Nexus of electrification and energy efficiency retrofit of commercial buildings at the district scale

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Journal Article

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Rapid electrification of buildings at the district scale is needed for cities to achieve climate change mitigation goals. However, most electrification studies focus on either the single building level or the city/region building stock level, and depend on the slow and uncertain process of requesting personally identifiable customer energy usage data from utilities. To answer a key question facing local policymakers: “Where can electrification proceed at scale without first upgrading the grid?” this study aims to quantify and inform building electrification impacts at the district scale using detailed building energy modeling and based on public records datasets. We explore how energy efficiency retrofits can help mitigate increased peak electric demand, and quantify impacts to energy use and carbon emissions. Building energy models of a baseline, and scenarios of simple electrification, energy retrofits, and electrification in combination with retrofits were created and simulated for 54 commercial buildings in two contiguous districts of San Francisco. A simple electrification scenario increased annual electricity consumption but reduced annual site energy usage by 15% to 17%, mainly due to replacing inefficient gas furnaces and boilers with more efficient heat pumps. Peak demand increased 7.4% for Fisherman's Wharf (e.g. within the capacity of the existing power grid), while the Design District showed a marginal decrease. Annual carbon emissions were reduced by 46% and 37%. Combining electrification with efficiency upgrades reduced peak demand by 26% and 40%, and annual carbon emissions by 63% and 64% for the two districts. These results indicate that impacts of electrification depend on the mix of building uses within a district, and coupling electrification with energy efficiency upgrades is an effective strategy to decarbonize buildings while maintaining or reducing the peak electric demand.



Sustainable Cities and Society



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