Release Date: December 20, 2021
BUFFALO, N.Y. – The New York City Council on Wednesday passed legislation banning the use of natural gas in most new building construction. The move is significant, because few cities in the United States have undertaken this greenhouse gas-saving measure.
Nicholas Rajkovich, associate professor of architecture in the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, conducts research at the intersection of energy efficiency and adaptation to climate change in buildings.
He is available to discuss the law, which proponents say will cut about 2.1 million tons of carbon emissions by 2040. He can also discuss strategies developers can take to abide by the law, and whether other cities will follow New York’s lead.
Is this legislation reasonable and affordable given existing technology?
“Yes, this is reasonable given existing technology,” said Rajkovich. “Many buildings are already being designed to be all electric because of climate or indoor air quality concerns. The price of technologies like induction cooktops and electric heat pumps have come down significantly in the past decade.”
What type of energy sources are used for electric heat for buildings?
“Buildings will typically use a heat pump to both heat and cool the building,” said Rajkovich. “There are two basic types – one uses the air as a heat sink. The other uses the ground as a heat sink. In general, ground source heat pumps are more efficient to install in New York State because the ground temperature stays constant over the course of the year. However, in places like New York City where they have a milder climate, it may be more cost effective to install air source pumps because of the limited footprint of building sites to install a ground-based system.”
Do you expect other cities to follow in NYC’s footsteps?
“Several cities have already passed natural gas bans including Berkeley, California,” said Rajkovich. “I believe that this will be an important step toward the decarbonization of buildings, though the biggest greenhouse gas emission reductions will still come from reducing reliance of natural gas in existing buildings.”
What other similar steps do cities need to take to be more climate resilient?
“To make buildings more resilient, we also need to look at ways to incorporate ‘passive’ systems like additional insulation into buildings,” said Rajkovich. “This will make sure that the buildings stay at temperature indoors even if there is a loss of electrical power during a heat wave or blackout. This is called ‘passive survivability.’ Moving to all electric buildings will require changes to the grid: how we produce electricity, transmit it to cities, and distribute it to neighborhoods. In addition, if we continue to produce power using high greenhouse gas emitting sources, moving away from gas won’t lead to greenhouse gas emission reductions. So, the grid and built environment need to work together.”