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It’s Now Time to Electrify Everything

The challenges are daunting, but the politics will change when economic benefits are widely felt

A wholesale replacement of devices that burn fossil fuel with electrically powered counterparts is the key to avoiding the catastrophe of climate change. These products are already on the market. Drawing courtesy Rewiring America.

This post originally appeared at Yale Environment 360.

For too long, the climate solutions conversation has been dominated by the supply-side view of the energy system: What will replace coal plants? Will natural gas be a bridge fuel? Can hydrogen power industry? These are all important questions, but, crucially, they miss half the equation. We must bring the demand side of our energy system to the heart of our climate debate.

The demand side is where humans, households, and voters live. It is where we use machines on a daily basis, and where the choices about what kind of machines we use—whether powered by fossil fuels or electricity—make our climate actions and climate solutions personal. We don’t have a lot of choice on the supply side, but we have all of the choice on the demand side. For the most part, we decide what we drive, how we heat our water, what heats our homes, what cooks our food, what dries our laundry, and even what cuts our grass. This constitutes our “personal infrastructure,” and it is swapping out that infrastructure that will be a key driver of the global transition from fossil fuels to green energy.

According to an analysis by Rewiring America, a nonprofit think tank I co-founded that focuses on electrifying our lives, if we redraw our emissions map around the activities of our households, we see that about 42% stem from the decisions we make around our kitchen tables. It gets close to 65% if we include the offices, buildings, and vehicles that are connected to the commercial sector and the decisions we make from our office desks.

The supply-side climate challenge is a question of a relatively small number of giant machines, including coal mines, LNG terminals, pipelines, refineries, and natural gas- and coal-fired power plants, all of which are owned by corporations. The demand-side climate challenge involves a very large number of relatively small machines. In the United States, it’s our 280 million cars and trucks, our 70 million fossil-fueled furnaces, 60 million fossil-fueled water heaters, 20 million gas dryers, and 50 million gas stoves, ovens, and cooktops.

The traditional storyline for what we can do in our own lives has been an “efficiency-first” narrative that was born of the 1970s oil crisis. During that time, we needed to adjust to a reduction in foreign oil supplies, which led to more efficient cars with better gas mileage and more efficient appliances. That gave us efficiency as policy, such as federally mandated vehicle fuel standards, and led to Energy Star appliances.

But now we’re facing a completely different kind of energy crisis. To address global warming in time to keep the Earth livable, we need to get to zero emissions as soon as possible. It should be obvious that we can’t “efficiency” our way to zero and that we need to transform our way to no emissions. Starting on the demand side, this leads to a clear conclusion: We must electrify everything. And quickly. And we must supply all those new electric machines on the demand side with cleanly generated electricity on the supply side.

How quickly? At roughly the rate at which we replace these things. Cars often last around 20 years. Water heaters average 12 to 15 years; furnaces and home heating solutions, around 20; kitchen and laundry appliances, 10 to 15 years. The best climate outcome we can achieve is to upgrade all of these demand-side machines to higher performing electric machines at their next retirement. This needs to be in combination with increasing the electricity supply to power these machines, and to do so with clean renewables, while also retiring coal plants and other heavy emitters ahead of schedule.

Electric replacements are available now

I have been talking publicly about climate change and what solutions need to look like for nearly 20 years. It’s been a learning journey about how to tell a story that can motivate people in the face of what seems insurmountable. I worry that nihilism will soon grip us on this issue, unless we can paint a picture of what success looks like. And that picture needs to be simple, the actionable steps achievable. People want to see themselves in the solution, but not at the expense of sacrificing the things they love and the conveniences of modern life.

We still have a slim chance of keeping global warming under 2°C (3.6°F), without changing entirely the fabric of everyday living. It may not be everyone’s version of climate success, but it is possible to help avoid extreme warming with a substitution of the machines in our lives. To do so, we need to achieve a close to 100% adoption rate of the right technologies as we replace the fossil-fueled machines we use today.

Fortunately, technologies now exist for the majority of these things. Electric cars currently have sufficient range, and are close enough to cost-parity at the dealership, that we can imagine that transition. The cost per mile drops significantly, too. Air-source heat pumps have such high performance now that they beat traditional furnaces and boilers in many climates. The modern induction cooking experience is better than cooking with gas. It is not yet true in the U.S. that rooftop solar is the cheapest energy source, but it is true in Australia, and the difference has to do with regulations.

Solar modules themselves are incredibly cheap, around 30 cents a watt. Australia ran a certification and training program for building a workforce that also certified the installers as inspectors. This made the process of purchasing and installing solar in Australia simple and doable in a matter of days. The installed cost ends up being around $1 per watt. In the U.S., the process takes 60 days and includes complicated permitting and inspection requirements. The result is that the installed cost winds up being $3 per watt. We need to look around the world for the best practices and implement them everywhere; Norway’s rapid adoption of electric vehicles is another example.

