Electrifying homes is a key step to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. Historically, many homes have been built with a mix of electric and non-electric appliances as well as heating and cooling systems. These homes and residential buildings require natural gas and electric energy, often created by burning fossil fuels like coal, fuel oil, and natural gas.
By electrifying homes and residential buildings, and switching to renewable energy sources as the primary fuel for electric energy, the residential sector’s greenhouse gas emissions will be significantly reduced. This is a key solution to address climate change. Follow along to learn more about the importance of residential electrification, as well as a few strategies to increase energy efficiency in homes.
Fossil fuel-based energy use in homes and residences accounts for about 20% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. By implementing electric appliances in residences, and building homes that solely use electricity for all their energy needs, this number can be significantly reduced.
This is a vital step towards limiting the amount of global warming to the recommended 1.5 degrees Celsius. If the earth warms more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, there will be irreparable changes to our global climate, including more severe storms, droughts, wildfires, extinctions, and more.
However, electrifying homes will only be a climate solution if energy can be produced through renewable sources, such as solar panels, wind power, or hydropower. Fossil fuels must be phased out as a primary source of electricity production.
How to Electrify Homes
Homes that once used gas for heating or cooking could be retrofitted to use electric appliances, such as heat pumps and electric stoves. Heat pumps are useful for both heating and cooling homes. New homes and residences should be built to be all electric or electric-ready so that they are compatible with all electric appliances, heat sources, electric vehicle (EV) chargers, and more.
A key aspect of electrifying homes is to increase energy efficiency within the home. This may seem like a simple task: just install all energy efficient appliances. However, there are trade-offs to replacing relatively new, non-energy efficient appliances before their end of life. Increased mining for raw materials and fossil fuels used in production and transportation are just a few examples of the negative impacts of purchasing new appliances.
Instead, energy efficiency can be increased through upgrading homes with better insulation in walls, windows, attics, crawlspaces, and basements. Achieving energy efficiency elsewhere in the home can help offset the energy use of less efficient appliances until they can be replaced.
Additionally, load sequencing panels, installed in homes at the circuit breaker, will increase energy efficiency by allowing residential customers to control how much energy they use at any given time. Load sequencing panels could automatically reduce the electric energy demand of homes during peak load periods, which would both increase energy efficiency and reduce strain on the electric power grid.
Residents would control their load sequencing panels via an app, and would be strongly encouraged to participate in load reducing programs. Monetary incentives, like those provided by Portland General Electric during peak load periods, can bolster participation in programs like this.
Regulation Aids the Transition to All Electric
Regulation is another strategy to support electrification of residences and build more energy efficient homes. Regulation is beneficial at the local, county or state level. The U.S. has yet to implement nation-wide all-electric building codes and standards, though this type of regulation would go a long way in hastening the progress of residential electrification.
However, regulations in several states are already prompting builders to construct all electric residences. In the spring of 2021, Massachusetts enacted a new law creating an opt-in code for new development to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new construction by creating guidelines for constructing net-zero buildings. With the new code in place, municipalities can choose to construct homes that are ready for all electric appliances. Those that do will pave the way for other municipalities, and eventually states, to pass all-electric building codes.
In the summer of 2021, the California Energy Commission (CEC) adopted a new energy code for new and renovated construction meant to improve efficiency and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by incentivizing all-electric homes. The resolution requires new homes to be built electric-ready so that homes are prepared to support energy efficient, electric appliances and EVs when residents make the switch. It also encourages the use of heat pumps for indoor temperature control and water heating.
In addition, many cities and jurisdictions have passed local regulations that require new residential buildings to be all-electric or electric ready. Other regulations, such as that passed in New York City, eliminate gas in new construction, another key step towards moving buildings to become all-electric.
By passing regulations like these, legislators are incentivizing or mandating all-electric builds. However, the handful of regulations currently in place are only a start. Similar legislation on a larger scale will be essential to increase the number of all-electric residences across the U.S.
Challenges to the Electric Power Grid
Electrifying homes will create more demand for electric energy, especially during peak load periods such as during the hottest days of summer or coldest days of winter. This will cause the electric power grid to experience demand like it never has before. Once EVs become more common place, household electric energy demand could increase during off peak hours.
How will the current electric power grid fair as demand for electric energy increases? How can the electric power grid prepare for a future with vast increases in demand? Follow Prescient's blog to learn more about the challenges presented by electrifying homes, and potential solutions that could greatly increase the resilience of the power grid under sustained, high demand conditions.
This article was inspired by the climate change podcast How to Save a Planet, specifically the episode from April 14, 2022: “Presenting: Extreme Home Makeover – Threshold Edition.”