The #1 Reason to Have an All-Electric Home

84 Comments Read/write comments

There's a very good reason to build, buy, or convert to an all-electric home

Maybe you've heard the rumblings coming out of the environmental and building science crowd.  Maybe not.  But it's getting louder lately.  The rumbling I'm alluding to is the move to switch from natural gas to electricity as the energy carrier of choice for buildings. 

There are many reasons for doing so.  Combustion safety is a big one.  Your water heater will never kill you with carbon monoxide poisoning in your sleep if it's running on electricity.  Also, heat pumps can carry the load, even in cold climates. (I’ll be writing soon about a friend in Minneapolis who heats his whole house with an 18 kBTU/hr mini-split heat pump.)  And depending on where you live, getting rid of gas may actually save you money on your energy bills.

The big picture

But the biggest reason, in my opinion, is related to the big picture.  To see it, let's take a look at the most recent energy flows diagram from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL).  Here it is.

US energy flows diagram for the year 2018, from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab

It's a complex diagram showing the inputs on the left, with the size of the line proportional to the amount of energy.  (This particular type of data representation is called a Sankey diagram, the most famous of which shows the attrition in Napoleon's army as they invaded Russia in 1812.)  But let's ignore most of the data shown here and focus just on electricity generation.

In 2018, the US used 38.2 quadrillion BTUs (Quads) of energy to generate electricity.  The three biggest inputs were coal (12.1 Quads), natural gas (11.0 Quads), and nuclear power (8.44 Quads).  Coal, the dirtiest fuel we use, accounted for 32% of the fuel used in generating electricity.  Solar (0.61 Quads) and wind (2.53 Quads) together account for 8%.

OK, you're thinking, those are interesting numbers, but what are you getting at, Allison?  Give me some context!

Here you go.  Let's look a bit further back in time.  The 2008 LLNL energy flows diagram is below.

US energy flows diagram for the year 2008, from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab

The total source energy that went into electricity generation ten years earlier was 39.97 Quads, or about 5% higher than it was in 2018.  That's not the interesting part, though.  The portion of electricity that came from coal in 2008 was 51%. 

Wow!  Coal dropped from 51% to 32% as the source energy for US electricity.  We decreased our coal use by more than 8 Quads in ten years.  Yes, the amount of natural gas we used went up in those ten years, but only by about 4 Quads.  Nuclear was flat, hydro gained a small amount, but the biggest gainers were solar and wind, which increased from 0.52 Quads to 3.14 Quads.  So about half of the reduction in coal use was made up by solar and wind.

Another big change happened even earlier

Now let's go back a bit further in time.  Here's the US energy flows diagram for 1978.

US energy flows diagram for the year 1978, from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab

Aside from the improvement in chart quality, there's another significant improvement we can see here.  Coal accounted for about half of the energy that went into electricity generation (10.4 out of 20.4 Quads).  But the biggest change that's happened since the 1970s was the near elimination of petroleum and natural gas liquids (NGL) from electricity generation.  It went from 18.9% to 0.6% in 40 years.

The number one reason is...

The big takeaway from these data is clear:  Electricity keeps getting cleaner.  We've gotten petroleum out almost completely.  We're now seeing coal disappear rapidly.  And solar and wind are beginning to take off.

When you have to make a choice of electricity or natural gas, it's clear that electricity is the better choice for the environment.  Gas, on the other hand, is not getting cleaner.  And with all the problems associated with fracking, gas has probably gotten worse.

In addition to being better for the environment, electricity may well be better for your pocketbook, too.  A new whitepaper from Pecan Street, a research and policy organization, finds that converting from natural gas space heating to a heat pump could save Texas homeowners from $57 to $452 per year.

Finally, of course, having an all-electric home makes it easier to offset your energy use with site-generated solar power if you install photovoltaic modules.  I'm going for net zero energy use with the house I just bought, and I've already changed out the old gas water heater with a beautiful new heat pump water heater.

So the next time someone tells you that electric cars or heat pumps or water heaters don't help because they use dirty coal, you can respond by saying, yes, coal is still part of the mix but it's decreasing rapidly.  Electricity is getting cleaner all the time.

 

Related Articles

The Electricity Multiplier Effect for Home Energy Efficiency

US Energy Flows — Inputs and Outputs 1995 to 2010

Total Energy Use Down in US, Wind & Solar Up

 

NOTE: Comments are moderated. Your comment will not appear below until approved.

Comments

I came across some interesting writings during the past few weeks...two fascinating developments:

1) The cost of electricity generated by renewables combined with storage is approaching that of fossil

2) As we electrify buildings and transport overall electricity use will rise and costs should fall because the huge fixed cost of building / maintaining the grid will be spread across higher consumption - in other words, grid assets will be better utilized.

All of this, probably including saving us from sea level rise, depends upon the cost of batteries continuing to fall along with a continuing increase in energy density and longevity.

