector integration. 

New York City

The report also contains specific numbers for New York. Navigant translated IEA and IPCC outlooks, focusing on key solutions: electrification of transport, energy efficient heating and cooling of buildings, transformation of the power sector and coupling sectors to an optimized system.

With nearly 9 million inhabitants, New York City is the largest, most densely populated city in the US. By 2050, the inhabitants of New York City will total 11 million. In September 2014, New York City committed to cutting 80% of its GHG emissions by 2050, with an interim target of 40% GHG reduction by 2030.

Today GHG accounts for 50 MtCO2e in Greater New York Area. Around 15 MtCO2e of emissions are produced in the transport sector and 21 MtCO2e in the buildings sector.

What does it mean for the Greater New York Area in terms of technological change?

To align with a 1.5°C scenario, the transport sector needs to be cut down to nearly 2 MtCO2e (share of GHG reduction around 25%) and 1 MtCO2e in the buildings sector (share of GHG reduction around 40%).

In 2019, New York State had more than 40,000 EVs on the road, including 18,000 battery EVs and 26,000 plug-in hybrid/extended range EVs, representing a minimal share within the more than 2 million registered cars in New York City. Likewise, the number of battery electric buses are 155 today and this number needs to reach 10,000. Until 2050, Navigant expect that the share of battery EVs needs to increase to 60% and of electric buses to 80%, which makes a 170-fold increase of EVs.

By 2050, more than 1.2 million electric cars and 16,000 buses will need to be operated in the city. At the same time, the number of public chargers will need to boost from less than 1,000 today to 20,000 in 2050 with a larger number of slow chargers (around 13,000) and around 7,000 fast chargers.

New York City announced its plan to invest $10 million to install fast charging stations in the short- to mid-term. Also, the Maid of the Mist Corporation, which has been navigating the waters of the Lower Niagara River since 1846 in the State of New York, is preparing to launch the first two new all-electric, zero-emission passenger vessels and this will reduce around 1,000 tons of GHG.

A fleet of zero carbon cars, buses and city vessels will significantly contribute to a better quality of air and life.

For buildings, solutions can also be implemented quickly and cost-effectively through optimized technical building systems that enhances energy efficient heating and cooling of buildings.

A large share of New York City’s emissions come from buildings. The city aims to reach the goal of One Million Buildings Clean and Efficient through a range of programs such as The NYC Retrofit Accelerator and the Voluntary Leadership of Carbon Challenge in addition to robust legislation frameworks including The Climate Mobilization Act 2019, Climate Action Executive Order, Greener Greater Buildings Plan. A pillar of decarbonized heat is the massive uptake of electric heat pumps until 2050. Navigant expect that around 370,000 heat pumps for space heating will be operated in Greater New York Area, which represents a

share of around 15% for heating.

For cooling, the share of electricity remains similar to today (87%), but heat pump installation will significantly accelerate to 1,000,000 devices. Additionally, Navigant expect an increase of district heating; around 2 MW electric capacity will be provided though large heat pumps running on renewable electricity.

The New York City electric grid must become 70% to 80% renewable to achieve the ambitious target. The Clean Energy Standard mandates New York City utilities to achieve 50% of electricity consumption from renewable energy by 2030.

Since 2014, the solar energy production has increased over sixfold. New York City plans to install 1 GW of solar capacity by 2030, this is accompanied by several city, state, and federal incentives programs for solar energy.

US annual renewable electricity generation will likely increase sevenfold from 640 TWh today to 4,600 TWh in 2050. The share of solar and wind increases to approximately 75% in total power, from 280 TWh today to 3,500 TWh in 2050. Electricity generation of biomass increases from recently 60 TWh to 800 TWh in 2050, whereas hydro remains on the same level as today (300 TWh).

To support increased solar and wind generation, battery storage needs to increase to 110 GW in 2050. Additional system flexibility in 2050 can be provided through 300 MW installed capacity of heat pumps

connected with thermal storage and 1.2 million EVs, which will respond to the needs of the

power system.

Despite the big potential, cities will not be able to solve the challenges on their own. There is a need for vertical alignment across all levels of government for ensuring a clean energy transition. Not least in the current context of economic recovery, as decision making, regulation, planning, infrastructure, funding, and delivery is often shared across regional, national and local governments.

While cities can and do take the lead in many examples, the funding and regulatory support and cooperation is required across levels of government.  

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