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Amar Shah's picture
Manager Rocky Mountain Institute

Analytics for RMI's Building Electrification team

  • Member since 2020
  • 4 items added with 7,646 views
  • Oct 15, 2020
  • 1193 views

Roughly 500,000 new gas-powered, single-family homes were built in the U.S. last year.   New RMI analysis shows that all-electric new construction is cheaper and emissions-saving across the US, with a deep-dive on seven cities.

Discussions
Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 15, 2020

Amar, gas stoves are more energy-efficient than stoves heated by electricity generated by burning gas, then turning turbines, then generating electricity, then sending it over miles of transmission wires, then using it to heat electric filaments in a stove.

Makes sense, doesn't it?

"One of the great ironies in today’s America is that a two time college drop out and Friends of the Earth campaigner who strongly advocated for increasing coal use is often held up as a hero of the environmental movement while also making a lot of money as a consultant for the natural gas industry, Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense. I am, of course, talking about Amory Lovins, the founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)."

It's almost as if Amory Lovins, RMI's director, wants to burn even more natural gas. That makes sense, too!

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 16, 2020

gas stoves are more energy-efficient than stoves heated by electricity generated by burning gas, then turning turbines, then generating electricity, then sending it over miles of transmission wires, then using it to heat electric filaments in a stove.

Why take such a static look at this, though? Isn't the whole point of electrifying the building sector that the decisions made today will have decades and decades of impact because of the low turnover on buildings. Electrify today, decarbonize today and moving forward-- so let's say we get a cleaner power grid (whether by wind or nuclear or by your carbon fee energy of choice), then all of a sudden those equations tip. But if we wait to decarbonize the grid and then later on switch over gas buildings to electricity now that it's clean, we'll be waiting a much longer time for the upgrades. It's the same reason why EVs were still important to invest in even while the overall carbon intensity in some regions of gas cars vs. EVs charging on a more coal-heavy grid was important-- laying the groundwork and creating the infrastructure needed for the cleaner electric outlook. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 16, 2020

"But if we wait to decarbonize the grid and then later on switch over gas buildings to electricity now that it's clean, we'll be waiting a much longer time for the upgrades."

That's one way to look at it, Matt. Or:

Holding companies with both electricity utilities and gas utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric), sell more gas to boil the same kettle of water with gas-fired electricity than they do with gas-powered appliances.

In California and other states, the cost of electricity has been "decoupled" from profit: utilities are only allowed to charge for their costs to generate each kilowatthour. At a gas-fired power plant, one of their main costs is fuel, on which they can charge a profit. Thus, the more fuel they burn, the more money (and carbon emissions) they make.

Over the course of a year there are $billions at stake. For energy holding companies, the option is either: 1) switch to green electricity on which they can't make any profit, or 2) string the promise of green electricity out as long as possible to burn more gas. Accountants at PG&E and Sempra are no dummies - the choice is clear.

In 1935 holding companies which held both gas and electric utilities were banned for this very reason. In 2005 the ban was eliminated, and now the scam is back - with a vengeance.

Here's a test: propose decarbonizing the grid first, then later on switch gas buildings over to electricity. You will get nowhere.

 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 15, 2020

The cost parity / advantage of all electric homes is quite noteworthy-- I wonder how it compares with the cost to retrofit existing gas homes to be all electric and, importantly, what type of financing would need to be made available to make that more accessible. 

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Oct 16, 2020

The easiest and cheapest way to do all-electric homes is with resistance heating units for water, space heating, clothes dryers, and ranges. That simplicity makes for lower up-front costs, but makes for high utility bills and a colossal waste of a high grade energy resource to do what's adequately and more efficiently accomplished with gas -- a lower grade energy resource.

When one starts talking about heat pumps -- and especially ultra-efficient ground source heat pumps -- for water and space heating, then the all-electric home will use less energy overall and benefit both the environment and the homeowner's monthly utility bills. But the up-front costs will be higher. 

A problem with all this is that big gains in the cost of housing and new construction have very little to do with the gas vs. all-electric debate. The big gains have to do with better materials and construction methods, building codes that function less as boat anchors for innovation, and a  construction industry that's more open to innovation. Progress in construction methods does happen, but the pace is glacial. 

Amar Shah's picture
Thank Amar for the Post!
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