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Balancing Loads with Increased Electrification of the Grid

image credit: Heat pump installation © Welcomia |
Julian Jackson's picture
writer and researcher BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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  • Jun 10, 2021

America needs to replace four household appliances rapidly to facilitate electrification


In order to reduce fossil fuel consumption by the mid-century at the latest, the USA faces a difficult, though not impossible, task. Even if there is significant electrification, for example use of EVs instead of gasoline-powered vehicles, there might be greater electricity production needed, while also not reducing GHG emissions sufficiently. President Biden’s infrastructure plan, sometimes called the American Jobs Plan, envisages entirely powering the electricity grid using zero-carbon sources by 2035.

An overlooked path to progress, which would ensure emissions reduction, while also helping manage loads on the grid, is replacing four critical household appliances for cooking and heating with more advanced technologies: heat pump space heaters, heat pump water heaters, induction cooktops/ranges, and upgraded breaker boxes. These items have a lifespan of up to 20 years, so action is needed very soon so that the full benefits will be acquired by mid-century.

This is a large task: around 80 million appliances in 50 million households need to be replaced. The Center for American Progress produced a report analyzing the costs and proposed that rebates to householders should be in the $4,200 to $6,000 range to make these devices financially competitive with fossil fuel appliances – therefore delivering consumer savings (lower electricity use) and reducing load on the grid.

Depending on uptake rates, Rewiring America and the Center for American Progress expect that this new program would need an average annual federal investment of $8.8 billion to $26.5 billion over the next decade and create between 175,000 and 1.1 million jobs paying decent wages, most of which would be located in the USA.

The benefits of efficient household electrification would be energy cost savings, reduced carbon pollution, better indoor air quality, greater readiness for DER renewables, home battery storage and EV deployment. Grid operators would have increased loads, e.g. EVs, balanced by reduced household demand. Major investment to accelerate this market transformation would be a benefit to a large part of the US economy as it recovers from the pandemic.

A critical obstacle in the path to full electrification of the system is the humble breaker box. Up to 70% of household fuse boxes would not be able to handle increased loads. So they need to be replaced as part of the electrification program with more advanced “smart” systems which will be able to interact with new grid technologies, big data, AI and other cutting edge systems under development. Again these would need financial incentives for purchase or they will not be replaced in a timely manner.

If all households had these appliances installed, the country would save nearly 200 million metric tons of emissions per year. As the grid becomes 100 percent clean and these appliances are fully adopted, those emissions savings will grow to more than 400 million metric tons per year by 2045. The return to the USA of significant manufacturing capability to build these new appliances would be a benefit in itself and help to reduce the costs of the program.

The American Jobs Plan proposes forward-looking investments in affordable, accessible, energy-efficient, resilient, and increasingly electrified housing. The previous century’s aging, centralized, emissions-intensive and outdated energy infrastructure needs to be replaced, and new appliances and distributed energy resources will serve the nation well as it embraces an energy system appropriate for a cleaner and more sustainable age.

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Thank Julian for the Post!
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Brian Lindamood's picture
Brian Lindamood on Jun 16, 2021

Very interesting Julian, thank you for the post.

You make a really important (and often overlooked) point about the need for household breaker box upgrades to support electrification and take advantage of AMI capabilities. Are you aware of any research on the cost of this aspect in particular? Or of customer awareness/acceptance of this issue? It seems to be another area where utility involvement will be needed, through education as well as incentives or other programs. 

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