Electrify Everything: Decarbonization Requires Electrification

Tackling climate change is a complicated undertaking, to say the least. But here’s a good rule of thumb for how to get started:

Electrify everything.

There’s increasing expert consensus: Decarbonization requires electrification.

Source: The key to tackling climate change: electrify everything – Vox

In January of 2020, before COVID lockdown, we signed on a solar plus battery system for our home. The logistics of lockdown slowed things, but by the summer we had a Generac PWRcell system installed on our house with a protected loads panel backing up critical circuits like the well pump.

Shortly after that, our gas riding mower broke down and needed a new engine. I decided it was time to electrify all the things.

Cut to almost a year later, and we have all EGO electric outdoor power equipment. We are expanding our PWRcell solar + battery to the max so we have true whole house backup with automatic failover and load shedding. We have a heat pump water heater and an induction cooktop on order to replace our aging and inefficient ones.

Freezes, floods, and heat waves have impacted the Texas power grid since we started our electrification efforts. The moral imperative we felt to electrify was fortified by a desire for reliable power.

I’m a fan of what Rewiring America is doing. Saul Griffith and company were a big influence on our decision to electrify everything, go solar, and go heat pump. I was happy to see the Biden administration highlight the Rewiring Communities report.

No strategy presents greater opportunities on these fronts than electrification —i.e., replacing those household machines and appliances currently contributing to emissions with modern electric versions running on clean electricity. Not only can electric machines dramatically lower greenhouse gas emissions, but they are actually superior products for most homes, particularly as evidence mounts that the burning of fossil fuels in homes is a major contributor to, among other things, childhood asthma and other harmful conditions. Electrification also offers a unique opportunity for significant household energy bill savings and local job creation. Indeed, more than 65 million American households would be “in the money” on their energy bills today, saving over $27 billion a year in aggregate, if they were using modern electric appliances instead of space and water heaters powered by oil, propane, and electric resistance.

Technically speaking, electrification is the replacement of machines currently powered by fossil fuels with functionally equivalent machines powered by clean electricity. As a practical matter, it means encouraging Americans to buy an EV rather than a gas car the next time they are in the market for wheels. It means incentives to install electric heat pumps rather than fossil-powered furnaces and hot water heaters when those machines stop working and to replace stoves when the time comes with induction cooktops. It also means aggressively installing rooftop solar and other clean energy sources. Electrification, in short, is a broad vision in which the main source of energy throughout the economy is electricity.

Source: Rewiring Communities Report: A Plan to Accelerate Climate Action and Environmental Justice By Investing in Household Electrification at the Local Level — Rewiring America

This is the decade to electrify the built environment.” Here are selected quotes and resources advocating toward that end:

Looking at it this way, we see a no–regrets pathway that is most easily summarized as electrify everything … now.

At the highest level, and at the risk of repeating myself, any realistic plan toward total decarbonization is simple: electrify everything. When we replace everything in our lives with electricity, cars will be zippier, the air in our cities, suburbs, and homes will be cleaner, our appliances will be better, the streets will be quieter, and our carbon–consciences will be clear.

We have the technology we need, today, to solve climate change. And when we electrify everything, as we’ll soon show, we will eliminate more than half the energy we think we need!

Source: Handbook — Rewiring America

It is possible with the technology we have now to electrify our households. We can decarbonize our driving with electric cars, and charge them cleanly with solar on our rooftops and renewable electricity from the grid. Where most homes now burn methane in the kitchen to run the stove, we can switch to electric induction for cooking — which is cleaner, often faster, and healthier, since unlike ”natural” gas, it doesn’t release toxic fumes. We can use electric water heaters, or better still, heat pump hot water heaters that more efficiently provide us with hot showers and warm water. A heat pump, potentially with energy storage cheaply attached, can replace our furnace or other heating systems with electricity. We can buy electric clothes dryers to replace natural gas ones. To make this all work, we need to install a bigger load center, wire in electric car chargers, and attach a battery capable of running the loads in the house for a half day or so. Together these things electrify our households.

Electrification is the only viable pathway to decarbonizing a household.

Source: Household Savings Report — Rewiring America

DERs are a utility-scale renewable accelerant.

Source: Rooftop solar and home batteries make a clean grid vastly more affordable – Volts

…investing more into local solar will deliver more public benefits than investing in utility-scale projects. And even more surprisingly, he says that building rooftop solar and distributed storage systems will actually result in more utility-scale solar as well, plus bring greater societal benefits such as more jobs, increased economic development, increased resilience, and more equitable access to the benefits of renewables.

Source: [Episode #146] – Why Local Solar Costs Less

It is now widely agreed among energy wonks that the fastest, cheapest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to, as I like to put it, electrify everything. That means cleaning up the electricity system while shifting other energy uses — especially transportation and buildings — off of fossil fuels, onto electricity.

When it comes to electrification, one technology in particular sits at the nexus, helping to decarbonize the electricity system, vehicles, and buildings all at once. I’m speaking, of course, of the humble solar photovoltaic panel, a technology that has defied predictions for decades, getting cheaper and cheaper, spreading faster and faster.

Source: Volts podcast: Sunrun CEO Lynn Jurich on the promise of electrification – Volts

It’s all gonna change this decade.

This is our decade to decarbonize.

This decade is going to be about electrifying many things in your home.

Source: Volts podcast: Saul Griffith and Arch Rao on electrifying your house – Volts

This is the decade to electrify the built environment, especially our homes, so that every time we cook, take a shower, or heat our living spaces we are not inadvertently fueling our fossil dependence.

Source: Our decade to decarbonize — Span | A Smarter Electric Panel

Inverting the usual logic of grid planning, he suggests that more active participation by customers and distributed energy resources can help improve both grid resilience and reliability, while democratizing grid power and grid governance.

Source: Episode #150: Resilient and Reliable Power – The Energy Transition Show

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