New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced guidance for restaurants planning to provide comfort heating for customers dining outdoors during the fall and winter months. Heating options include electric radiant heaters, natural gas radiant heaters and portable heaters fueled by propane.
Max Zhang is professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University and fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. He studies sustainable energy systems and the effects of pollutants on air quality and climate change. He says although electric heaters emit no pollutants onsite compared to natural gas and propane heaters, electric heating actually causes more pollution in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
“While a measure to support the struggling restaurants industry during the ongoing pandemic, it is also a vivid reflection of the most challenging problem that New York state is facing towards decarbonizing the economy: How can we provide heating in a sustainable way?
“Electric heaters emit no pollutants onsite compared to natural gas and propane heaters. However, a majority of the electricity consumed in New York City is generated from fossil fuels (e.g., natural gas and oil). Accounting for the conversion efficiency in power generation makes electric heating actually more polluting in terms of greenhouse gas emissions than the gas and propane options.
“We will need to bring much more renewable electricity to New York City to make heating sustainable.”