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Case for Customer Electrification Incentives

Charles Grunewald's picture
Pricipal Engineer (retired) Blattner energy

Retired from position as head of Electrical Sector at Blattner Energy Avon, MN  a position I was recruited to develop and head as they transitioned from a 100 year civil contractor to now largest...

  • Member since 2012
  • 7 items added with 1,458 views
  • Jun 16, 2021

There is a strong case to conserve the finite carbon gifts our lives depend on. Soil carbon, the largest terrestrial sink of carbon took 1,000s of years to accumulate and is critical to support our forests, agriculture economy and future food supply. Finite fossil fuel resources took millions of years to accumulate and can be conserved for petrochemical products that lend to recyclable sustainable uses.

A quote

“Somebody has to do something about the situation and it’s incredibly pathetic it has to be us”             Jerry Garcia of the band, The Grateful Dead.       

These words hold true when it comes to reducing the CO2 and methane greenhouse gas (GHG) product of our fossil fuel use, space heating, ag food production, transportation and electric generation.  When we point a finger at energy industries and blame them three fingers are pointing back. It is not the electric suppliers or oil delivery pipelines.  Any proposed carbon tax is passed on increases prices of goods and services or business plus 401K or IRA would collapse along with US competitiveness in world economy. Providing basic needs for life of air, water, food, warmth and shelter and oil to support a renewable transition are all dependent on available affordable fossil fuel and petrochemicals.  Thus we—the end users—have to do something about the situation. We must conserve carbon with a transition to electrification

Throughout history the energy transitions from wood to charcoal to coke to coal to oil to nuke and now to wind and solar all required a massive increase use of available affordable energy from the prior paradigm.  In addition to the transitioning energy use surge there is ongoing energy use for sustaining the basic life needs.

An irony of the transition to a renewable energy economy is the need to deliver and use increased amounts of oil for the goal of conserving the oil reserve for future generation petrochemical life needs. Regardless of any regulatory, carbon tax or customer incentives for carbon conserving investments short term CO2 emission will likely go up!  


Renewable transitioning massive temporary oil needs:

  • Mining the raw materials like iron, concrete cement, copper and aluminum, their processing and then their transport to manufactures.  Tons of oil for petrochemical products like millions of tires and resin for fiberglass wind turbine blades
  • Electric energy for manufacturing and associated support services.
  • Oil for ships and diesel truck to transport wind and solar components to renewable sites,  all the support services then actual energy intensive construction of renewable generation.

MIT is one of entities involved in analysis of total GHG footprint of processes and finished products which will compliment awareness of total carbon footprints.  If we cannot measure all carbon footprints we cannot prioritize use of finite capital on a GHG $/ton CO2 equivalent mitigation basis nor measure progress. 

                                                                                                                                                                                      Electrification, a North Central US Perspective

Minnesota (MN) home and building annual fossil fuel use is 370 trillion Btu generating 22,000,000 tons CO2 plus the nasty methane GHG associated with natural gas development and delivery.  With 73 megawatts (MW) per trillion Btu the approximate 4 gigawatts (GW) of existing MN wind generation would have to increase 7 fold just to displace building fossil use. Note, there are a lot of zeroes involved in above calculations so corrections welcomed.

Minnesota’s electric conservation is counter intuitive to a renewable transition. All electric uses within a home or building generate heat so every heating season conserved kilowatt hour (kWh) is offset by the unintended consequence of burning more fossil fuel during winter and night periods when wind generation is most robust.

Supporting electric conservation and LED lighting is great for summer long days solar season but supports fuel switching to burn more gas during MN’s majority of the 8,760 annual hours less than 60 degree F requiring space heating to survive. The long heating season period unlike summer up to 16 hours daylight has as little as 9 hours daylight. The heating season is coincident with majority of annual lighting energy when 75% of wind generation at capacity factors in 50% range.  On the other hand solar generation during the short days often overcast is at low single digit capacity factors.

