SLOPE can show how energy and transportation burdens vary across a jurisdiction’s census tracts. Image from SLOPE with editing by Fred Zietz, NREL

SLOPE Illustrates Opportunities in Philadelphia’s Equitable Carbon Neutrality Quest

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The city of Philadelphia has pledged carbon neutrality by 2050, and the State and Local Planning for Energy (SLOPE) Platform is illustrating opportunities to reach that goal equitably.

Access to clean energy benefits is inequitable across the nation, and Philadelphia is no exception. Philadelphia is one of the most energy-burdened cities in the United States, meaning in many neighborhoods, households spend an average of more than 6% of their income on energy bills. High energy burdens can contribute to energy insecurity, in which households either do not have access to energy or cannot afford to utilize it, leaving them potentially exposed to dangerous temperatures or other health risks.

The city of Philadelphia Office of Sustainability is seeking out strategies to change that, focusing on alleviating energy poverty and increasing equity in their clean energy transition.

But where to begin? Most of Philadelphia’s building stock is old, small, and residential. According to city data, more than half of the city’s residential buildings are 80–100 years old. These older buildings are typically less energy efficient: Based on modeled data using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) ResStock™ tool, it is estimated that 90% of single-family residential homes have uninsulated walls (although a majority of single-family homes are row homes) and 70% leak energy.

“It is a daunting challenge. The city had a lot of data on their housing stock situation, which appeared overwhelming and difficult to make a dent in,” said Megan Day, senior energy planner at NREL. “They needed to narrow down this information and begin prioritizing areas and strategies. That’s where SLOPE can help.”

SLOPE delivers maps and charts for more than 50 key datasets in one place, allowing planners to visualize the impacts and potential of different clean energy strategies. SLOPE’s Data Viewer and Scenario Planner let users not only identify clean energy opportunities and potential in local jurisdictions but also consider the social and economic impacts.

SLOPE can show how energy and transportation burdens vary across a jurisdiction’s census tracts. Image from SLOPE with editing by Fred Zietz, NREL.

SLOPE shows areas with high average energy and transportation burdens, enabling cities like Philadelphia to target programs to residential areas most in need. SLOPE also delivers data on the most impactful residential efficiency and electrification strategies for the unique housing situation in these areas, showing how Philadelphia and others can further prioritize efforts.

SLOPE’s Data Viewer revealed that in Philadelphia County, low- to moderate-income households can achieve the highest bill savings potential from electricity efficiency, with an average annual savings potential of $441. SLOPE also provided a breakdown of the top 10 efficiency measures that have the most potential to reduce household energy costs and consumption statewide. Immediately replacing electric baseboard heat with ductless heat pumps, before waiting for the heaters to wear out, has the highest cost-effective electricity-saving potential in Pennsylvania. Equipped with this information, the city can prioritize programs to replace inefficient and costly electric baseboard heating systems in energy burdened households to achieve high energy and bill savings.

Identifying these strategies makes the prospect of alleviating energy poverty seem more attainable.

“We recognize SLOPE’s value and importance in telling a story about clean energy opportunities in our city and elsewhere,” said Nidhi Krishen, deputy director of climate solutions for Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability. “We highly recommend communities use SLOPE to understand how to target efforts to not only reduce emissions but also deliver comfort, safety, and investment to those households that are experiencing energy poverty.”

SLOPE’s new equity filters enable planners to explore both community vulnerability and clean energy potential together. Users can highlight census tracts that meet user-specified levels for household energy burden, transportation energy burden, and social vulnerabilities.

“We can’t transition to 100% clean energy without involving everyone,” Day said. “We are helping communities understand how to design programs, set goals, and target their efforts to equitably distribute benefits and burdens of that transition, be it in climate action, energy planning, or other investments.”

NREL developed the SLOPE Platform collaboratively with nine U.S. Department of Energy offices to support state and local governments and other key energy planning stakeholders in building clean energy futures. Learn more about SLOPE and how to use the platform’s equity filters for clean energy planning on the SLOPE website.

Article courtesy of NREL. By Julia Medeiros Coad


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