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How ConEd plans on keeping NYC shining for years to come

To keep NYC’s lights on in the face of climate change, Con Edison is aiming for 100% clean energy

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New York City isn’t called “the city that never sleeps” for nothing. Whether day or night, the most populous city in the country is always bustling, and that 24/7 lifestyle requires a lot of energy. Con Edison, estimated that it takes up to 5,200 megawatt-hours of electricity to keep Manhattan lit overnight. The apartments, offices, restaurants, nightclubs, and institutions that makeup NYC depend on reliable access to power.

In the late 19th century, the Edison Electric Illuminating Company (yes, that Edison) opened Pearl Street Station in Manhattan’s financial district and flipped the switch on the United States’ first commercial power plant. Since then, electricity has been a key ingredient in creating the magic of New York City, and that same company, now known as Con Edison, has been keeping the lights on all this time. But one thing is different now. Con Edison is seeing the effects of climate change. Major storms and longer, hotter heatwaves mean that updating electrical infrastructure is crucial to withstand extreme weather conditions.

And climate change means that finding innovative ways to transition to clean energy is key, and a significant part of Con Edison’s plan to ensure that New Yorkers can thrive for generations. Con Edison is working to achieve 100% clean energy in New York City by 2040. This presents a significant challenge, because sources like wind and solar require large spaces to generate the electricity, and if there’s one thing New York City doesn’t have, it’s a lot of open space. So it’s crucial to figure out how to transport clean energy from where it’s generated to the bustling city.

“Con Edison is all in on providing more clean energy for New York City and Westchester County,” says Patrick McHugh, Senior Vice President Electric Operations at Con Edison. “We are in full support of the Public Service Commission’s plan to bring in two transmission lines, to bring in clean energy from Canada, as well as from the Southwest Albany region with two new transmission lines. And we’re working on three transmission projects around the city that will allow us to retire our gas peaking units.”

The company is also working with the government to develop more clean energy hubs in NYC’s surrounding area. For example, Con Edison is hoping to harness 7,000 megawatts – that’s seven times the output of the average nuclear reactor – of wind power by tapping into the abundant wind energy opportunities off the coast of Long Island. In addition, the company already sources wind energy from South Dakota and Nebraska.

A lot of energy is required. On average, it takes about 8,000 megawatts of power to keep New York City functioning. In the summer, that can increase by more than 50 percent. So all of that incoming renewable energy will help reduce the need for power that is currently generated by emissions-producing gas turbines.

To continue reducing emissions in the city, it’s all about electrification that uses clean energy. A key place to start is NYC’s buildings, and they have a lot of room for improvement. In fact, almost 70% of NYC’s total greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings.

“The way to electrify hot water heating in a building is quite simple. There are electric hot water heaters as opposed to gas or oil hot water heaters,” says McHugh. “There are very efficient heat pumps that are now available. We have programs to incentivize people to put in those heat pumps. And we had started a six year program about two years ago. And that program was so successful that we ran through the money allocated, which was over $200 million in the first two years of the program.”

Con Edison’s numerous programs to incentivize the electrification of space and water heating, along with other energy retrofits for NYC’s buildings, could lead New Yorkers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions significantly. These programs include a plan to reduce their company’s carbon footprint and build a resilient, 22nd-century electric grid that delivers 100% clean energy by 2040. The fast pace of innovation makes the goal of 100% clean energy seem less like a pipe dream and more like the way of the future.

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