If you could cover the average U.S. rooftop in solar at the Australian installed price, put two electric vehicles in your driveway as easily as you can in California or Norway, install the best Japanese heat pumps, and cook on the best German induction cooktops—and then back it all up with a household battery tied to a smart main panel connected to an enlightened grid that encourages consumers to self-generate power and to store and shift loads—we’d be a long way toward the success we need.

Economic opportunity abounds

In the U.S., there are a billion of these machines that need to be replaced and installed across the nation’s 121 million households. This creates an enormous economic opportunity to manufacture all or most of these machines in America. And because the cost of all these things is falling further, and the performance is increasing with every passing year, by around 2025 people will be saving money by making these choices about the infrastructure of their daily lives.

It isn’t the entire solution to climate change, but it is the solution to much of it, and it is a solution we can start deploying everywhere today. Yes, for a few more years we’ll need government subsidies and incentives, like those proposed by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) in his Zero-Emission Homes Act that is currently included in President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan being debated in Washington—and that needs to be fully funded. Heinrich’s bill, and a House companion, would offer point-of-sale rebates for heat-pump hot water heaters, heat pump HVAC systems, electric cooking appliances, and electric clothes dryers. The goal is to remove the upfront barrier for homeowners to replace a fossil-fueled appliance with a cleaner alternative.

Low-interest “climate loans” would allow everyone to afford the up-front costs of these clean technologies. Diverse households have different financing needs so we need to pull every policy lever at the federal and state levels, as well as engage in public-private partnerships to enable this. If banks step in, the role of governments will be to make sure that all families can afford it. For many families it will be simple enough to make these investments alongside their household mortgage. For other families, federal policies already exist that enable people to pay as they go as part of their utility bill and own the upgraded appliances in the long run. These incentives and mechanisms need to be available when people purchase new electric appliances and machines.

Yes, there are political challenges

Critics will argue that this will hit political hurdles. And it will. But if we remain constrained by what we think is politically possible, then we’ll never have a sufficiently ambitious climate agenda. We must change the politics, and the politics will only change and become bipartisan when the economic benefits are felt in every household.

Rooftop solar is no longer political in Australia because families of all political stripes have felt the positive effect on cash flow of having cheaper electricity. It can’t be understated how important it is that the Ford F-150, a cultural icon and the most produced vehicle ever, is going electric. Once households red, blue, and purple are enjoying the lower cost of ownership of an electric F-150, the politics of this whole issue will change. Norwegians of all stripes support the rapid adoption of electric vehicles in that country, and it is no-longer a political issue. Politicians are still able to sell a story of fear of change and loss around this transition in 2021. Increasingly, that won’t be possible because the economics will shift.

This needed electrification will halve the total amount of energy required in the economy, but triple the amount of electricity that needs to be delivered. It is critical, obviously, that this electricity be cleanly generated. Ten percent to 30% can be generated locally on rooftops and over commercial buildings and parking lots. The rest will need to be produced by wind farms, utility-scale solar farms, and geothermal, hydroelectric, and nuclear facilities. All of those facilities will need to be connected by long-distance transmission lines.

Of course, none of this is simple, nor politically easy, but with each passing year the inevitability of this solution becomes more so and the cost competitiveness higher, and our motivations to fight climate will increase with each season of climate disruption. The only question is if our sense of urgency will grow fast enough to mitigate the climate disaster before it is too late. My optimism stems from the fact that the scale of the transition lowers the cost enough to make the transition an economic slam dunk, which will change the politics markedly.

Look for more jobs

The long-term economic benefits of household electrification are not only in energy savings, but in creating jobs. Mass electrification in the U.S. would create up to 25 million new jobs—across every ZIP code—as the national energy infrastructure is modernized, according to a Rewiring America analysis. Most of these jobs—installing solar panels and wind turbines, upgrading the grid, and replacing dirty heaters with clean ones—would necessarily be local. You can’t outsource clean energy. You can’t offshore the installation of an induction stovetop. Those jobs would have a multiplying effect, as the woman who gets a good job as a solar installer is going to spend money in her local community.

Meantime, we should stop pretending there are going to be other miracle technologies that will change the game. Most of the solution will be electrification. Hydrogen and nuclear are both electric technologies at the end of the day, too.

The electrify everything drive will need the type of focus that the U.S. had in World War II when the wartime production board prioritized Liberty ships, Liberator bombers, Jeeps, and munitios. This time around it will be batteries instead of bullets, wind turbines instead of aircraft, and electric vehicles instead of tanks.

