The Electric Future is Coming, But Not Without Struggle
The transition to all-electric living comes with a litany of challenges, but at present, it’s the least-worst alternative available for kicking the CO2 habit.
A few weeks ago, I received a press release announcing that the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the propane gas industry have linked arms in opposition to new building codes that fast-track electrification of housing by way of code changes.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The NAHB has fought against building performance upgrades for decades. It dug in, for example, against low-flow toilets. It resisted residential fire sprinklers. The specter of its opposition to electrification codes, in my opinion, should serve as a bellwether. When NAHB takes a stand against change, it’s a safe bet to back the other side.
But, technological advancements don’t always succeed. Right now, the smart money is on whole-house electrification, powered by solar photovoltaics. But as we’ve learned firsthand while partnering with Steve Easley to remodel a house in Arizona, change isn’t always easy.
Easley’s shift from partial gas energy to all-electric living proved harder than expected. His home required additional panel capacity, for instance. Transformers on the street may need to be upgraded to handle the load required to charge electric vehicles, induction cooktops, heat pumps, and hybrid water heaters, particularly if his neighbors follow the same evolution.
In addition, utilities hope to slow or stop the “renewables+ electric” future. Florida Power and Light, for example, has underwritten a solar-killing bill in that state to end net metering. Oklahoma utilities want to charge consumers a $1,400 “exit fee” to switch from gas to electric.
Home battery storage offers a path around these all-electric roadblocks. But batteries come with challenges of their own. At present, home battery sellers rely on fear (they call it “peace of mind”) to sell power storage.
These fears include power outages, hurricanes, and arbitrary utility hikes. Manufacturers face mineral resource shortages. There’s only so much lithium to go around, and carmakers have begun acquiring it at a furious rate. Until and unless affordable, more sustainable options, such as salt-based or iron-based batteries achieve commercial success, home energy storage may remain a “first serve” amenity for the fortunate few.
Solar panels, wind, and hydroelectric energy must be allowed to quickly overtake fossil fuels as our go-to energy source if we’re to have any chance of mitigating the perils of runaway climate conditions. The disruptive force is global pollution.
That’s not to deny the prospects of a bigger tech disruption in our energy future. Fusion generators, for example, have made enormous strides. We could, by mid-century, create “stars in a bottle” on Earth. That’s unlikely, however, if we don’t kick fossil fuels rapidly.
Technology such as induction cooktops means that conversion from gas to electric living has little impact on modern comforts and expectations. Source: Courtesy Whirlpool/KitchenAid
Chances are you’ve already taken steps to move the needle toward electric living. It bears reminding, however, that the best time to go electric is during the new construction phase, when walls are open, floorplans fanciful, and nail guns blazing. A home with low ACH (air changes per hour), advanced windows, proper solar orientation, and an unvented attic won’t require the BTU firepower of a gas boiler to stay warm.
If you want examples of homes that are already electrified or good candidates for conversion, this year’s selection of the best sustainable projects needs little introduction. We have the technology. We have the talented builders and architects. We have sustainability heroes and bold initiatives from cities large and small.
Let’s commit to the Manhattan Project of our time, and make all-electric living an all-American success story.