Wind energy could on a real time basis be dynamically balanced with a water and space heating fuel switch to renewable wind electric providing a tangible reduction in GHG and a low cost virtual battery energy storage.  Example, a below slab hydronic heat tube installation can store energy for several day interruption when low or wind energy during parked cold front.  With the rapid increase in renewable generation portion of our electric supply we are reaching the tipping point when transitioning to electrifying uses and heating is beneficial causing the least GHG.  Fossil heating fuels will be conserved for future more sustainable petrochemical uses. The fuel switching effect of conserving electric uses toward zero during the majority of the MN annual hours requiring heating could actually increase the GHG emissions.

An average size oil or gas heated home generates about 11 tons/year of CO2 plus over a ton from water heating. If just 5% of the 2,400,000 MN homes would dynamically use wind energy for space and water heating it could equal 1,000,000 tons of annual CO2 reduction and reduced leaked methane GHG from gas well development and piped delivery.

Customer thermal systems already in 40 years of wide use include controlled water heaters, under concrete slab hydronic tube or ceramic brick heat thermal storage, interruptible forced air furnaces primarily heated from electric resistance heat or heat pumps with interruptible fuel system only used for emergency or peak electric reduction. Cold climate and geothermal heat pumps are 2 to 4 time more efficient than electric resistance heat. Renewable electric sourced building thermal use also conserves finite fossil  oil and gas in the ground for future critical petrochemical basic life needs.


Actions to consider

Lobby legislators and appointed regulators to assure the following.

Provide customers financing support for electrifying their fossil uses. A cost per home estimate (TBD) for economy of scale blanket thermal electrification installations is $10,000. Electrification would require homeowners to have cash in hand or access to $100 per month for financing electrification payment of available support.  Even before COVID and economy issues cold climate North Central US homes with greatest financial struggle are also those with larger carbon footprints needing support to reduce their GHG plus have largest financial burden imposed by a carbon tax.  Per US map of dividend beneficiaries of a proposed national carbon tax, benefits would flow 100% to highly populated costal and Southern US regions draining carbon tax impact money from high carbon households homeowners needing electrification support.

A value of say $100 placed on each ton of auditable greenhouse gas (GHG) CO2 equivalent could be the basis for some combination of tax credit, rebates and subsided financing stimulus. 

Federal and state per kWh production tax credit (PTC) have provided business and industry the R&D and investment incentives for economy of scale wind and solar plants so  2 cent kWh wind electricity and 4cent kWh solar now possible.  Similar providing homeowner and business utilization tax credits (UTC) could support using that same renewable energy and could drive economy of scale costs for realizing tens of thousands shovel ready heat pump and thermal storage installations.   

Conservation improvement dollars (CIP) collected as percentage of customer energy billing could support installation and control of electrified customer space and water heating systems. Those systems would be utilizing predominantly wind electricity as the primary or exclusive source to displace fossil fuels reducing GHG. Lobby for significant state and federal tax credits for heat pump installations which have the least GHG contribution of any space heating method, even heat pumps sourced from a coal plant.


Suggested internet searches

  1. Cold climate heat pumps
  2. Your respective local electric utility for information on water and space heating systems, heat pumps for water and space heating and thermal storage under slab hydronic heat tube or ceramic brick thermal storage,  incentive rates and rebates. 
  3. US energy use by State and fuel type noting residential and commercial space heating use, a large non-transportation sources of GHG. 
  4. Methane greenhouse gas Search Exxon methane reduction. Leaked methane (from unburned NG) is 86 times stronger GHG over 20 year span than CO2 and  would have to be less than 3.2% leakage for less GHG than electricity from a coal plant. 
  5. Don Reicosky Tillage and Carbon Management For Soil health
Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Jun 17, 2021

As another Minnesota native, I agree with much of the overview presented, but disagree with much of the solution offered.

The writer apparently is from west central Avon, MN. farm prairie, me from the very different east central. Aside from the essential Minnesota freeze proof windmill foundation in areas we can't yet get freeze proof roads, we already have excess biomass fuels we don't "properly" use in east central Minnesota. Actually, we are buried in biomass we can't even walk in. We don't need to make promises, we need to innovate "proper" biomass energy management.

The basic CO2 + H2O <=> carbohydrate "photochemical green" reaction deserves discussion, not dismissal.

Charles Grunewald's picture
Thank Charles for the Post!
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