Once we make the trade to clean energy, we’ll find that we’ll be able to enjoy all the comforts of home we’re used to—warmth and cooling, zippy cars, hot water, radiant heat—but with lower costs and cleaner air.

This is a critical moment, but it can also be a great one for the economy, our families, and the environment if we take smart action. We have one last chance to address climate change: Electrify everything.


Saul Griffith is the author of Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future. He is founder and chief scientist of Rewiring America and Otherlab.

49 Comments

  1. Bill C | | #1

    It's great encouragement to read this article as my wife and I jumped into building our own all-electric house (don't even have a gas line run), net zero, passive solar house. Just wish there were more/any support from local and state governments to build the house of tomorrow. Right now, it's just us using our savings.

  2. Tekjunkie28 | | #2

    I just love how all these article target the rich thinking everyone can go all electric... What is out there for the majority of Americans who can not afford an electric car or solar panels or a HPWH??

    To compound that I will use my personal example. I have been working on air sealing my home before getting a new HP. I have dropped my elctrical usage by around $10-15 per month... Just this summer my power company raised my monthly bills by $20.... Im back to square 1. Not only that they have regulations in place that limit the size of solar panel system you can install and make it illegal for you be 'off grid'. Now the problem I'm running into is install costs of HVAC units. Also the costs of a HPWH now make it cost prohibitive for me.

    I have an all electric house now which is great...? I wish I could convert the $18k I gave to the power company over 7 years for solar panels and tell them to go shove it.

    1. Paul Wiedefeld | | #3

      The article emphasizes that as fossil appliances break, they get replaced with electric ones. That's not as expensive as you claim. Especially when it comes to cars, how many Americans truly care about the price? The best selling vehicle is the F-150, not a Toyota Yaris. People will find ways to afford what they want.

      In many places in the US, it's more expensive not to install solar.

      1. Jason Volstad | | #43

        You might want to consider that more F-150's are sold than Yarises because of the UTILLITY of F-150's, not because people just want them.

        How can not spending money to install solar be more expensive than spending the money to install it? both of your comments are mind-bendingly ignorant.

    2. Stephen Sheehy | | #20

      For most people, installing rooftop solar is a matter of setting priorities. For $15,000 net of federal tax credit, you can put 7kw on your roof. Our newest vehicle is 12 years old. One could buy the average new car for twice what a solar array costs or the average new truck for triple the cost. Or you can be like my neighbors living in a double wide trailer with snowmobiles, jet skis, boats, a new truck evety fews years and an RV.
      With incentives widely available, HPWH don't cost much more than a resistance one.
      You can't buy a new electric car for what the cheapest new car costs, but you can for what the average new car costs.
      I guess my point is that you don't need to be rich.

      1. Jason Volstad | | #44

        Incentives are not 'widely available". Where I live there are exactly: none. As per usual the carbon footprint of manufacturing and disposing of solar panels is not addressed, nor is the fact developing countries are not participating at all regarding decreasing emissions. None of the arguments from the climate CRISIS crowd will ever get traction until those two issues are at least addressed.

  3. 1910duplex | | #4

    This is not cheap. I just installed a Japanese minisplit system just for my 600-ish sq ft upstairs, and it was $15,000.

    But I am on board. We plan to do a heat pump water heater when our gas water heater gets old, and hope that our next car is an electric car. Thinking about this one, even though the Hyundai Kona is cheaper, the VW has more cargo space (and is made in America, unlike the Kona).

    https://www.caranddriver.com/volkswagen/id4

  4. John Clark | | #5

    It's always smart to look at viability as it relates to population density. As you can see the population centers in Australia are overall conducive to solar. The US is more of a mixed bag.

    https://solargis.com/file?url=download/World/World_PVOUT_mid-size-map_160x95mm-300dpi_v20191015.preview.jpg&bucket=globalsolaratlas.info

    1. Stephen Sheehy | | #26

      Australia is far less densly populated than the US. Not sure what your point is. And even in New England, solar is pretty effective.

      1. John Clark | | #35

        The author held up Australia as an example of success. My point isn't about density but the location of that density with regards to the viability of solar. Solar is viable where the majority of the population is located in Australia. In fact solar is viable for almost all of the continent which means a larger market with more competition which will drive down costs for the consumer. The US, by virtue of geography, doesn't have the same advantage.

        1. Stephen Sheehy | | #39

          Solar is viable almost everywhere in the US. And the US market for solar is far larger than Australia's. Australia has more solar per capita because it's so much cheaper and because it has time of use rates coupled with high peak period rates. People with solar in Australia use timers on their water heaters so they mostly heat water with solar.
          And of course the US is around ten times more densely populated.
          Today is close to the shortest day of the year. But it's sunny and I'll still produce more electricity than I'll use.

