RTC Summit Key Findings: “Building a Path to Thermal Decarbonization: The Institutional Buyers’ Perspective”

By: Cihang Yuan, Program Officer, Climate and Energy, World Wildlife Fund

While much of the Renewable Thermal Collaborative’s (RTC) work focuses on industrial process energy, decarbonizing buildings’ thermal energy is a critical piece of the puzzle for bending the emissions curve. Fossil-fuel combustion attributed to residential and commercial buildings accounts for roughly 29 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

At the RTC’s 2021 Annual Summit, the session “Building a Path to Thermal Decarbonization: The Institutional Buyers’ Perspective” featured four RTC Members with significant buildings-based thermal loads. Each Member shared how they are approaching their decarbonization goals, what barriers they have faced, and what we can do together to accelerate progress.

This expert panel was comprised of:

Grant Ervin
Chief Resilience Officer and Assistant Director for the Department of City Planning
City of Pittsburgh

Michael Forrester
Director for Cincinnati’s Office of Environment and Sustainability
City of Cincinnati

Ramé Hemstreet
Vice President of Operations
Kaiser Permanente

Sam Schabacker
Renewable Energy Manager
University of California, Office of the President

Some of the key observations and recommendations from the discussion include:

  • Ambitious climate and carbon neutrality targets are driving all four organizations’ decarbonization actions for their building thermal energy footprints.
  • These buyers are actively considering a range of renewable thermal technologies, including renewable natural gas (RNG) and electrification.
  • The costs of switching to these renewable thermal solutions remain a major challenge.
  • Effective policy – at the federal and state levels – is critical to addressing cost barriers and driving broader adoption of renewable thermal technologies.
  • Policy – including the Production Tax Credit, the Investment Tax Credit, and state renewable portfolio standards – has been fundamental to accelerating the U.S. renewable electricity markets, and similar measures are needed for renewable thermal.
  • Because they are tax-exempt organizations, institutional buyers – like cities, healthcare systems, and universities – need financial incentives and supports that aren’t tax-based.
  • The building design community, including architects and engineers, can help institutional users by incorporating decarbonization considerations into projects early in the design process.
  • Workforce training on renewable thermal energy solutions will be required as part of our overall decarbonization transition.
  • Institutional energy users will need third-party financing to support renewable thermal deployments across their buildings’ portfolios.

This session is just one of the examples of how the RTC is bringing together large corporate and institutional energy buyers, solution providers, and other key market and policy stakeholders to share experiences and lessons learned, discuss shared challenges, and most importantly, chart a joint path forward.

In the coming year, the RTC will continue to facilitate peer-to-peer learning among buyers, seek opportunities for policymaker education to accelerate the adoption of incentives for renewable thermal energy solutions, and launch Technology Action Plans and Partnerships (TAPPs) for renewable thermal solutions such as RNG, electrification, and beyond.

View the complete session recording here.

To learn more about the work of the RTC and join us in scaling renewable thermal energy solutions, please consider joining the Collaborative and contact Blaine Collison, RTC’s Executive Director, for details.