San Francisco Environment Department Wins $400,000 Prize from Federal Government to Launch New and Innovative Building Electrification Program


The program aims to install 200 low-voltage hot water heat pumps in 200 days in San Francisco’s disadvantaged communities


San Francisco, CA –The San Francisco Environment Department (SFE) won a $400,000 prize from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in the initial phase of its historically competitive Buildings Upgrade Prize competition (Buildings UP). The contest recognizes creative ideas that promote fair and widespread energy efficiency and electrification upgrades for buildings. SFE, one of 45 winners selected out of over 300 entries nationwide, built its concept around installation of 200 low-voltage hot water heat pumps and other upgrades in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods within 200 days.

“San Francisco has always been an innovator on the leading edge of change,” said Tyrone Jue, Director, San Francisco Environment Department. “For this prize, we collaborated on ways to rapidly deploy newer, clean energy technologies without placing undue burdens—like high costs, or displacement—on residents that need these technologies the most but are the least equipped to pay for them.”

San Francisco’s collaborative initiative, SF HIPE (San Francisco Home Improvement Program for Everyone), comprises PODER, QuitCarbon, Rising Sun Center for Opportunity, San Francisco’s Climate Equity Hub, and San Francisco Environment Department. By utilizing a low-voltage (120VAC), emission-free heat pump water heater (HPWH) that can run on a standard, dedicated wall plug, SF HIPE’s project will eliminate the need for circuit upgrades, reducing installation costs by nearly half, and saving significant contractor time. The concept also leverages the city's bulk buying power to obtain discounts for the entire procurement and installation process, covering permitting, equipment, and labor. 

An advocacy component of the program will invite residents who adopt HPWH and other upgrades to join SF HIPE and showcase their homes to demonstrate to other residents what’s possible with electrification and address any concerns. Advocates will inspire others to consider not only HPWH but additional efficiency measures that enhance home comfort, improve air quality, and save money. To help mitigate the costs of increased energy use, the program will enroll participants in CleanPowerSF programs to lock in rates and help keep utility bills manageable. 

Bayview Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods have higher rates of outdoor air pollution and asthma, and have been identified by SF Planning as Environmental Justice communities. They are also recognized as communities of concern for poor air quality by the California Air Resources Board and Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Replacing old fossil fuel appliances with new, emission-free, all-electric ones in disadvantaged communities is a core Climate Action Plan goal. Additionally, ensuring that residents in these neighborhoods are engaged in the process is another key equity-centered approach. To develop the components of the 200 x 200 program, team SF HIPE engaged both residents and contractors who live and work in these communities on the challenges and impacts of electrification upgrades throughout the concept development process.

“Engaging both residents and contractors was so important to shaping the concept that we finally submitted,” said Cooper Marcus, CEO of QuitCarbon, which helps residents upgrade to electric appliances in an efficient and cost-saving way. “In addition to understanding what concerns residents had, we identified two big hurdles to success: the planning required to make the most efficient use of buildings' existing electrical capacity, and the challenge of connecting projects with the right contractors. Our concept innovatively addresses these barriers to equitable electrification.” 

Buildings UP comes on the heels of an agreement signed in October, 2023 by 10 of the world’s largest manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers of heating and cooling equipment. The agreement commits these businesses to helping California achieve its goal of installing six million electric heat pumps by 2030, on the way to carbon neutrality in the state by 2045.

“The transition away from carbon is crucial for our climate future,” said Julia Hatton, President & CEO of Rising Sun Center for Opportunity. “We have an opportunity and an obligation to make that transition just and equitable. We can do that by not only providing access to cleaner, safer technology like heat pump water heaters, but also by making sure that the jobs created by this type of investment are accessible to workers and jobseekers left behind by other economic transitions—and that the jobs are good, quality, career-building opportunities."

The cash prize and expert technical assistance awarded from the DOE will be utilized over the next year to transform SFE’s concept into a fully developed project plan. Phase 1-awarded projects are eligible to compete in Phase 2, which will evaluate the project plans developed in Phase 1 and potentially award up to another $400,000. Phase 3 of the competition, which has not yet been announced, will make awards to support implementation of the most innovative shovel-ready projects.



Contact information

Contact Joseph Piasecki, Policy and Public Affairs: joseph.piasecki@sfgov.org