I've put over 80k miles on an all-electric car...I'll never go back.

Sea Level Rise:

I came across something interesting about this about a couple of weeks ago. An article written by the NY Times about the coming deluge. Interestingly enough, the article was dated May of 1932.

All this time has passed, more and more of the artic ice shelf has melted... probably a heck of a lot more than that noted in this article. The mentioning of cities and large swaths of land being cast to under the sea.

I live at sea level in Houston, Tx. (2019) Sorry, I hate to say you've been had. http://www.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/weekinreview/warm1930.pdf?fbclid=IwA...

Good points. I recently read another article commenting on indoor air quality and going electric. A gas stove will never be "green" and puts a lot of carbon into your indoor air. My gas stove is reaching the end of its expected life and I plan to replace it soon with electric.
Fran

Ray, you may want to read this "propaganda" as well...

https://sealevelrise.org/states/texas/

I doubt the Army Corp of Engineers and NOAA are all in collusion with the "deep state".
Only time will tell, but I believe we're betting our descendants future by not finding alternative sources of energy.
It's hard to understand why alternative, solar and wind energies are so controversial.

Also, the article from 1932 said in "30,000 to 40,000 years" for the "deluge" of melting ice.
If my math is correct, it's only been about 87 years since the article.

Toll Alert!!...You "just happened to come across" an article from 1932? Haha,... Right!! Your individual personal experience is pretty limited compared to the combined knowledge of the entire global scientific community.

"Since all models are wrong the scientist cannot obtain a "correct" one by excessive elaboration.
On the contrary following William of Occam he should seek an economical description of natural
phenomena. Just as the ability to devise simple but evocative models is the signature of the great
scientist so overelaboration and overparameterization is often the mark of mediocrity."
---George E. P. Box (October 18, 1919 - March 28, 2013) Science and Statistics (1976), p. 792

George Edward Pelham Box (born 18 October 1919)
Professor Emeritus of Statistics at the University of Wisconsin,
and a pioneer in the areas of quality control, time series analysis,
design of experiments and Bayesian inference.

Taking major decisions based on statistical modelling is the absolute height of hubris.
The CO comments are just at attempt to scare people.
If you are that worried install a CO alarm.

You're right Bob, but in 'today's world' they act like all of us at sea level are going to be under water within the next decade.

You can argue any which way you want about anything. At the end of the day, that's all it is. An argument.

Time isn't on anyone's side. An asteroid could hit earth at some point rendering any thing man attempts as futility. OR a semi plows into you on the highway killing you, suddenly.

You're not promised anything in life. The life you do have, has a limit whether you want to think about it or not.

Allison
Bailes

Nihilism is a bleak way to live, Ray.  Why bother even reading articles and writing comments if you just end up dead anyway?  For that matter, why even get out of bed in the morning?

Ray, CSER evaluates such risks:
"Most people are familiar with natural risks such as asteroid impact and supervolcano eruption. We are more concerned with risks associated with human technology and activity, such as nuclear war, engineered pandemic, climate change, ecological collapse, or advanced artificial intelligence."
You'll find that the latter group that concerns them includes climate change and others that are a virtual certainty in the next century or so. In fact they calculate that the combined group gives the human race 50/50 chance of meeting its demise in the next 87 years. Just in case you think CSER is a group of low brows, it used to include Stephen Hawking and many of his pals as members.
So why base any decisions on asteroid impacts when the probability is near zero? Older folks will probably escape but 16 year olds today are not so impressed with the legacy they are being left. If you believe CSER, they have over 50% chance of being seriously affected in their lifetimes.
Besides, it would be way more fun to figure out how to be energy independent since most of us already understand the domicile as our biggest single energy requirement. Conservation in buildings gets scant attention but it's one of the areas we must focus on first since it provide one of the highest returns.

The nihilism comment is bleak for sure, but it is a comment that was made by Greta T. (her claim climate change is killing people aka people are dying.) But you know a 16 year old, thinks they will live forever.

I've seen close people near me die. I've had pets die. So tell me one thing that climate change will change about people dying?

People will still die. Rich, poor, young, old... sure it sounds like a dire picture. We will all die. So what is the point to get out of bed?

Treat each day like it's a gift. Live it like it's your last. All the talk & debate about climate change will still be talked about 100 years and more from now. But how you lived, will not.

110,000 die premature deaths in the US due to the burning of fossil fuels, about 2 million in China + India who at least have the sense to do something about it. We can only predict future calamities that could easily involve 100s of millions of refugees and to that extent Greta IS correct.
Getting rid of fossil fuels! who loses? Oil company executives. That's it. Is supporting the fossil fuel companies so important to you? Fossil fuels are already uncompetitive in many areas; why not just let them die a quiet death?
Oh yes, $50Trillion in fossil fuel assets they'd like to sell and you can be sure they'll not be around to clean up the mess since a bunch of old guys on their boards are making those decisions.
Greta is right and we older middle class guys let it happen during our tenure and now will do nothing since we see it might not affect our life expectancy.

