NYSERDA Evaluates How Best to Protect Vulnerable Residents from Extreme Heat

Guidehouse supports New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in evaluating New York City's demand for cooling and associated electricity consumption



Climate change is set to increase average annual temperatures in New York City (NYC) by 3.1˚F–6.6˚F by the 2050s, while increasing the frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme weather events, including heat waves. Around 9% of NYC residences—home to an estimated 750,000 people—have no air conditioning (AC). A popular mitigation solution, AC systems are also a major driver of peak electrical demand. A public benefit corporation, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), wanted to understand how best to address the cooling usage and needs of vulnerable communities, while also continuing progress towards city and state climate and clean energy goals. 


To understand the city’s future cooling needs, NYSERDA partnered with Guidehouse, which created a rigorous, spreadsheet-based model that analyzed how NYC residential space cooling demand, energy consumption, peak electricity demand, and building stock characteristics would change between 2020 and 2050. Modeling showed that electricity demand for residential cooling would remain relatively flat as already committed energy efficiency policies offset greater demand. The energy impact of extending high-efficiency AC to vulnerable residents’ homes would likely be mild, but residents below the poverty line might struggle with bills. Before exploring how to support vulnerable populations facing extreme heat, the team investigated barriers to equitable cooling access in NYC, identifying more than 20 different barriers, from ownership structures for multifamily buildings to lack of awareness about the danger of high temperatures and gaps in current financial assistance programs. 

Guidehouse modeled three scenarios to evaluate the impact on cooling equity, electricity consumption, implementation cost, and other factors. All provided AC and weatherization to 300,000 homes by 2030 and improved cooling centers. The most comprehensive strategy included greater saturation of high-efficiency AC and building envelope improvements, plus increased investments in cool pavements, tree planting, and community solar. The project team learned that the most comprehensive strategy would completely eliminate the increased energy consumption from the additional AC units, but would incur significant capital and incremental costs. Across the range of scenarios, extending cooling access to homes without AC today would carry costs of approximately $170 million to $260 million per year through 2050. While these implementation costs are significant, the health, economic, and societal value of extending cooling to all NYC residents is very real. 


Utilizing research into low-income weatherization programs in Massachusetts, the team found the annual per-home value of low-income weatherization programs amounts to almost double the estimated $700 annual cost of a potential equitable cooling program. NYSERDA published the final report in fall 2021. It will support future discussion by government, utility, community, and other leaders on how best to address cooling equity in NYC, an issue that becomes more pressing with every passing year.

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