New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that up to $15 million is available in New York through a new program to pilot the use of community thermal systems to reduce buildings' greenhouse gas emissions. The program will accept proposals to study, design, and construct community thermal systems using heat pump technology, as well as produce a best practices guidebook.
Heating and cooling of buildings is responsible for approximately one third of New York’s greenhouse gas emissions, so decreasing the greenhouse gas output in that sector could be a significant step toward the Democratic governor’s goal to drop emissions by 85% by 2050.
"New York is confronting climate change head-on by using innovative new technologies to build cleaner and greener communities," Cuomo said. "Building heating systems are a significant source of our state's greenhouse gas emissions, and this pilot program will allow us to explore the use of community thermal technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create a healthier, cleaner, and greener New York for all."
The program can help building owners reduce the upfront capital costs of converting to a heat pump, such as drilling, construction and installation, and optimize building performance. Medical campuses, college and universities, city main streets, business districts, new construction developments, and other organizations could potentially participate in this type of energy system.
Doug Dougherty, president and CEO of the Geothermal Exchange organization (GEO), explained that building decarbonization is one of three equally important requirements for a clean energy future. An electrical grid powered by renewable and energy, as well as electrified transportation, get the most attention, but electrified buildings complete the trifecta of a sustainable future.
“Policymakers are now recognizing this holistic approach, and realizing that geothermal heat pump (GHP) technology is the best way to decarbonize buildings,” said Dougherty.
New York’s green energy plan is detailed in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, including goals such as a zero-emission electricity sector by 2040, 70% renewable energy generation by 2030, and economy-wide carbon neutrality.
“As New York accelerates toward Governor Cuomo’s ambitious goal of a carbon-neutral building stock with the use of technologies like energy efficient heat pumps, the need to scale and cost-effectively install heat pump systems inspired the development of this program,” said NYSERDA (The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority).
Geothermal and the HVAC Contractor
Geothermal heating and cooling systems, as contractors know well, use low-carbon resources from the Earth to provide heating and cooling without the release of greenhouse gases. So the drive toward a clean future means work for the contractor.
The 2020 New York Clean Energy Industry Report detailed that over 77% of clean energy jobs in New York in 2019 were in the energy efficiency sector. That totals around 127,000, and the workers who were installing high-efficiency HVAC systems and heat pumps made up over 50% of that sector’s employment.
“The best opportunities for HVAC contractors to enter this market are with projects involving buildings in close proximity to one another,” said NYSERDA.
Doug Dougherty said that GEO recognizes the need that the industry will have for trained and certified professionals who are ready to design and install geothermal heat pump systems. GEO and its affiliate organization the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) are preparing to address this need. As states work to decarbonize buildings, the HVAC industry stands ready to help.
Funding and Proposals
To identify those who receive funds, the Community Heat Pump Systems Pilot program will select proposals on a competitive basis for ground-source, air-source, water-source, or multisource community thermal systems. Funds may be granted based on proposals that fall into one of four categories: scoping study, detailed design study, construction, and a best practices guidebook. Applicants are eligible to receive funding for all four categories, and a scoring committee will evaluate the proposals and award extra points for projects in disadvantaged communities.
A breakdown of the four categories:
- Scoping study: Funds are used to determine if a community thermal system would be the most practical and cost-effective method for heating and cooling a group of buildings or new construction development.
- Detailed design study: Funds are used to perform a detailed study evaluating issues such as the financial and legal responsibilities of those building owners who wish to join the community thermal system, with the goal of bringing the project design to a shovel-ready status.
- Construction: Funds are used to for the construction of a community thermal system.
- Best practices guidebook: Funds are used to produce a best practices guidebook in order to streamline the pursuit of future community thermal systems and address logistical challenges faced during design and/or construction.
This program is funded through NYSERDA's Clean Energy Fund. Community thermal technology allows for a variety of building types to be served through a collective heating and cooling system, so sustainable heating in that sector can make a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions.
“District geothermal heat pump systems can be a method to deploy neighborhood, commercial, and institutional adoption of our technology,” said Dougherty. “GEO members include experts and companies that are skilled in GHP design that stand ready to assist federal and local government efforts to decarbonize buildings.”