Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on October 12, 2022
The massive 1,486-unit Amalgamated Housing Cooperative in the Bronx has been awarded one of six $100,000 grants by the $50 million Empire Building Challenge (EBC) as part of its campaign to decarbonize high-rise buildings.
The co-op will partner with En-Power Group and Egg Geo to utilize SHARC Energy technology to develop a roadmap for installing a system that will combine two sources of renewable energy: geothermal energy and wastewater energy transfer (WET). This carbon-neutral pairing could provide all the heating, cooling and domestic hot water for the 316 units in Towers I and II at the 13-building complex — and help the co-op take a major step toward complying with Local Law 97 of the Climate Mobilization Act.
“My first reaction to winning the grant was disbelief,” says Amalgamated’s property manager, Charles Zsebedics, who notes that five of the city’s real estate powerhouses were also awarded EBC grants — Boston Properties, Brookfield Properties, Equity Residential, the LeFrak Organization and Tishman Speyer. “But then I got very excited,” Zsebedics adds. “We’ve been preparing many years for this project. The co-op board and I are extremely happy and grateful.”
Amalgamated’s roadmap for how to build its hybrid geothermal/wastewater energy transfer system is due by the end of the year, and it could lead to a $3 million grant from the the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority to enable the co-op to turn its roadmap into reality.
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Geothermal energy systems tap into the heat that’s stored underground. They involve boring into the ground and creating an underground network of pipes connected to heat pumps to circulate water or some other liquid. (St. Patrick’s Cathedral has a geothermal system fed by 10 bore holes, known as wells, that reach more than 2,000 feet deep into Manhattan bedrock.) Wastewater energy transfer harvests the energy from water moving through a pipe — municipal wastewater moving through a sewer, for example, or water being pumped out of subway tunnels — and turns that into carbon-free energy. The Amalgamated system will marry the two technologies to supply thermal energy to geothermal heat pumps. The co-op will then be able to do away with its fossil fuel-powered steam absorption chillers and cooling towers.
“We don’t do bore holes at every building,” says Jay Egg, president at Egg Geo. “We connect buildings thermally with pipes filled with water that move energy between buildings. Heat pumps connected to geothermal networks are the path forward as we decarbonize and electrify our building stock.”
Adds Lynn Mueller, chief executive at SHARC Energy: “The combined system is a worldwide opportunity and a blueprint for what an energy-resilient, cost-effective and carbon-free system should look like. This is just the beginning for the partnership between WET and geothermal.”
Ed Yaker, board treasurer at Amalgamated and the co-op’s informal energy guru, is hoping this project will convince other co-op and condo boards that reducing their buildings’ carbon emissions, as required by Local Law 97, is an opportunity. “I’m convinced we can make our buildings more comfortable while saving money,” Yaker says. “Complying with this law is going to be an advantage, not a burden.”
Zsebedics, the property manager, agrees. “We’ll be saving money and the environment,” he says. “Some boards look at the Climate Mobilization Act as a daunting mandate, but this board sees it as the opposite — as a chance to embrace emerging technologies to electrify our buildings and become carbon neutral.”
There is, he adds, an ancillary benefit: “There will also be enhanced comfort for shareholders.”
PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — ENERGY CONSULTANTS: Egg Geo, En-Power Group, SHARC Energy.
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