          1. John Clark | | #40

            [Solar is viable almost everywhere in the US.]

            Not where it counts.

          2. Jason Volstad | | #45

            Australia's climate is widely different than most of the US. This is the reason its viable, period.

  5. user-7621788 | | #6

    Or you can be like me (and probably 1/2 of the US population) and not fall for the hype about climate change. Follow the money, the elites are getting super wealthy on your fears about climate change. Al Gore lives in a 20,000 sq/ft house and Obama just invested $10+ million on an oceanfront home. Have any of them stopped flying private jets to climate summits when Zoom works just fine? Beware of the Climate Change Industrial Complex and relax.

    1. Eric Habegger | | #7

      I suspect you do not live in Lytton British Columbia, which hit 121F last summer. I guess life is easy if you don't put yourself in other people's shoes and feel some empathy. If you were scientifically minded you would have noted by now that there are strong correlations between our burning of fossil fuels and these ever increasing in frequency "aberrations" in weather events.

      I get so tired of complaints about elites. I'm retired and on a pension and recently converted from a propane fireplace to a heat pump. I did it myself for less than $2000 all in. I guess because I had the wherewithal to do it myself by learning how to do it on YouTube that I'm an "elite". I wish anyone complaining about elites would just take some responsibility for their own lives. They are wasting everyone's time feeling sorry for themselves. No matter what your disadvantages are in either money, ability, or time, you can accomplish what needs to be done. You just have to care a little bit.

      1. Donald Christensen | | #9

        Eric - Well said. Thank you.

      2. Expert Member
        Malcolm Taylor | | #11

        Eric,

        Or like us in the midst of an unprecedented third Atmospheric River which has cut Coastal BC off from the rest of Canada.

        And in the light of recent events, I'm not sure someone saying that their views align with those of half the US population really does much to advance their arguments.

        1. Jason Volstad | | #46

          Its only unprecedented if you ignore the same ones that happened in 1894, 1948 and 1990.

          You realize that you only punish poor North Americans when you impose illogical climate crisis programs that will do nothing to change the trajectory of what you define as the climate crisis when China India etc. don't follow suit? This is the white privilege's guilt trip talking, nothing more. If our emissions dropped 50% it still would accomplish nothing because we are not the worst emitters (unless you use the deceptive per capita stat)

          Correlation doesn't equal causation. The climate hysterical alarmism is nothing but a type of religion in reverse. You will attribute all 'bad" weather phenomenon to climate change but when the weather is benign or beneficial its just "normal".

          Luckily most of the population is waking up to the alarmism that isn't based on science but is based on control of the population by billionaire authoritarians who fund the constant propaganda that will benefit them and only them. Not poor people in north America, and certainly not the majority of populations of developing countries.

          maybe don't build cities on flood plains that rely on pumps running 24/7 to keep them dry and stop blaming the weather.

          1. Eric Habegger | | #49

            Your argument is nonsensical and laughable. Typically the same arguments come from the people who are spoon fed information from FOX news.

            you should know that Rupert Murdoch recently said that he believes in man made anthropogenic climate change due to burning of fossil fuels. So all those talking heads spewing lies on FOX that it's not real are only saying that because Rupert knows he will get more viewers and make himself more money by telling you it's all a lie. You are a dupe of just another billionaire intentionally telling lies that climate change is a hoax. Rupert Murdoch is the primary billionaire that profits from telling you it's all a hoax. He knows there is a bottomless well of professional victims in the population who hunger for that kind of propaganda. There is real money in making people like you feel that they bear no responsibility for the current plight we all find ourselves in. Unfortunately it's everyone's responsibility.

    2. Eagleeyeshawk | | #12

      Climate deniers, like vaccine deniers, are going to learn about the detriments of their decisions soon enough.

      But unfortunately, just as with Covid, they will take a good number of innocent bystanders who believe in vaccines, climate science, and common sense along with them to the grave.

      1. user-7621788 | | #32

        Not a climate denier, clearly the climate is always changing, and I am vaxed. Common sense? One doesn't need to look any further than Europe, TX or CA to see how the goal to 100% renewables is working. It has resulted in much more expensive energy and less stable grids. The idea of sitting tall wind turbines in deep salt water and assuming that they will last 20-25 years and not factoring in the true cost of maintenance on such a rig so we can say the cost is cheaper than carbon sourced energy defies common sense. This path we are taking to shutter coal, nuclear and gas generation while we scale up renewables and we will somehow maintain a stable grid and our standard of living as we are accustomed without a detailed plan defies common sense. That would be the largest infrastructure project in our time and I have never heard of that plan. Just think about the enormity of that undertaking. Part of the problem I see is the lack of unbiased information available for people to make informed decisions due to the fact that our leaders, the elites, and media are filtering the info because if the people are worried about the climate, Omicrom variant, killer bees, or whatever, then the focus is off them, and the climate change business is BIG business. Full disclosure- I sell heat pumps so I will make a lot of money on this game as well, I'm just saying it doesn't make sense to charge forward without a plan and break the grid and lower our standard of living, because you are worried about some climate deadline somebody pulled out of their ass. BTW- Eric in comment #7- it was 112 degrees in Lytton BC in 1941 as well...sounds like a unique weather location- so what.

