Public-Private Partnership with the Real Estate Community Will Develop Replicable and Scalable Clean Energy Solutions and Comprehensive Energy Efficiency Upgrades

September 22, 2020

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the launch of the Empire Building Challenge, a $50 million initiative proposed during his 2020 State of the State address to transform existing multifamily and commercial high-rise buildings and substantially reduce the carbon footprint of these structures. The challenge will advance low-carbon retrofit approaches resulting in heating and cooling solutions that will increase the comfort, sustainability, and energy performance of the state's existing high-rise buildings, a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings currently account for 45 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from fuel combustion and electric generation. This announcement advances Governor Cuomo's nation-leading clean energy and climate agenda which mandates an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, placing the state on path to economy-wide carbon-neutrality.

"New York is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing renewable energy resources that will grow our economy and advance our nation-leading plan to fight climate change," Governor Cuomo said. "The Empire Building Challenge leverages public-private partnerships with leading industry experts and helps New York to continue its rich legacy of environmental stewardship in order to protect our natural resources for future generations."

Through a comprehensive retrofitting process, infrastructure in existing buildings will be replaced with more energy efficient heating and cooling technologies and solutions, spurring new jobs and significant economic activity. According to a 2019 analysis by Urban Green Council, if all buildings choose efficiency to meet their carbon goals, the retrofit market opportunity in New York City could be over $20 billion by 2030 while creating over 100,000 jobs by 2030. Increased energy efficiency can be achieved through window, door and wall insulation, energy efficient appliances, replacement of inefficient duct work, furnaces and boilers, and incorporation of clean energy technologies, such as heat pumps.

The Empire Building Challenge seeks to attract best-in-class manufacturers, solution providers, and entrepreneurs from around the world to help build the green economy in New York State and provide successful low-carbon demonstrations that set the standard for the next decade of real estate investment in energy efficiency, sustainability, and healthy indoor environments.

Acting President and CEO, NYSERDA Doreen M. Harris said, "The Empire Building Challenge lays the groundwork for the real estate community, developers and solution providers to work together in making New York a hub for successful building retrofits while accelerating our state toward our ambitious goal of a completely carbon-neutral building stock. This collaborative effort is a tremendous step forward in addressing the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in high-rise buildings and will provide new approaches that the global building industry can adopt and scale up into the future."

The Empire Building Challenge will seek commitments from building owners to carbon neutrality and will make available up to $50 million through three phases of deployment as well as a technology prize.

Phase one and phase two will offer $27 million for the following:

  • Building owners and large commercial office tenants will submit an eligibility request to partner with NYSERDA on the Empire Building Challenge to be designated as a prospective Empire Building Partner.
    • Owners of affordable multi-family buildings will be eligible for additional scoring points during the selection process.
    • Applications are due by October 22, 2020 with selections expected to be announced by the end of 2020.
    • Only owners and tenants who commit to making one or more buildings carbon neutral will be eligible for funding.
  • Partners selected through the process above will be eligible to work with solution providers and submit a proposal that includes a high replicable low-carbon retrofit solution for addressing the one or more major challenges of decarbonizing high-rise buildings.
    • As part of the competitive selection process, proposals will be evaluated based on a project's scalability and feasibility in addressing the major challenges of decarbonizing high-rise buildings.
    • Proposals will also be evaluated based on the building owner's willingness and ability to implement solutions across their portfolio of buildings.
    • Winning proposals will be eligible for up to $5 million each to support project development and implementation.
  • Funds that may remain from phase one will be used for a second phase of partner and project identification in support of the program goals.

Phase three will offer $10 million through which qualifying proposers will be eligible for up to $1 million each in cost sharing incentives to replicate the solutions and models demonstrated in phases 1 and 2, and scale the approach to address the needs of a diverse set of buildings by 2025.

The Empire Building Challenge is a first of its kind initiative and is expected to result in significant learning. As such, new solutions will be evaluated in the field, findings will be shared broadly, and case studies will be produced. Additionally, the effort will develop tools, approaches and play books that can be used by other building owners as we seek to decarbonize more and more buildings across New York State.

In conjunction with these first three phases, NYSERDA will also launch a $10 million Empire Technology Prize to accelerate the development of low carbon solutions through a targeted innovation competition. Technology needs will be defined by nation-leading innovation experts including private sector partners and leading public innovation experts. This public-private technology prize will drive innovation and develop new/better low carbon solutions to address the needs of this critical market.

High-rise buildings, particularly in New York City, face unique challenges when it comes to implementing carbon emissions reduction measures. These barriers to progress include tenant disruption, upfront cost and the sheer size and scale of high-rise buildings. The Empire Building Challenge will address crucial innovation gaps in the clean energy market for decarbonizing high-rise buildings and provide a blueprint so successful strategies can be adopted and implemented across many more buildings.

Today's announcement is the latest in a series of actions the State has taken to equitably transition to economy-wide carbon neutrality. By overcoming barriers to energy efficiency in high-rise buildings, and prioritizing partnerships with affordable housing owners, the Empire Building Challenge will accelerate New York toward Governor Cuomo's nation-leading goal of reducing carbon emissions 85 percent by 2050 and provide an important roadmap for solutions that will help the state achieve a completely carbon-neutral building stock as codified in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). Through NYSERDA and utility programs, New York State is investing over $6.8 billion to decarbonize buildings across the State.

The Empire Building Challenge will help leverage private investment in low-carbon technology innovation and deployment, uniquely positioning New York as a pioneer in transitioning to a carbon neutral building stock. For additional details on this funding opportunity, or to apply, please visit

New York State's Nation-Leading Climate Plan

Governor Cuomo's nation-leading climate agenda is the most aggressive climate and clean energy initiative in the nation, calling for an orderly and just transition to clean energy that creates jobs and continues fostering a green economy as New York State recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Enshrined into law through the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, New York is on a path to achieving its mandated goal of a zero-emissions electricity sector by 2040, including 70 percent renewable energy generation by 2030, and to reach economy wide carbon neutrality. It builds on New York's unprecedented ramp-up of clean energy including a $3.9 billion investment in 67 large-scale renewable projects across the state, the creation of more than 150,000 jobs in New York's clean energy sector, a commitment to develop 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035, and 1,800 percent growth in the distributed solar sector since 2011. Under Governor Cuomo's leadership, New York will build on this progress and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, while ensuring that at least 35 percent with a goal of 40 percent of the benefits of clean energy investments benefit disadvantaged communities, and advancing progress towards the state's 2025 energy efficiency target of reducing on-site energy consumption by 185 TBtus.