Buildings were electrified for the first time nearly 150 years ago. So, why is “building electrification” becoming one of the most prominent keywords in the energy industry?
Most structures use a combination of fuels. Lights, refrigerators, and other electrical equipment are all powered by electricity. They also use fossil fuels to power furnaces, boilers, and water heaters, such as natural gas or propane.
Buildings are one of the most significant contributors to global warming pollution due to their continued reliance on fossil fuels. Buildings in the United States account for over 40% of the country’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, and natural gas is used as the principal heating fuel in nearly half of all residences.
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Using electricity instead of fossil fuels for heating and cooking is referred to as “building electrification,” “beneficial electrification,” and “building decarbonization.” All-electric buildings powered by solar, wind, and other carbon-free energy sources are the goal of such a shift.
What kind of technology is used in the electrification of buildings?
The big one is heat pumps. Building electrification is a feasible choice today because electric equivalents for fossil-fueled appliances and equipment are already available. It’s just a matter of making the transition by rural electrification company– and paying for it.
Heat pumps are the technology that makes broad building electrification possible. Heat pumps, like refrigerators, use electricity to transmit heat where it’s needed or remove it from where it’s not, unlike traditional furnaces or boilers, which burn fuels to produce heat. Heat pumps also offer a two-for-one benefit: heating and air conditioning from the same equipment, as they can either release heat from the interiors during the cooling season or capture heat outdoors from the ground or air and draw it into in the winter.
Furnaces and boilers that run on natural gas, propane, or heating oil can be replaced with ground- or air-source heat pumps in a completely electrified home or business. Heat pump water heaters can be used to replace gas-powered water heaters. Gas ovens and burners can also be replaced with electric ranges and induction cooktops in the kitchen.
Heat pumps are significantly more energy efficient than the equipment they replace. The energy efficiency of air-source heat pumps or heat pump water heaters is three to five times that of natural-gas competitors. Furthermore, artificial intelligence is being used by researchers to improve the efficiency of heat pumps.
For temperate climates, it makes sense. Do heat pumps, on the other hand, operate in the winter?
Yes, and technology is improving all the time.
Heat pumps are still thought to malfunction in extremely cold temperatures. That is not the case. Cold-climate heat pumps can heat homes even when the outside temperature drops to -12 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a new Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) report.
Maine has set a goal of installing 100,000 cold-climate heat pumps by 2025, based on its confidence in their effectiveness.
“It’s true that older models, as well as those meant for Southern or Mid-Atlantic regions, don’t work as well in the extreme cold we’re experiencing.” But the ones we’re advocating function well in those temps,” Michael Stoddard of Efficiency Maine told GTM.
Are there any other advantages to electrifying structures?
Yes, public health and safety are included. Indoor air pollution is a rising source of concern in households with gas stoves, according to a growing body of studies.
RMI and a number of environmental and public interest advocacy organizations recently released a paper that summarizes two decades of research into the links between indoor gas combustion for cooking and harmful health effects. Researchers discovered that cooking with gas can result in nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide levels that violate outdoor pollution limits, as well as a 42 percent greater risk of asthma in children living in a home with gas cooking.
After using electric ranges or induction cooktops, restaurant chains, professional chefs, and home chefs tend to favour the power, control, and safety of all-electric cooking.
Is it more costly to run buildings entirely on electricity?
It is debatable. In new construction, full electrification is usually the most cost-effective alternative. Builders save money by not having to build natural gas connections and metres, and increased energy efficiency can help keep power expenses in check. Even in cold-climate locales like Duluth, Minnesota, new homes with electric heat pumps, a tight construction envelope, and rooftop solar panels are cost-effective, according to another RMI analysis.
It’s a little more challenging for existing structures.
According to studies, replacing oil and propane furnaces, boilers, and water heaters with electric heat pumps can cut total energy use, lower energy costs, and reduce emissions in many circumstances. However, installing air-source heat pumps or heat-pump water heaters rather than gas ones may cost more upfront.
Rebates and other incentives for more energy-efficient electric equipment are still unavailable in many parts of the country. In order to allow full electrification, owners of older buildings may have to pay to upgrade electrical panels and invest in energy efficiency upgrades.
Is the grid capable of supporting a widespread switch to all-electric buildings?
Although this appears to be the case, there will be some challenges; grid operators will need to prepare for a new seasonal peak. Home weatherization, the construction of flexible, grid-responsive heat pump water heaters, the deployment of long-duration energy storage, and other methods to blunt peak electricity demand during lengthy cold weather events will all require ongoing investment.
According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, nationwide electrification (including transportation) might boost US energy consumption by up to 38% by 2050. However, because electric end-use technologies are so much more efficient than identical fossil-fuel equipment, overall “final energy” use could drop by as much as 21%.
Pecan Street, an Austin-based energy research organization, recently published a study that found that converting every single-family home in Texas from natural gas to electric heating would save households up to $452 per year on utility bills, but the state’s power grid would shift to a winter peak. “It’s possible that the grid will change to deal with this.” “This isn’t a complete reimagining of the grid’s operation,” co-author Joshua Rhodes told GTM.
What will cause the status quo to be upset?
It will ultimately come down to a mix of policy push and consumer pull.
California, like many other parts of America’s energy transformation, has taken the lead on policy. Around 30 U.S. towns and counties, largely in California, have already followed Berkeley’s lead in enacting rules that encourage or enforce all-electric construction in new construction.
The California Public Utilities Commission is working on guidelines for a $200 million programme that will reward low-carbon space and water heating solutions in new and existing buildings. In addition, the commission recently updated obsolete rules that made electric space and water heaters ineligible for billions in rebates under California’s ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programmes.
California regulators have granted an additional $45 million in incentives for heat pump water heaters through 2025. New York authorities went even further, sanctioning nearly half a billion dollars in heat pump funding for the same year.
Rural Electrification Corporation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to provide electricity to NARCL has suffered another setback with the withdrawal of two major NBFCs, PFC and REC.
The National Asset Restructuring Company (NARCL), which has been in the works for almost a year and is still taking shape, has suffered another setback. The two non-banking financial organisations (NBFCs) — Power Finance Corporation (PFC) and Rural Electrification Corporation (REC), according to sources, would not invest in NARCL as shareholders.
Last year, the Union Budget announced the establishment of NARCL, or bad bank, to take over non-performing assets (NPAs) and simplify their resolution. NARCL plans to take over infrastructure assets worth more than 85 billion dollars in the first phase of its operations.
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