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Global Retrofit Innovations Come to New York


What We Can Learn From an International Retrofit Movement in the Age of Climate Change

Energiesprong’s net zero retrofit revolution may have started in the Netherlands, but over the last 10 years it has ignited a global movement inspiring similar programs across Europe including the UK, France, Germany, and Italy. NYSERDA is now adapting Energiesprong thinking in the United States with RetrofitNY.

While most of the work on the path to carbon neutrality in the United States to date has focused on new construction, the Dutch program pioneered a pathway toward retrofitting existing buildings to net zero, and thus provides a great learning opportunity for those working on retrofits in the United States.

“In New York State we have a lot of existing buildings,” states Evan Hallas, Senior Energy Analyst of Taitem Engineering, which has completed net zero projects in New York. “To combat climate change, we cannot ignore the difficult [retrofit] projects by trying to build our way out of the problem [through new construction]. It’s inspiring to see this program take on the hard stuff.”

“For decades we were looking to save 10% of energy. These people said, ‘We’re going to save 100%.’ And they did it.”

Ian Shapiro, Senior Engineer and Founder of Taitem, visited the Netherlands to understand what made their program so successful. Ian summarized his technical understanding of the program and takeaways in a report [PDF] that helped inform the development of RetrofitNY.

A Roadmap to Carbon Neutral Buildings

Shapiro said Energiesprong cracked the code for a technical approach that reliably resulted in net zero energy performance. This approach involves electrifying buildings by replacing fossil fuel-based space and water heating systems with heat pumps; adding air-sealing, insulation and high-performance windows using prefabricated wall panels; adding ventilation; and filling the roofs with solar panels.

Over the last eight years, Energiesprong has found ways to cut net zero retrofit costs by an estimated 50%. Unique financing models that include 30-year loans backed by performance guarantees have helped to make the Dutch net zero retrofit solutions cost-effective.  Additionally, the standardization and industrialization of panelized wall solutions and mechanical pods produced offsite continues to drive costs down and will be one of the keys to success in New York.

According to Sanne de Wit, Head of Ideas on the Energiesprong team, “Everybody was pretty skeptical to give a 30-year long-term performance warranty and scared the buildings would end up being not as good as they were designed. Now after having a couple of years of monitoring, almost all the projects are doing better than we expected.”

Coming Together to Grow Carbon Neutral Buildings

Further transfer of knowledge from the Dutch program to RetrofitNY occurred in the summer of 2018 during a trip to the Netherlands, when teams participating in RetrofitNY were guided through the program by the Energiesprong team themselves.

Sadie McKeown, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of The Community Preservation Corporation (CPC), also attended the trip. Sadie spoke about the intensity of being together with the RetrofitNY group and Energiesprong team all day everyday throughout the trip and how that resulted in a wealth of learning.

McKeown shared, “One of the things that was so fascinating was the collaborative approach from the government, the private sector, and affordable housing sector to all get to renewable energy and net zero for their different reasons which all come together. You want to keep housing affordable. You want it more comfortable. You want to get off natural gas. You want to create jobs and build an economy. All those things came together.”

Applying Lessons Learned to New York State

The path to net zero carbon in New York has its own unique challenges that the teams are working hard to solve, as we outlined in our article “On the Path to Net Zero,”  but significant progress is being made toward the goal thanks to lessons learned from Energiesprong and the integrative, collaborative approach that is part of RetrofitNY.

Shapiro notes, “When we went to the moon in 1969, we showed that it could be done. You set a goal that many people would think was impossible. For decades we were looking to save 10% of energy in buildings or 20% if we’re brave. And here these people said, ‘we’re going to save 100%.’ And they did it. They did it reproducibly over and over.”

The net zero carbon revolution is under way in New York. If you are a building owner, developer, solution provider, manufacturer, lender, or regulatory agency, contact NYSERDA to find out how you can play an active role and realize a tremendous business opportunity.

Learn more about the RetrofitNY trip to the Netherlands in 2018 from our videoLink opens in new window - close new window to return to this page..