Teams of Real Estate Owners and Engineers Sought to Partner with New York State and Demonstrate Retrofit Approaches That Decarbonize Heating and Domestic Hot Water in Existing High-Rise Buildings

March 31, 2022

Governor Kathy Hochul today announced a call for applications for a second cohort of real estate partners to join the State's $50 million Empire Building Challenge to help advance a climate-friendly building stock in New York State. Under the program, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is seeking teams of real estate portfolio owners and mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering companies to submit joint applications on retrofit approaches that can drive broad-scale decarbonization of heating and hot water in existing high-rise buildings.

"Real estate owners across New York State stepped up to the plate last year in committing to reduce harmful emissions in their building portfolios, and now we are looking for others to join in the effort as we continue our aggressive efforts to combat climate change," Governor Hochul said. "Through the Empire Building Challenge, we are advancing scalable solutions for low-carbon retrofits to reduce our state's reliance on fossil fuel. By introducing these low-carbon solutions to our climate agenda, we continue to foster the innovative technologies of the future and advance our climate goals."

This second round of applications will build on robust private-sector uptake in the first Empire Building Challenge cohort, which resulted in 10 partners who collectively control over 130 million square feet of real estate in New York State, including more than 250 buildings that contain affordable housing. Expanding market capacity and commitments to building decarbonization advances Governor Hochul's nation-leading Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 85 percent by 2050.

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority President and CEO Doreen M. Harris said, "We encourage the building owner and engineer teams to make a serious commitment to carbon neutrality in their portfolios and apply to join other leading real estate owners in advancing energy efficiency, sustainability and healthy indoor environments. With the lessons learned from the Empire Building Challenge projects, we are identifying viable solutions to bring the state's existing high-rise buildings into a cleaner, greener future in support of Governor Hochul's goal to achieve two million climate-friendly homes by 2030."

With today's announcement, NYSERDA is seeking partners to join the second cohort of Empire Building Challenge partners and continue the advancement of low-carbon retrofit solutions to overcome barriers and help scale successful decarbonization strategies for high-rise buildings over 20 stories across New York State. By teaming up on applications, MEP engineers will collaborate with real estate owners to determine what low-carbon technologies to install, and commit to addressing priority issues such as upgrades to building heating systems and deploying innovative thermal solutions. These solutions include heat recovery, thermal storage, advanced heat pumps, low temperature hydronics, and advanced system integrations. These solutions serve to reduce the building's overall carbon footprint and improving the comfort and health of residents.

Eligibility criteria for applicants includes:

  • Building owners must have a decarbonization project proposal ready for implementation before the end of 2025;
  • The building owner must apply to the program in partnership with a Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing engineering firm;
  • The building owner must own or manage a portfolio of buildings that contains high-rise multifamily and/or commercial buildings (20 stories or higher); and
  • The building owner must make a public commitment to achieve carbon neutrality in one or more buildings in their New York State building portfolio by 2035.

Applications are due by 3:00 p.m. on May 18, 2022, and selections are expected in July 2022. An informational webinar Link opens in new window - close new window to return to this page. on this partnership opportunity will be held on April 7, 2022 at 11:00 a.m.

Qualified applicants will be eligible to apply through a competitive solicitation to receive up to $100,000 in technical assistance funding, as well as be eligible to submit proposals to receive up to $3,000,000 for low carbon retrofit project implementation through a competitive funding opportunity expected to be released in the second half of 2022.

The Empire Building Challenge, launched in 2020, is a public-private partnership between NYSERDA and leading real estate developers, engineering firms, and solution providers to pioneer climate-friendly retrofits that can be replicated throughout the more than 3 billion square feet of existing, high-rise multifamily, commercial, and institutional buildings. The challenge aims to spur climate action from real estate portfolio owners; showcase best-in-class, commercially acceptable strategies for decarbonizing existing buildings; and spur product development and innovation from the global supply chain.

Through the Empire Building Challenge, NYSERDA is supporting 10 of the top real estate portfolio owners who made commitments to rapidly accelerate their decarbonization efforts with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality and driving the market to join the effort. The Challenge is fostering partnerships between owners and the worlds' most innovative technology developers, manufacturers, and solution providers to demonstrate low carbon retrofit projects that reduce buildings' energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and that are scalable and replicable across New York State. As a result of Round One, Empire State Realty Trust, Hudson Square Properties, L+M Fund Management, and Omni New York each were awarded up to $5 million in state funding pending contract negotiations to implement their proposed retrofit projects that reduce harmful emissions and serve as models of urban sustainability in cold climates.

State Senator Kevin Parker said, "A key component that will help the State reach our clean energy goals is partnership. This initiative is an excellent way for us to partner with developers and make sure they are incorporating energy saving options in buildings"

Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz said, "The enthusiastic response to the first round of the Empire Building Challenge demonstrates the willingness of the private sector to share in the mission of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in New York State. Advancing climate-friendly buildings remains an urgent goal and this initiative embraces the spirit of partnership that we need to drive the broad-scale decarbonization of heating and hot water in existing buildings."

One of the hardest to decarbonize sectors of the built environment are high-rise, existing buildings in cold climates- such as the buildings that make up New York City's skyline. The Empire Building Challenge is addressing the most challenging aspects of decarbonizing these complex buildings through retrofits to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, advance Resource Efficient Electrification, integrate decarbonization strategies into the capital planning and asset management process and ensure that low carbon innovation and product development meets the needs of real estate owners. The Empire Technology Prize, a $10 million initiative to spur product development and innovation to address market gaps, will also be launched in the second half of this year.

Buildings are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New York State, responsible for one third of annual emissions statewide. Integrating energy efficiency and electrification measures in new and existing buildings will reduce carbon pollution and help achieve more sustainable, healthy, and comfortable buildings in support of the state's ambitious goal to achieve 2 million climate-friendly homes by 2030. Through NYSERDA and utility programs, over $6.8 billion is being invested to decarbonize buildings to achieve the State's decarbonization goals. By improving energy efficiency in buildings and including onsite storage, renewables, and electric vehicle charging equipment, the State will reduce carbon pollution and advance the target of reducing on-site energy consumption by 185 trillion BTUs by 2025, the equivalent of powering 1.8 million homes. Energy efficiency accounts for 75 percent of the clean energy jobs across New York.

New York State's Nation-Leading Climate Act

New York State'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 achieve its mandated goal of a zero-emission 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 investments to ramp-up clean energy including over $33 billion in 102 large-scale renewable and transmission projects across the state, $6.8 billion to reduce buildings emissions, $1.8 billion to scale up solar, more than $1 billion for clean transportation initiatives, and over $1.6 billion in NY Green Bank commitments. Combined, these investments are supporting nearly 158,000 jobs in New York's clean energy sector in 2020, a 2,100 percent growth in the distributed solar sector since 2011 and a commitment to develop 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035.

Under the Climate Act, New York will build on this progress and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. These reductions must also ensure that at least 35 percent with a goal of 40 percent of the benefits of clean energy investments are directed to disadvantaged communities, and advance progress towards the state's 2025 energy efficiency target of reducing on-site energy consumption by 185 trillion BTUs of end-use energy savings.