        1. Eric Habegger | | #33

          Your arguments are so shot through with cherry picked "facts" that I wouldn't know where to begin to convince you otherwise. I'll leave it at that. I find it hopeless to engage with the way you are thinking. I will say one thing though - if you really are arguing from a position of honesty why would you be vexed by the counterarguments you see on this site? You must have known you would likely be in a minority opinion on your views coming to a site named "green building advisor". I guess you're either a masochist or came here to pick a fight. I would guess the latter.

      2. Jason Volstad | | #47

        Oh the old 'deniers" epithet. How original. Do you expect to be commended for being a "useful idiot" pawn for billionaire authoritarians and power hungry politicians? Typical of the brainwashed drones you can barely contain your glee that those hold different opinions that you will get their (supposed) comeuppance.

        1. Expert Member
          Deleted | | #48

          “[Deleted]”

  6. Jon R | | #8

    Forget about residential rooftop PV solar - it's an artifact of politics over logic. Utility scale is about 3X more cost effective.

    Do design for electricity becoming highly variable in cost ($ and environmental). Thermal storage is one way to do this.

    1. Stephen Sheehy | | #21

      My solar array has turned into a decent financial investment. Utility scale solar and wind are great. Rooftop solar could be much cheaper, but even at 3x the price, it insulates me from increases in electric rates like the 35% increase in Maine taking effect next month.

      1. Jon R | | #28

        For you personally. For society as a whole, the same money could have done a lot more good if spent on utility scale wind or solar.

        1. Stephen Sheehy | | #34

          I'd be delighted if utility scale solar and wind are implemented all over. Meanwhile, I get cheaper power than I would have without rooftop solar.
          And until a significant portion of Americans stop thinking of solar and wind as a Marxist plot,
          and climate change is a hoax, rooftop solar is something we can all do.

  7. Fernando Pages | | #10

    In economies with a strong government, these changes come more easily--sort of. I lived in Ecuador when Rafael Corea required the country to go all-electric. It made some sense there because the electric rates were national, not local, and Ecuador makes its own hydroelectric power. Nonetheless, it did not go smoothly. The price of electric ranges, water heaters, and every appliance required for the change skyrocketed, as well as the electrical conversions. People found themselves forced to spend money on unexpected refitting and rebelled. I suspect the same will occur here if the change comes too quickly. And if it comes organically, at a people-pace, maybe it won't come quickly enough.

  8. Will_Matthews | | #13

    How much to convert a 2,400 sf home to all electric? Plus replace 2 low mileage auto with EV’s? Plus solar panels? Plus load center? On and on…

    $50,000? $100,000? Good luck with that!

    1. Paul Wiedefeld | | #14

      The article clearly states that the replacement comes at end of life. So no, it will not be $50k.

      1. Will_Matthews | | #15

        Pie in the sky. Only applicances and A/C are basic swaps. Heating is an expensive conversion if you have baseboard or radiant floor. I just spent $30,000 on replacing a oil fired furnace and old A/C with a ducted mini split so I don’t know where you think all of the above is $50,000. EVs will be more expensive than conventional vehicles. Everything else is an expensive add—upgraded electrical, solar panels, etc.

        You’re asking many single family homeowners to spend a lot more than useful life replacement cost.

        1. Paul Wiedefeld | | #18

          Most (90+%) Americans do not use boilers, so yes the majority will be simple swaps. A furnace + AC will be replaced with a heat pump (with or without a furnace backup). Having done exactly this swap, it was actually cheaper going with a heat pump.
          That leaves vehicles (stoves and water heaters are marginal emitters comparatively), which also have many low cost options. Solar is not expensive, often it is more expensive to not install solar.

          It is important to understand we are talking incremental costs.

  9. Will_Matthews | | #16

    Going totally electric sounds like a bad idea after the fatal winter grid debacle in TX last year. In New England, wind and solar are limited in their ability to provide 100% of the demand, and that’s not counting replacing ICE vehicles with EVs. Until it is proven that the grid and generation can support an all-electric reality, it’s a big ask.

    It’s unlikely many homeowners would make that conversion commitment without assurances that the grid could be relied on.

    Folks around me are now installing wood stoves because they are hedging on electric reliability and now uncertain about consistent oil and propane supplies.

    Interesting article though.

