How New York City can be carbon neutral by 2050

Apr 15, 2021
3 MIN. READ
ICF helps foster collaboration among the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Con Edison, and National Grid for a landmark decarbonization study
Identifying technology deployment strategies that get the most populous city in America to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 80% in less than 30 years is a difficult task. It requires objective, science-based analysis. With consideration for energy efficiency, renewables, electrification of vehicles and buildings, and low-carbon fuels.
This partnership provides an example of the coordination and collaboration required to reach carbon neutrality at the scale and pace that climate science demands.
But through collaboration with the New York City Mayor's Office of Sustainability, Con Edison, and National Grid, this aggressive goal can become a reality. Along with these study sponsors and our partners at Drexel University and the Energy Futures Initiative, we embarked on a journey to explore the opportunities and challenges associated with citywide decarbonization.
The result is Pathways to Carbon Neutral NYC: Modernize, Reimagine, Reach, the most comprehensive scenario analysis to date of the city's energy supply and demand through the next 30 years.  

Science-based analysis

As the lead modeler and support for developing assumptions and scenarios, we coupled predictive analytics with climate science and deep engagement to offer insights to an ambitious, yet practical, analysis.

“We used a sector-specific, integrated quantitative modeling approach that considered New York City’s unique challenges to realizing deep carbon reductions in its energy demand and supply sectors,” explains Deb Harris, our senior director of climate planning.

A complex energy system impacted by policies, regulations, weather, and infrastructure. A million buildings across the city, many of which are older. The timing and scale of planned technology deployment and innovation. And a complex transportation system of public and private vehicles. These all made drawing conclusions more difficult, but not impossible.

Pathways to carbon neutrality

Our analysis indicated the need for bold actions that amplify the public and private sectors' existing carbon reduction strategies. Energy efficiency improvements and the electrification of heating and hot water. Strong adoption of all-electric cars. Pairing of renewable power with energy storage and low-carbon, gas-fired generation to meet electricity demand. And a transition toward low-carbon gases.

The report outlines three paths to carbon neutrality with distinct technology deployment strategies that modernize how New Yorkers use energy and reimagine the role of existing energy infrastructure.
  • An electrification path that focuses on electrifying building heating systems and vehicles
  • A low-carbon fuels path that reduces the use of fossil fuels through energy efficiency and some electrification and integrates the use of low-carbon alternatives for buildings and transportation
  • And a diversified path that contemplates key elements from the first two

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Benefits of continued collaboration

This ambitious plan requires coordinated efforts to cut emissions, but also offers many benefits. More comfortable and energy-efficient buildings. A more reliable and flexible energy system. A more electrified transportation system with fewer personal vehicles and more ridesharing to reduce traffic and travel times. Job growth within the clean energy sector.

While the report concludes that reducing New York City's emissions by 80% or more is feasible, collaboration remains key. Policymakers, innovators, utilities, financiers, building owners, skilled trades and unions, and environmental justice advocates. Plus the millions of people who live and work there. Working together to make the city's ambitious goals a reality.

For more information, read the New York City Mayor's Office of Sustainability's press release.

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