Energy Efficiency | July 12, 2023

Electrification: A Big Step Toward Fossil Fuel-Free Buildings

Building electrification is the process of transitioning from fossil fuel-powered heating and cooling systems to systems powered by electricity. This can be done by replacing boilers, furnaces, and other combustion appliances (equipment that burns fuel such as natural gas) with electric heat pumps, water heaters, and other appliances.

Why it matters

Earlier this year, Washington became the first state to pass legislation requiring building electrification in all commercial buildings. While the concept is not new, Washington’s new legislation, which joins cities like New York, Denver, and Eugene, is evidence that building electrification is becoming a focus for carbon emissions reduction policy in the United States.

More than that, building electrification can be a sound investment for building owners and operators. It can lead to lower energy costs as well as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved air quality, increased comfort, and compliance with local regulations.

  • Lower energy costs. Electrification projects like heat pumps, VRF systems, electric boilers, and battery storage are often more efficient than combustion equipment, which means they use less energy to power and can lead to lower energy costs for building owners and operators.
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Making the switch can help drive building owners toward achieving their net zero goals as fewer fossil fuels are burned in an electric building than in a building with gas.
  • Improved air quality. Electrification can improve air quality both inside and outside the facility through reduced exposure to harmful pollutants.
  • Increased comfort. These different systems can provide more precise temperature control than combustion appliances, which can lead to increased comfort for building occupants.
  • Regulatory compliance. Increasingly, local laws are mandating reduced emissions or banning using gas altogether. Electrifying your building can help your building comply with existing laws and/or prepare for future ones.

How to start thinking about electrifying your portfolio

There are a number of ways to electrify buildings, including installing electric heat pumps, water heaters, and appliances, and upgrading the building's electrical infrastructure.

The best mix of bringing electrification to a facility portfolio will depend on several factors, including the age of the buildings, the types of heating and cooling systems currently in use, the budget available for the project, and any available rebates or incentives from local, state, or federal programs.

To begin this process, building owners should first look to reduce existing energy use at their facility. This includes making buildings as energy efficient as possible to avoid oversizing equipment or over-purchasing renewable energy.

Then, owners and operators can bring electrification to their facilities by:

  • Retrofitting existing buildings. This can be done by replacing existing combustion appliances with electric appliances.
  • Building new buildings with fully electric systems. This can be done by specifying electric equipment in new construction projects.

There are resources available to help building owners and operators learn more about building electrification and make the transition to electric systems.

How Mantis can jumpstart your electrification goals

Here are some additional tips for building owners and operators who are considering building electrification across their portfolios:

  • Start by conducting an energy audit. An energy audit will identify areas where energy is being wasted in your buildings. This information can be used to develop a plan for building electrification that will save you money.
  • Work with a qualified energy and sustainability consultant. Building electrification at the portfolio level requires an enterprise view of an organization’s energy data. A qualified consultant, like Mantis, will have the experience and expertise to ensure that your project is completed correctly and safely.
  • Take advantage of government incentives. Many states and local governments offer incentives for building electrification. These incentives can help offset the cost of your project. A consultant, like Mantis, is well-versed in the available incentives in jurisdictions across the U.S. and can navigate the process of securing them for specific projects, as well as consider their impact on a portfolio-wide budget.

Highlighting a Mantis-led electrification project

A large private university in the tri-state region has been struggling with an antiquated heating and cooling system. Historically they were stuck either in heating mode or cooling mode, making comfort – and cost – an issue during shoulder seasons. They engaged Mantis to develop a solution that addressed not just the comfort and cost, but also the growing need for demonstrating organizational sustainability.

Mantis’ custom solution has included:

  • Converting an open loop, gas-driven absorption chiller with a cooling tower to a closed loop heat exchanger with a dry cooler
  • Retrofitting all existing fan coils to new heat pumps
  • Upgrading the existing electrical into the facility to support the increase in electrical usage

This was the first electrification project to be officially approved by the Con Edison Clean Heat Program which includes a range of initiatives to advance the adoption of efficient electric heat pump systems that are designed and used for space and water heating.

For the client, the project means the removal of an open loop system and better control of their HVAC system including the ability to heat and cool simultaneously. Additionally, the client will see an annual reduction of 75,000 therms, equivalent to taking nearly 90 cars off the road for one year. This project will, net an annual utility cost savings of $100,000, even factoring in the additional electrical usage.

In conclusion

Building electrification is a smart decision for building owners and operators who are looking to reduce their environmental impact, improve air quality, and save money. With careful planning and execution, building electrification can be a successful project that benefits both your building and the environment.

Talk to an energy and sustainability pro today about what electrification looks like for your portfolio.