    1. Rich Wickman | | #17

      I remember reading about the "too cheap to meter" debacle back in the 50's. When I was working in weatherization in the 70's and 80's we would come across "Gold Medallion" all electric homes- pushed by the CVPS, the dominant electric utility in Vermont back then. People would have $1000 to $1200 monthly bills.; even though the homes were well insulated for the time (R-19 walls, R-38 attcis- it was fiberglass, and air sealing was not something that any one thought about. Then in the 80's Efficiency Vermont was on a mission to replace all the light bulbs with CFL's. So, given all of that, I am really skeptical of the push to all electric everything. We really do need to consider the source of the power. In Vermont now, outside of Burlington, the electricity comes most from HydroQuebec. Their dams are enormous, and no one thought to ask the First Nation folks who have been flooded out of their lands and have to deal with mercury poisoning in the fish stocks. Folks here are now pushing back against large solar, and I think it unlikely that there will even be another wind farm built here. Vermont Yankee is closed, and now using biomass for electricity is not ok...........
      I am getting curmudgeonly in my advancing age and I do have a long memory of broken utility and consultant promises. We need to be really careful about this one.

    2. James Howison | | #19

      No doubt that infrastructure collapse was a real threat. We are all electric, but we are installing a wood stove. Because at least wood stoves work without electricity ... as I understand it gas fired furnaces didn't work at all (require power).

      Hah, and I did get to hear some "interesting" perspectives on tight houses from wood stove sales people ("outdoor air kit? Haven't ever done one of those, I don't think anyone does them", "expels less air than your dryer", "air seal your chimney?", "Oh, you have spray foam" (which apparently is synonymous with air-tight), "just crack a window". Manufacturer's instructions were really useful, I had to look up the part numbers of the kits so they could add them to the order. Ended up going with the Stuv-6.

      I'm actually expecting a market in battery+inverter for gas furnaces (grid charged, able to keep the furnace working for a multi-day outage), or at least an easy way to plug the furnace into one of the "solar generator" batteries.

      All that said, don't you think that all-electric lines up with energy independence for grid outage resilience? Way more than natural gas does. Even if the initial emphasis is on small propane tank powered generators able to supply electricity to critical circuits, with transition to off-grid capable battery+solar. Part of me hates the "everyone for themselves" of it, but if it drives all-electric and shared grid most of the time seems worth supporting it.

      1. Stephen Sheehy | | #22

        As a practical matter, if you live with power outages, you need a generator. Heat isn't the only critical power user. Without power, my well pump doesn't work and I can't flush the toilet. Food in the fridge spoils, etc. With my gasoline generator, I can run my entire all electric house, except the oven. Cooktop, well pump, minisplits, fridge, freezer, lights, tv, etc. all run off the generator. If I shut high draw appliances off, I can even run the resistance water heater.
        Our power goes out a lot, but I probably don't use 20 gallons of gasoline a year.

        1. Expert Member
          Malcolm Taylor | | #23

          Stephen,

          I agree. At present fuel powered generators make a lot of sense in an all electric house.

          We have the dubious distinction of living on the road which experiences the most power outages in our province - about 25 a year, some of several days duration.

          Most people have wood stoves, which while generally may be a bad idea in a high performance house, make sense in a community like ours with a lot of active logging - fire wood being a byproduct which would otherwise be burned as slash.

          Increasingly people here are turning to propane generators, because relative to gas powered ones they are cheaper to buy per kw, require little maintenance, and don't need frequent refilling. The propane can also be used for a barbecue and space heaters.

          I see generators as a stop gap until other sources (EVs, batteries, or ?) become viable back up power sources, but for now they certainly make sense.

        2. fast_cheap_mediocre | | #41

          I think it's funny that your concern with losing the well is flushing the toilet as opposed to having life sustaining drinking water. ;-)

          EDIT: Wow, lighten up. Notice the wink? My comment was humor.

          1. Expert Member
            Malcolm Taylor | | #42

            "my well pump doesn't work and I can't flush the toilet".
            Seems perfectly clear to me. Was he supposed to write: my well pump doesn't work so I don't have drinking water, can't wash vegetables, have a shower, clean my teeth, do laundry, water houseplants, or flush the toilet?

  10. ChuckWalla | | #24

    Here's our story, FWIW.

    We bought a 1,200 sq. ft., 60's, all-electric, brick rancher (with "good bones") in southern PA that had enough deferred maintenance issues that we were able to negotiate a purchase price that left room in our budget for upgrades. One big attraction was a 10 year old, 10kw, grid-tied solar array.

