Carbon Free Boston Summary Report

Several years ago, the City of Boston asked Boston University’s Institute of Sustainable Energy, in collaboration with Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission to do energy modeling and research using real-world data in order to “evaluate Boston’s options to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.” In January 2019, the ISE delivered the much-anticipated Carbon Free Boston Summary Report. The report “evaluates key strategies across the building. transportation, waste, and energy sectors to inform the City’s Climate Action Plan update.” (quotes from the ISE’s website)

The report describes the fundamental characteristics of a carbon-neutral city (p. 12) thus:

  • “Maximizes Efficiency: A carbon-neutral city minimizes the demand for energy. Every building is a high-performance building; travel shifts from single-occupancy vehicles to public transit, biking, walking, and shared modes; and waste diversion is maximized.”
  • “Electrifies Activity: A carbon-neutral city converts systems that currently run on fossil fuels, such as cars, furnaces, and stovetops, to use electricity instead. Heating systems are converted to heat pumps and electric boilers where feasible. Light-duty and medium-duty vehicles are powered by electric motors.”
  • “Runs on Clean Energy: A carbon-neutral city purchases electricity that is 100 percent GHG-free, and it fully utilizes the potential for in-city renewable generation, such as rooftop solar. Sustainably sourced renewable fuels are used in highly efficient district energy systems, emergency backup energy systems, and heavy-duty vehicles.”

In regard specifically to buildings, the CFB report indicates three necessary areas of action:
—maximize energy efficiency, primarily through whole building and deep-energy retrofits 
—replace gas and oil for heating/cooling and hot water with GHG-free electricity
—create strong energy performance standards for all buildings.

To achieve carbon neutrality, approximately 85,000 buildings need to be retrofitted by 2050, and henceforward all new buildings need to be net-zero carbon (all-electric and offsetting whatever energy is not produced by the building).

Next Steps

The team that created the Carbon Free Boston report was not tasked with making recommendations or setting an implementation timeline. This is meant to be achieved by the updating of the Climate Action Plan (CAP; originally scheduled to be updated in 2018 and now hoped for by early 2020). In spring and summer 2019 a CAP working group of approximately 80 representatives from environmental, social equity, and other organizations throughout Boston is meeting four times to voice priorities for implementation. Several member groups of BCEC are represented at these CAP update sessions. Ultimately, a CAP Steering Committee consisting of City of Boston staff will then create a 5-year implementation plan based on the results of the Carbon Free Boston report. 

It should be noted that the technical documentation for the CFB Summary Report will be released sometime in 2019 as well.

Social Equity

The ISE and Green Ribbon Commission will also create the “Carbon Free Boston: Social Equity Report 2019” to addresses concerns about executing the Carbon Free Boston report through the CAP update in a socially equitable manner. This companion report is due in spring 2019.