Theses Master's

Participatory Decarbonization: Exploring Community Engagement in Residential Building Retrofit Electrification in New York City

Xiao, Wei

Buildings in New York City contribute to nearly 70% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the city level, primarily due to their reliance on fossil energy sources for heating, cooling, and powering the properties. Considering the global climate crisis and the city's commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 80% by 2050, decarbonizing the building sector is essential in meeting the target. In the context of New York City, where the majority of all buildings that will exist in 2050 have already been erected, and residential buildings alone constitute 31% of the city's GHG emissions, decarbonization with residential building retrofit electrification will be particularly crucial.

On the one hand, residential building retrofit electrification presents a significant opportunity to reduce GHG emissions and enhance occupants' safety and health by reducing risks associated with the use of fossil energy sources. On the other hand, the effects of residential building retrofit electrification vary based on property ownership, exposure to climate risks, and households' socio-economic status. Given that the energy transition not only alters the operation of building systems but also has direct impacts on people's everyday lives, including its upfront cost, influence on energy bills, and specific energy requirements during power outages under extreme weather events, successful civic engagement can effectively address people's concerns about building retrofit electrification as a novel technical intervention to their properties and facilitate smoother energy transition.

In the context of New York City, with the recent release of the city’s inaugural Long-Term Energy Plan (LTEP) – PowerUp NYC (PowerUp), which initiated civic engagement by collaborating with community-based organizations (CBOs) and identified involvement of communities in local energy planning processes as a key objective for the city's ongoing action plan, this thesis began by posing the following question: How can CBOs improve their facilitation of community participation in the energy transition process? The project's primary objectives are to assess the current state of community involvement in building retrofit electrification and investigate further opportunities to integrate civil society in the transition process, with a particular focus on the perspective of resilient neighborhoods.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Sarmiento, Hugo
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 12, 2024