Some interesting tidbits from today's event discussing the benefits of electrifying building and water heat.
This morning, a local clean energy non-profit Fresh Energy hosted a discussion about converting natural gas heat for buildings to clean electricity. The speakers were Bruce Nilles and Sherri Billimoria, both of the Rocky Mountain Institute (another clean energy non-profit based in Colorado). Bruce led the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign – perhaps the most successful environmental initiative ever – for 15 years. And Sherri was the lead author on a groundbreaking study last year to quantify the benefits of replacing gas heat with electric.
Clearly, I had to be there!
And there were several bits of information that I wanted to share:
Good news about the electric grid
- The US electricity sector is on track to meet the 1.5°C IPCC goals last year. This was a stunner to me! I knew that renewable energy was booming, but everything I’ve read about the 1.5° report has been doom and gloom. It was nice to hear some good news about it.
- On a related note, there are only 5 coal-fired power plants left in Minnesota, down from a peak of 19. That’s amazing! (Technically a few more than that are still operating, but they have near-term, legally-binding shutdown dates scheduled.)
- For decades, natural gas was considered the most efficient, environmentally-friendly way to heat things. Thanks to the cleaner electric grid, this is no longer true.
Bad news about natural gas
- There are 70 million buildings in the US that burn fossil fuels (mostly natural gas) on-site for heat, creating about 10% of our greenhouse emissions. To electrify everything will be a massive effort.
- Natural gas leaks are a huge problem. A Harvard methane-monitoring study showed that leaks from distribution in Boston alone cause more greenhouse emissions than the largest coal plant in the country. [I’ll note that Boston has perhaps the oldest gas infrastructure in the country, and similar studies of other cities haven’t been as dire. But still!]
- Gas-burning stoves for cooking can cause nitrous oxide (NOX) levels in the home to exceed EPA standards. Industrial equipment and furnaces have NOX emission requirements; stoves do not!
Encouraging news from the RMI report on building electrification.
The report analyzed a bunch of different scenarios for building heat to determine when electrification will save money (most of the time), and when it will save carbon (nearly all of the time).
- The average cost of a gas pipeline to a new home is $7,000. This means that for new homes, using electric heat is cheaper than gas over the lifetime of the home. We should stop connecting new homes to gas.
- 10% of homes in Minnesota are heated with propane or fuel oil, which are more expensive and price-volatile than natural gas. Electric heat would be cheaper for all of these homes.
- Electric heat reduces carbon emissions nearly everywhere in the country if you consider the average grid mix. If you consider the “marginal” power plant that ramps up in the winter to meet additional load, then electric heat would increase carbon emissions in the Midwest only. (I don’t necessarily agree with this approach! But it’s interesting.)
- The Netherlands is phasing out gas throughout their entire country! This should help to provide an electrification roadmap to the rest of the world. (The geopolitical aspect of natural gas in Europe – which is supplied almost entirely by Russia – is pretty fascinating.)
Overall it was a great discussion and I spoke with some very interesting people. And I’ve gotta say – it was exciting to see 100+ people gathered on a cold, snowy morning to listen to two environmental experts talk about the exact topic I’ve focused my business on! I’m increasingly optimistic that homeowners will be interested in converting their fossil-fuel heat systems to clean electricity.
Speaking of which:
If you’re a homeowner interested in converting your fossil-fuel heat system to clean electricity, please get in touch.
Next: Brutal Honesty about Electric Heat in the Brutal Cold.
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