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Equitable Residential Building Decarbonization in Philadelphia

The view down a street in Philly. Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay

Buildings are a common focal point for city climate policy since residential and commercial buildings require large quantities of natural gas and electricity for heating, cooling, lighting, and other needs. In fact, buildings are responsible for approximately 30% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. In Philadelphia, they account for almost 70% of the city’s emissions.

Reducing energy use through energy efficiency and weatherization programs and transitioning to high-efficiency, clean energy technologies can provide huge emissions benefits, and in turn, reduce bills and improve health. This is especially needed in Philadelphia, which experiences significantly higher than average high energy burdens, disproportionately impacting Philadelphia’s historically marginalized and vulnerable communities.

"Equitably decarbonizing Philadelphia’s residential stock is essential to achieving our carbon targets and ensuring an equitable and just energy transition in our city,” said Nidhi Krishen, Deputy Director for Climate Solutions, Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability

To better understand how to implement impactful strategies to equitably decarbonize the city’s buildings, Philadelphia developed an analysis of its building and housing stock, to understand the size, scope, and scale of this stock by type, age, use, size and energy profile. The analysis was used to inform the City’s strategy to decarbonize the residential housing stock. The City then partnered with Greenlink to pair this housing data with equity metrics such as energy burden. With this approach, the City could focus their work in the neighborhoods and communities with the greatest needs.

The City and Greenlink worked to overlay Philadelphia’s housing data into the Greenlink Equity Map (GEM) tool, leveraging equity metrics already developed and mapped by the tool. This was a multi-faceted approach that included acquiring a building list from the city, integrating building data with equity attributes such as energy burden, race, and income, and visualizing the final dataset in GEM.

Image showing multi-family homes in Philadelphia's Building data set in the Greenlink Equity Map.

The analysis helped the City visualize and appreciate the inextricable links between the age of homes, levels of insulation, owned or rental properties, income, race, and energy burden. Together the metrics highlight key areas of need where the City can concentrate their efforts to ensure that Philadelphia’s clean energy transition is equitable and just.

“This work helps us understand the scope and scale of need for decarbonization in our historically marginalized and vulnerable communities and informs decision-making on equitable climate action in the city,” said Krishen.


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