Transitioning on the Way to Decarbonization –

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Hot item at CREtech’s Climate Pavilion:
natural gas-powered boiler.

We’re not sure what we expected when we headed over to the area designated as the Climate Pavilion during last week’s CREtech 2022 gathering at Pier 36 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

A bevy of decarbonization certification tools, perhaps, or a sensor system that can run HVAC systems whenever parts of a building are empty (there actually was a provider of that system in attendance).

But we know we didn’t expect to see a natural gas-powered boiler the size of a hot-water heater but shaped more like a propane tank.

Yet there it stood, inside a closet-sized metal case, which had its door open: EnviroPower’s SmartWatt Boiler system, a boiler that can generate electricity from the natural gas it’s burning.

You read that right: this is a fossil fuel-powered boiler designed to reduce your building’s carbon footprint.

The SmartWatt Boiler comes equipped with a seamlessly integrated electric generator—a closed loop, radial, microsteam turbine in a patented dual-condensing combustion chamber designed to generate up to 6 kW of “free” electricity while heat is being produced at close to 97% (HHV) heating efficiency, according to EnviroPower.

South Windsor, CT-based EnviroPower is marketing SmartWatt—which essentially is a cogeneration unit—as a heating and backup power system that also can lower a building’s electricity bill.

According to EnviroPower’s website, “the energy world is rapidly changing. Increasing decentralization, integration of intermittent renewable energy and digitalization of energy are transforming the ways in which electricity is generated, delivered and consumed.”

“The SmartWatt Boiler system is designed to transform the existing heating infrastructure into an energy platform that satisfies the heating requirements of buildings while generating onsite electricity at nearly zero-cost,” EnviroPower says.\

We asked EnviroPower CEO Dan Nadav if a gas-fired cogeneration unit—albeit a smart one that can reduce energy costs—really is a step toward decarbonization at a time when New York City already has moved to ban gas hookups in new buildings, effective December 2023 for buildings under seven stories; and in 2027 for towers.

“Fossil fuels are still a major contributor to our way of living,” Nadav told Globe St. “Getting out of that will take time. How much time? You don’t know and I don’t know.”

Making a meaningful reduction in the carbon footprints of today’s buildings requires adapting existing building systems—60% of which in NYC currently are powered by natural gas—to innovative technology like EnviroPower’s compact cogeneration unit, Nadav explained.

“If you put the SmartWatt Boiler in [your building] today in New York City, you’ll lower your carbon footprint in a significant way. You’ll actually cut [emissions] by 50 tons of CO2,” he said.

The EnviroPower CEO—who told us his experience includes installing hundreds of MW of wind power—made it clear that SmartWatt is a transitional product to what he hopes will be a renewable energy future.

“As green technology improves, I hope this product is completely obsolete in 10-15 years,” Nadav said.

EnviroPower’s potential market for a transitional product like the SmartWatt Boiler is huge, at least in the short-term: NYC building owners are scrambling to find quick and relatively low-cost ways to comply with carbon-reduction mandates that go into effect in 2024 under NYC’s Local Law 97.

Local Law 97, enacted in 2019, takes direct aim at reducing the estimated 60% of overall carbon emissions in the nation’s largest city that are attributed to buildings.

Under Local Law 97, most buildings over 25K SF will be required to meet new energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emission limits by 2024, with stricter limits—and carbon emission reduction requirements—coming in 2030. NYC’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions from the city’s largest buildings by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

In addition to buildings exceeding 25K SF, the law covers two or more buildings on the same tax lot that together exceed 50K SF, and two or more buildings owned by a condo association that are governed by the same board of managers and together exceed 50K SF.