Assessment Tools

Strategic Decarbonization Assessment (SDA) Tool

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Insights from the Empire Building Challenge

The Strategic Decarbonization Assessment calculator is a valuable tool that allows building owners and retrofit teams to align their asset decarbonization strategies with their capital investment strategies. The SDA is designed to integrate assessment of multiple requirements including optimizing net present value, replacing equipment close to end of life, avoiding compliance fees, and coordinating electrification of fossil fuel equipment with future electric grid decarbonization. 

The SDA is a long-term financial planning tool for building owners to manage carbon emissions and energy use. During the Empire Building Challenge program, the tool guided participants in refining their decarbonization scenarios and identifying the most cost-effective decarbonization plans. Several teams were able to show positive net present value for their decarbonization plans compared to business as usual. This process can benefit many buildings and property owners in New York in better quantifying, representing, and identifying optimal decarbonization scenarios.

The SDA tool was built by Arup and Ember Strategies. It was previously developed for the San Francisco Department of the Environment and modified for NYSERDA use in the Empire Building Challenge.

Download SDA Overview

User Advisory

The SDA tool was created as the one-stop shop for the development and modeling of the business case that supports initiating a decarbonization roadmap. The SDA tool below was developed based on ASHRAE Standard 211 normative forms with a variety of users and use cases across the United States in mind. 

The tables and charts on the “Summary (Print Me)” tab outline assumptions, costs, savings, decarbonization trajectory and alignment with NYC’s LL97 requirements. The bar charts and trajectories on this tab should be a graphical representation of the narrative explanation of your plan and business case from the “Narrative & Measures” and “Alternatives” tabs. The “Carbon emissions per year, before offsets” and the “Relative NPV of Alternatives” charts on the “Summary (Print Me)” tab should illustrate the sequencing and timing of equipment replacement, relationships between ECMs and savings/costs.

SDA Inputs Table

The table below describes inputs of the SDA tool and directions associated with each.

On the “Building info and assumptions” tab, users input basic information about the building: floor areas, space types, fuel types and consumption (bill) data. The “Building info and assumptions” tab enables users to communicate building information in a highly customized way at a very granular level. Default values do not need to be changed unless the business case is materially impacted by these estimates (i.e.  maintenance costs are reducing in addition to energy costs). Most of these assumptions are found in the “Real Estate Characteristics” drop down menu. Use the drop-down menu to change the default escalations rates for general costs and specific fuel costs over time. Sensitivity analyses that explore a variety of future rate scenarios are encouraged to show that you have considered the sensitivity/fragility/resilience of your plan in a variety of futures. 

The “Regulatory Assumptions” drop down on this tab includes NYSERDA default values for fuel specific emissions factors stipulated by LL97. This section also automatically calculates the building’s LL97 emissions limits for the 2024-2029 and 2030-2034 time periods using building typology and GSF inputs on the same tab. Please note: As of 2024, the SDA tool has not been updated to reflect any recent changes to LL97 building classes and missions factors.

On the “Equipment Inventory” tab, users will input major energy using equipment. All the fossil fuel equipment and at least 80% of total energy using equipment should be inventoried and reported on this tab. Very similar or identical equipment can be grouped into one row (e.g. multiple AHUs of generally the same size and age). The date of installation is required as it determines the equipment life and is used to define the Business As Usual (BAU) trajectory – existing equipment is projected to continue functioning until it reaches End of Useful Life and is replaced, like for like, at that time. User-input costs for the like for like replacement are also required inputs to complete the BAU trajectory. Please note, the estimated replacement cost and year installed are required inputs for the SDA graphics. Replacement costs for decarbonization measures and BAU equipment replacement need not be overly precise – these cost numbers should be realistic to ensure ROI and NPV calculations are sufficient for comparative purposes.

NPV and savings calculations in the SDA are significantly influenced by major energy using equipment. To streamline SDA development and simplify analysis, project teams should focus on major equipment and group minor equipment together by age, if feasible. If you are not using the landlord/tenant cost/benefit breakout, keep all equipment in column I (Tenants Own/Operate) marked “No”. This tab also enables a simple summer/winter peak/off peak calculator for demand ECMs, but using this feature is optional and is not a replacement for a full 8760 hour model. 

The “Percent energy/carbon by equipment RUL” graphics to the right (cell AY) should populate as expected if everything is input correctly. This visual is often used in business case narratives, but does not appear on the Summary tab.

On the “Narrative & Measures” tab, users narratively define their alternatives and input all the ECMs (costs and energy/carbon impacts) that will be assigned to years on the “Alternatives” tab. The SDA automatically generates two BAU cases: one in which LL97 compliance is not sought and fines are applied, and one in which LL97 compliance is achieved through carbon offsets alone.

Note the measure life column is a critical input as it determines how long the measure’s savings will persist – if the measure ends without replacement, the corresponding uptick in energy/carbon on that year will show in the trajectory graphs. 

Some potential users may be generating detailed energy models and bringing the outputs from those models into the SDA. These users may streamline ECMs to minimize data entry and rely on the narrative explanation of the measures. The simplest ECM list in this case may be “Year 1 ECMs”, “Year 2 ECMs”, etc. with corresponding costs and benefits; but be advised that users must explain their measures very clearly where they have aggregated costs and benefits.

On the “Alternatives” tab, users schedule ECMs and review the bar charts and trajectories between those Alternatives. The charts on this tab should illustrate the business case consistent with the narrative section. As stated before, the landlord vs. tenant breakdown for ECMs is not required (column H of Alternatives) and the subsequent charts can be disregarded if not used. Note the Holding period and Analysis periods can be varied independently, but most EBC users keep both set for 20 years.

The “Total Relative NPV Compared to Baseline – Varying Time Horizons” chart (cell AZ) is very commonly used in internal business cases to evaluate cost-effectiveness of the Alternatives over different time horizons, but it is not included on the Summary tab.

Most of the calculations happen on the “Operating Statements” tab, where an annual operating statement is created for each alternative/baseline for the 20-year analysis period. Users can review these statements as needed; however, it is not recommended to edit this portion of the tool directly. This is typically done when troubleshooting a trajectory chart that does not match user expectations.

Download

The SDA tool is available for download below, including a blank version as well as a version with data from a sample building.

Instructional Videos

Four instructional videos detailing each step of the SDA process are linked below:

Part 1: Introduction & Inputs

Part 2: Equipment Inventory

Part 3: Narrative & Measures

Part 4: Scenarios & Results