    For about half the cost of a new SUV Gashog, while addressing the deferred maintenance issues, we: Installed new "cool roof" shingles; Performed an energy audit, sealed leaks and insulated to R50+; Replaced original convection baseboard heaters with radiant ceiling and cove heaters (we chose radiant over a whole-house heat pump [mini-splits weren't practical in our situation] that would replace the existing, newish, one-zone a/c due to cost, zero lifetime maintenance expense, no breakdown possibilities, EZ heat-zoning, and the quality of heat [which is terrific, no drama, no noise, no drafts, you just feel warm]. Don't know empirically how radiant's efficiency would compare to a heat pump but it'll be waaay better than 60 yr old baseboards); Replaced a propane range (that was fed by two 100# tanks) w/ a convection-oven electric range (induction seems sexy, but Yikes, the cost!); Replaced the (terrible) existing windows w/ upper-grade vinyls; Installed insulating blinds w/ sealing sidetracks and installed a heat pump water heater.

    We don't have a full year of data to compare to pre-upgrade energy use, but each month's numbers are super-encouraging. We probably won't hit net-zero, but we'll be good enough for people like us. ;-)

    As a bonus, we generate $4800/yr (!!) by selling SRECs under an old, grand-fathered contract from the previous owner. When we replace our 13 yr old vehicle, it'll be with an EV that'll also provide battery backup for our solar power.

    We're fortunate to be able to spend that half-an-SUV's-worth on house upgrades (altho', in our case, the SRECs cover the cost). FWIW, the current Build Back Better plan includes ample grants that should make it possible for lots of folks to afford to upgrade also (if it survives our 19th-century Congress Critters?).

    Life's good on the upper deck of the Global Titanic. We're just happy we're so old we won't have to deal with the worst impacts of our headlong rush to "extinct" ourselves.

    Happy day - Chuck

  11. Charlie Sullivan | | #25

    That a great story. Note that if you sell your SRECs, you electric consumption comes from your local grid, a mix of natural gas, nuclear and coal generation. That's still an improvement over burning natural gas but not as low emissions as if you used your own solar electricity.

    1. Jon R | | #27

      +1 on the SREC point.

      Without a heat pump, using the Pennsylvania grid is dirtier than in-home natural gas. Hopefully this will change soon.

      1. Charlie Sullivan | | #29

        Thanks--I didn't register that it was without a heat pump.

    2. ChuckWalla | | #30

      Here's a couple of links that explain SRECs:
      energysage.com/srecs-overview-states/
      energysage.com/srecs-complete-overview/

      The way it was explained to me was, it's like you get to bake a cake, eat the cake, then sell the recipe to somebody who has to prove they arranged to have a cake baked (for whatever reason).

      Like typical grid-ties, we sell some kWh to the utility when we're producing more than we can use on-site and buy some kWh when we need more than we're making. By increasing our efficiency, we're close to producing more than we use on a net annual basis - I'm guessing our first post-project-completion-year total cost for the electricity we buy (we still have to pay the base charges for the pleasure of doing business with Met Ed) will be in the $100-150 range - not bad for an all-electric 60's house. PLUS, we'll sell $4800 in SRECs (through the tasty grandfathered contract that was signed by the previous owner 10 yrs ago).

      To Jon R: I don't get why a heat pump matters? The radiant heaters are efficient, make great heat, are maintenance-free and, at the end of the year, we'll have paid for very few total kWh's. With future battery backup that' ll allow us to use all the kWh we produce (thus buy less from Met Ed), we expect to be a net generator. What's the prob?

      1. Charlie Sullivan | | #31

        The cake analogy doens't portray it accurately. You aren't selling the blueprint for your PV installation. Specifically, as described on the energysage web site, https://www.energysage.com/solar/benefits-of-solar/solar-incentives/

        "each SREC is representative of the environmental attributes of your solar generation"

        In other words, if you sell them, you can no longer legally or ethically claim to be using solar electricity. Instead, whoever you sell it to gets to claim they are using that solar electricity. For example, if you sell it to a utility, you are agreeing to let them avoid building their own solar generation, as required by law, by letting them count yours instead. If you don't want utilities to be required to build solar, selling your SRECs is a way to help the utilities avoid doing their part. But if you want to do your part, and you think utilities should do their part too, you should not sell it to them. And if you do sell it to them, you can't claim that your electric heat is solar powered--it's coal, gas and nuclear powered.

  12. ChuckWalla | | #36

    I’m not sure what your argument is here, Charlie. One of us is confused about SRECs. Based on the following quotes from the Energy Sage articles that I linked about SRECs (that corroborate how my SREC aggregator explains them), I suggest that it is you, and that you are confusing “kWh" with “SREC”.

    "Of all the incentives for installing solar panel systems, solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) are some of the most potent, yet least-understood…

    "SRECs can provide sizable streams of money to owners of solar power systems, so learning about what SRECs are, where they are available, and how they can make solar more financially-rewarding can, quite literally, pay off in a big way.

