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Breathing better in the Big Apple

Breathing better in the Big Apple
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Our cities are facing difficult energy challenges, and in New York it includes a battle against soot and pollution.

Key facts about New York’s Clean Heat campaign:

  • The dirtiest Number 6 and Number 4 heating oils are being targeted
  • Some 10,000 New York buildings were using these oils in 2011
  • In July 2015 the Number 6 oil will be banned and Number 4 is banned in 2030
  • Alternatives include natural gas, biodiesel and ultra-low sulphur oil
  • All new boilers/burners must use one of the cleaner fuels

A 20-year plan is underway to replace dirty fuel oil used for heating with cleaner alternatives such as natural gas.

Euronews’ Seamus Kearney reported: “Health officials here estimate that 800 lives can be saved every year with its combination of air quality improvements.

“They also hope to prevent hundreds of hospitalisations for the likes of asthma and other respiratory and cardiovascular problems.”

For decades 10,000 local buildings used the heaviest grade of heating oil, causing more pollution than all of New York’s cars and trucks.

But a new law in 2011 targeted those oils known as Number 6 and Number 4. In July 2015 Number 6 will be banned. Number 4 will no longer be allowed after 2030, the final deadline for the use of cleaner alternatives including natural gas or greener fuel.

One of the city’s biggest property owners, Columbia University, will have converted more than 80 residential buildings to gas by the end of this year.

Frank Martino, the Operations Vice President at Columbia, told Urban Visions: “Columbia and New York city have always been synonymous; we’ve alway been part of the fabric in New York, and being a leader on many levels, not just higher education, has always been very important to us.”

The university says gas was just one of the options it had, and legally it could have gone for something else, but in the end it was the right decision.

Martino said: “Not just from the environmental perspective – where it’s very much a cleaner burning fuel and would reduce our emissions quite a bit – but also it reduces the maintenance on the equipment and the general wear and tear for the building itself.”

The city, which is helping finance conversions, says results overall have been dramatic. Last year New York air pollution dropped to its lowest level in more than 50 years.

Some experts say natural gas is the obvious alternative because it is cleaner, affordable and abundant. But it is also about reliability.

Energy expert Dr. Barry Stevens, a scientist and technology business developer, told Urban Visions:

“It simply means you get your energy from your power source when you want it; not when the wind blows or not when the sun shines, it’s there 24/7. And that is a problem with some of the renewables.”

Despite ongoing debate about the sourcing of some natural gas, its use globally is on the rise and set to continue to grow. Over the past decade demand has risen 2.8 per cent every year, and it is expected to rise by 50 per cent on 2010 levels by 2035.

New York State, for example, is also considering new facilities for liquefied natural gas, mostly to fuel trucks and for heating reserves. The city already has a large fleet of compressed natural gas and hybrid buses.