• Climate Change
  • Building Energy Management
  • Emissions
  • Zero Net Energy

Berkeley's Building Electrification Mandate Puts Strategic DSM Front of Mind: Part 1

Jessie Mehrhoff
Jul 31, 2019

Smart Cities 2

The warming climate poses immediate threats to human health and well-being (and to our broader economic and political structures). Cities and states are moving from lower carbon natural gas to zero-carbon sources of electricity; however, US dependence on natural gas runs deep. In 2017, 67% of the fuel consumed in the US for commercial and residential space heating, water heating, and cooking was natural gas according to Energy Innovation. Concerns over the climate impacts of natural gas come largely from the potential of methane leakages along the supply chain, from extraction sites through delivery to older, leak-prone buildings. Since much of the US and global building stock remains standing for at least 50 years, cities across the country are resolving to move away from natural gas and toward strategic building electrification in preparation for more stringent emissions targets.

US Building Fuel Consumption by Heat Output

US Building Fuel Consumption, by Heat Output

(Source: Energy Innovation)

The city of Berkeley, California made headlines in mid-July following the City Council’s unanimous decision to ban natural gas infrastructure in new, low-rise residential buildings beginning January 1, 2020. The decision does not apply to commercial and industrial (C&I) buildings, as the California Energy Commission must first demonstrate the feasibility of making larger spaces completely electric. 

Nonetheless, tackling emissions from natural gas in the Berkeley building stock has earned the city applause from many advocates of strategic electrification. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), California buildings are responsible for 25% of the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Natural gas is responsible for approximately 60% of these building emissions, largely due to the aforementioned leakages of methane. 

Other Cities Look to Address Building Emissions

While Berkeley’s legislation made headlines, it signifies a larger trend toward reducing emissions from the building sector. In April, New York City passed the Climate Mobilization Act; New Jersey’s current draft Energy Master Plan increases natural gas efficiency and halts its use in buildings by 2030. Also reducing reliance on natural gas are the 100% clean energy mandates and renewable portfolio standards by cities like Washington, DC and states like Hawaii and Maine.

In the US, buildings account for 40% of annual GHG emissions; globally, building stock space is on the rise. Both C&I and residential building spaces are both areas where climate change emissions can be addressed. Taking emissions reduction a step further, embracing strategic electrification is an important step in moving toward net zero energy buildings. 

New construction provides a critical point of interference to reduce reliance on natural gas for two reasons. First, rather than potentially expensive retrofitting procedures, new buildings can be built to rely on electricity from their first days in operation. Second, new buildings are those presently poised to stand the longest, at least through 2070. 

Commercial and Residential Building Stock by Region, World Markets: 2019-2028

Commercial and Residential Building Stock by Region, World Markets: 2019-2028

(Source: Navigant Research)

Making the Most of Electrified Buildings

Targeting new construction for beneficial electrification will be essential to a more rapid reduction of GHG emissions. The follow-up of this blog will take this argument a step further and analyze the crucial role demand side management (DSM) will play in ensuring reliable energy and sustainability of new buildings. Strategic electrification is one of eight major trends evident in the DSM space. As buildings like Berkeley's move away from natural gas, a swath of technologies will allow building managers to take advantage of evolving energy efficiency and demand response programs.