    "SRECs are excellent for encouraging homeowners and businesses to install solar, because they can drastically improve the profits and financial returns of installing solar panels. For example, if a homeowner installs a solar power system that generates five SRECs a year and sells those SRECs for $200 each, he or she gains the opportunity to earn $1000 per year on top of the savings he or she already will receive from switching to solar…

    I don’t sell my kWh’s in a way that you imply is "legally or ethically” improper. I use my kWh's onsite and/or feed some into the grid. I do sell my SRECs to power companies under a federal program that helps those power companies avoid fines by meeting the mandate that X% of their electricity be produced renewably - or that they have purchased the right to claim other’s SRECs. I’m open to correction if my understating is wrong.

    Please allow me to add that nobody who knows me would suggest that I act in "legally or ethically” improper ways. I trust that your use of those words was just inelegant phrasing.

    1. Jonny_H | | #37

      Here's my read of the situation (though I'm no expert and could be entirely wrong).

      The capacity of the electric grid is a big bucket of power from different sources -- gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, hydro, etc. When you use grid power, you're using an indeterminate mix of those -- it's impossible to separate out what source your drop of power from the bucket came from once it's all combined on the grid.

      Most of the power in the bucket comes from utilities, and falls under various state and federal regulations. Utilities in some states are required by the state to source a certain percentage of the bucket from solar or other renewable sources (renewable portfolio standards). This is where SRECs come in -- to meet the requirements, a utility can either build its own generation capacity, or buy power from another source. SRECs are a method for owners of solar generating capacity to sell that capacity to the utility in a way that the utility can count it as part of its generating portfolio -- basically, it's the utility saying "I'm willing to pay $x for X MWh of solar-generated power, so I don't need to go build solar panels myself."

      What Charlie and Jon are arguing is that if you sell your SRECs, you've basically sold all your generation capacity to the utility, and then you're buying back grid power from the bucket at whatever mix it happens to be. Now, with any grid-tie solar installation, this is basically what's happening anyway -- the key here is that the utility is *mandated* to have a certain amount of solar generation, and you're either helping them with that or not. Let's think about two scenarios:

      Scenario 1: The utility company LastEnergy produces 1000kWh of power a day, 100kWh (10%) of which is required to be solar. I have a rooftop solar array that produces 10kWh per day, and I sell my SRECs to LastEnergy. They count my 10kWh/day as part of their portfolio, and go build (or buy from other people) 90kWh/day of solar capacity, so the total mix of power on their grid is 10% solar as required. When I use grid power, then, 10% is coming from solar, and the other 90% is coming from whatever LastEnergy fuels its boilers with.

      Scenario 2: The utility company LastEnergy produces 1000kWh of power a day, 100kWh (10%) of which is required to be solar. I have a rooftop solar array that produces 10kWh per day, and I do NOT sell my SRECs. LastEnergy needs to go build (or buy from other people) 100kWh/day of solar capacity, so the total mix of power on their grid is 10% solar as required. When I use grid power, then, the situation is a bit different. Every day, I can say 10kWh of the power I use is pure solar from my array, and the remainder is 10% solar from the grid -- my solar array has in effect offset generation from other sources.

      Note that the question of where your power is coming from in theory is kind of decoupled from both the physical (electrons are just jigglin' wherever) and economical aspects. Economically, no matter whether you sell SRECs or not, there are still times when you're "generating your own power" or "generating excess power and selling to the grid". Physically, once the sources are interconnected it's basically impossible to tell what percent comes from what source.

      The key element here is the state mandates for utilities to provide renewable generation -- that's what created the SREC market in the first place. If you sell your SRECs, you've basically gone into business generating power and selling it to the utilities to help them meet their standards. If you don't sell your SRECs, the utilities *still need to meet their standards*, and your solar panels are "icing on the cake" that is *extra* solar generation on the grid, beyond the minimum required by the state.

    2. Charlie Sullivan | | #38

      Right, you sell your SRECs to power companies the help them meet "the mandate that X% of their electricity be produced renewably." If they are claiming the solar electricity produced by your panels as part of *their* electricity, while you are also claiming that *your* electricity is 100% (or 75% or whatever) solar, you are double counting the environmental attributes that those SRECs represent.

      If you are OK with having the utility claim your solar generation as theirs, and helping them avoid building more solar, OK. But if you want your project to represent more solar, or more renewable energy than there would be without your actions, then I'm afraid you are mistaken. I have no reason to doubt your good intentions, but you may be misunderstanding the situation.

      For a more in depth explanation, see this document:

      https://www.cesa.org/wp-content/uploads/RECs-Attribute-Definitions-Hamrin-June-2014.pdf

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