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Building owners are often in the dark about their carbon pollution — a new algorithm could shed light on it

Date 19 Apr, 2024

Writen by Tim De Chant

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Starting this year, thousands of buildings in New York City will have to start reducing their carbon emissions. But before that happens, owners need to understand how much pollution they are generating.

Electricity alone makes up 60% of the total energy use in commercial buildings, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. There are plenty of tools out there that can convert an electric bill into estimated carbon emissions, but many are based on rough estimates. With the growth of intermittent wind and solar, knowing when you’re using electricity is almost as important as how much you’re using.

It’s why NZero, a carbon-tracking startup, developed a new algorithm, giving building owners reports that estimate carbon pollution down to the hour.

Some owners whose buildings are equipped with advanced meters and sensors already have that data, but many do not. “Better data is going to give you better outcomes,” John Rula, NZero’s CTO, told TechCrunch, “but it should not be a blocker.”

The problem can be especially vexing for a class of real estate investment trusts, or REITs, favored by investors known as a triple net lease. The REIT is responsible for a building’s emissions, but because the owner doesn’t pay the utilities, it has little insight into the pollution the building generates.

“They’re begging their customers to provide this data and with very little success,” Rula said.

Using the building’s address and any additional information the owner can provide, including square footage and the types of heating and cooling systems it uses, NZero can generate estimates that it says are more accurate than the owners previously had.

From there, the company’s software helps building owners identify upgrades and retrofits that will reduce emissions while also being the most cost-effective.

“There’s all these different steps and hurdles of which data collection is one, compliance reporting is another, but they’re not the end goal, right?,” Rula said. “The end goal is to promote and accelerate decarbonization.”

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