Building Electrification: What It Means & Why We Need It

California is striving to upgrade natural gas appliances with electric replacements. The movement towards building electrification continues to gain traction and support. What’s the big deal with electrification, and how could it impact you?

Cooking with Gas

While camping or backpacking, I’m always thankful for a warm cup of tea on a brisk morning or a hot meal at the end of a long day. Thanks to a nifty gas-powered camp stove I can bring a pot of water to a roaring boil in a few minutes.

For many of us, fuel consumption isn’t relegated to time spent in the backcountry. Most of us use fuel in our homes every day in the form of natural gas for cooking, water and space heating, and even laundry. While cheap and convenient, there’s a downside. Natural gas is a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in California and the nation.

So what exactly is the big deal with burning fossil fuels anyway and how does it impact me?

You’re Killing Me, Smalls!

Homes and buildings are responsible for 25% of greenhouse gas emissions in California, second only to transportation. Around two-thirds of emissions from California’s buildings are the result of burning fossil fuels like propane and natural gas for space and water heating along with cooking.

Combusting natural gas also generates harmful pollutants including particulate matter, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and sulfur oxides (SOx).

It turns out the climate crisis is also a human health crisis.

New research reveals heating water or cooking at home actually harms our families and neighbors. Super smart Harvard scientists found that fossil fuel pollution causes eight million human deaths each year, equal to 1 in 5 deaths worldwide. That’s 350,000 deaths in the U.S. annually!

By “fuel-switching”, or replacing appliances that consume natural gas with electric options, we can transition our homes and businesses to cleaner sources of fuel. This results in cleaner air for our families and communities. We call this transition to all-electric homes and buildings “building electrification”.

Our electric grid here in California is only getting cleaner. Existing legislation requires 60% of California’s electricity to be generated from renewable resources by 2030, and 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045. Electrification brings the promise of cleaner air, safer communities, and lower energy bills.

It’s Electric. Boogie Woogie, Woogie!

Southern California Edison, an electric utility serving the LA region, reports that California must electrify 70% of all buildings by 2045 to meet our decarbonization goals.

Nearly 60 percent of new homes nationwide are being built all-electric. However, California is an anomaly with 95% of new single-family homes still using gas heating. But the times they are a’changing.

Utilities, community choice aggregators, and the public are all in support of an updated energy code that accelerates the transition to all-electric buildings. In response, the next update to California’s Title 24 building standards could require that all new buildings statewide must be all-electric starting in 2023. California updates Title 24 every three years. The next update is due this summer (2021). Hold on to your seats!

But support for electrification isn’t only at the state level. As more studies link natural gas to negative human health impacts, citizens in across the state are calling on their local leaders to adopt “reach codes” that supersede state-level legislation.

As of spring 2021, over 42 municipalities in California, including the 10th largest city in the US (San Jose), have proactively introduced building codes requiring or encouraging all-electric new construction. Customers are finding electric heating, cooling, and cooking technologies are not only cleaner but also much more efficient than natural gas versions. (More to come on this topic in future posts).

What’s It to Me?

Nobody likes being told they can’t do something. Homeowners with natural gas hookups at their homes won’t be required to change. Title 24 building code updates only apply to new buildings.

Building owners can expect to find attractive carrots that encourage the transition to all-electric. Look out for incentive programs from state, local utilities, CCAs, and municipalities that encourage replacing old gas appliances with cleaner electric models. Visit your electric service provider’s website for more information on rebates or incentives.

While I won’t expect to find viable backcountry camp stove fuel replacements anytime soon, our homes and businesses are a different story. We’re heading towards a future where we can boil water and heat our buildings with clean, safe, abundant renewable electricity. The future will be here sooner than you think.

About the Author

Alex Kaufman is a science communicator, clean energy specialist, sustainability nerd, professional engineer, travel enthusiast, and resident of San Diego, California. When not helping clients, you can usually find him cycling, hiking, reading, spending time with loved ones, or planning the next big adventure. He is open to speaking engagements. Contact him at alex@alexkaufmanpe.com.

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