BPS & Building Decarbonization - CivicWell

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BPS & Building Decarbonization

By Carolyn Weisman, Prospect Silicon Valley

Climate Change & Energy


May 31, 2024


As cities and states work toward meeting ambitious climate action goals, addressing emissions from the buildings sector remains a significant challenge. Building codes and reach codes help ensure that new buildings are efficient and free of natural gas-fired systems, and we are now beginning to see similar regulations come into play for existing buildings. Building Performance Standards (BPS), which have been adopted in a handful of cities, counties, and states across the U.S., require existing buildings to meet increasingly stringent energy performance or emissions standards over time. BPSs have the potential to significantly drive down carbon emissions in the buildings sector, but there are challenges ahead, especially for small buildings.

Prospect Silicon Valley (ProspectSV) is working with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (LBNL) on a comprehensive effort to better understand some of the key BPS compliance barriers that owners of small commercial and multifamily buildings (~75k sf and below) may be facing. Small buildings tend to be family or small business investments, and their owners often lack the time, resources, and expertise to navigate complex regulations. They are also notoriously hard to reach, but it’s critical that they’re not left behind. In this project, we are leading a robust stakeholder engagement process to learn from small building lenders and service providers, better understand the current financing landscape, profile the capabilities of software tools that can support BPS compliance, and help Berkeley’s Haas School of Business gather feedback on their new Value-at-Risk Model. Findings from this broad set of research will ultimately help inform LBNL and the Department of Energy’s Technical Assistance Program for BPS jurisdictions.

What we’ve learned so far is that small building owners are facing real challenges accessing reliable information, finding credible service providers, and pulling together the capital needed to comply with the BPS in their region. There’s a clear need for educational resources and technical assistance from trusted sources to help owners figure out where to start and to answer critical questions about what is in their buildings and what upgrades can be most impactful. This is a key opportunity for local governments to play a role in helping their building owners overcome these barriers, whether or not they currently have a BPS in place.

ProspectSV is tackling decarbonization from multiple points in the process, from research and planning, to demonstration and implementation. We’re exploring how innovative building technologies and systems can accelerate decarbonization efforts by connecting them to the market through key industry partnerships. For example, this Summer, our team will kick off two California Energy Commission grant funded demonstrations of an advanced CO2 heat pump at Berkeley Lab’s FlexLab for commercial building HVAC, and at the Straus Family Creamery for industrial refrigeration.

On the challenge of decarbonizing small buildings, we’re sure of a few things: achieving rapidly approaching climate and energy goals will require deep collaboration, innovative thinking, and smart investment by building owners and those that support them. Local governments play a vital role in this future.

ProspectSV, a long-time partner of CivicWell, works across industry and the public sector on both building and fleet decarbonization efforts. For more information, contact Carolyn Weisman, Senior Project Associate.