The former residents of Miami and Houston and many towns in NC will certainly be talking about those who sat on the sidelines and supported fossil fuels while they were inundated. Forget about 100 years from now, they're talking about it now.
You know that Miami knows they cannot keep the sea water out, right?
You know that Boston decided they'd let neighborhoods flood because barriers won't work.
You know that many towns in NC have already been abandoned?
I am sure the 100s of millions of refugees will be consoled by your idea that we all have to die sometime when all their arable land is flooded more than it already is.

Colin there is hyperbole and there is also reality.

I live just west of Houston in Katy, Texas. Hurricane Harvey of 2017 this area is still recovering from.

This event and the aftermath of such was driven by rainfall.

Let me give you a few facts of this event.

The amount of rain water was estimated at 9 Trillion gallons of water. The Addicks Reservoir when full is around 110 Feet deep. The Barker Reservoir just due south when full is estimated at 104 feet deep. The Addicks Reservoir spilled over the top of it's bank for the first time in it's history. This caused flooding of the feeder roads to I10 and as of Aug. 30 TDOT set up a aqua dam on I10 to be able to reopen this major thorough fare in and out of Houston. In order to drain Addicks Reservoir to normal levels it would take roughly 3 months draining at a rough rate of 4000 cubic feet of water a second. As of August 30 the Army Corp. of Engineers have given estimates of raising this release to 8000 cubic feet of water a second. The Addicks Reservoir and Barker Reservoir feed into Buffalo Bayou and are there to prevent catastrophic flooding to various areas in Houston further downstream before this water makes it's way to the Houston bay.

You could argue that because of climate change is why we are having these large hurricane events. The problem with such conjecture is that there have always been hurricane events.

Flooding has existed since the dawn of time. Weather related catastrophes have always occurred. To blame this entirely on the burning of fossil fuels I think is a little presumptuous.

Forget about 100 years, they are talking about it now. Yes, just like they always have. When people get too cold or too hot and they have the means to live comfortable... it always comes back to 'do as I say, not as I do.'

As the population of the world expands, at some point the discussion will shift to population control. Because the world can not support a continuing expanding population.

Then the 16 year olds of the world will lead a global change to kill off a quarter or more of the population. It's either that or this discussion goes off the rails and war breaks out.

But if you're going to 'talk about it' as you suggest... the solution is more complicated than just merely 'not burning fossil fuels.'

If you don't think so, I believe you are only kidding yourself.

Ray Austin

Your point is that Houston always floods so nothing is changing? Yes?

Problem is that it's trending up and even if it wasn't, all the indicators are for increased flooding. 2017 was double any previous peak year.

Overall you write a ton on the Houston flood I believe for the purpose of your concluding paragraph which says we could blame this on:
"...climate change" but to do so is "conjecture".
No, not on conjecture but data from US Scientists who were originally tasked to look into this by Reagan.
U.S. GLOBAL CHANGE RESEARCH PROGRAM
CLIMATE SCIENCE SPECIAL REPORT (CSSR)
Unless you can point out via a section in this report why American cities should NOT be worried about climate change then it is you who are conjecturing or choosing to remain uninformed.

In 1965 the Pres of the Petroleum Assoc warned members that emissions from their products would cause global warming and they needed to prepare for that. Result is super well financed disinformation camgaign designed to do one thing; sew doubt. Sure, it's a complicated issue but fossil fuel companies are responsible for about 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. Most subscribers in this chat are in a position to build near zero emission houses; a skill we'd be calling on now if it weren't for fossil fuel companies outright buying politicians and using the same people who told us cigarettes don't cause cancer to deny climate change.

"16 year olds of the world will lead a global change to kill off a quarter or more of the population" I am baffled by your above statement because if we DON'T listen to these 16 year olds, we'll have a massive die off towards the end of this century.

"Alernative Facts" to the CSSR is the fossil fuel company propaganda. They're the folks with all the cash and all we have are facts. Top oil companies are planning on spending $5T to extract more oil over the next ten years; this can only be described as a Crime Against Humanity.

I didn't say "To blame this entirely on the burning of fossil fuels" which accounts for about 50% but conserving energy is what people in this chat room can do. If not fossil fuels what factually would you blame global warming done. Please refer to page numbers in the CSSR.

Colin,

I am not saying nothing is changing. The earth has long drawn out cycles as demonstrated in this youtube video 'The Milankovitch Cycles'

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GUcn07enz4&fbclid=IwAR0jJievR4x4mM1E-02...

The problem with climate change advocates is they don't look to the earth's full cycles, nor the science behind it. If I say I don't believe in climate change as it's being portrayed in the MSM, then I am simply called a denier.

When that isn't truly right. If you're going to look at science, look at all of it. It's quite obvious that certain groups have an agenda, but it has to do with money and nothing else. (To get funded by the governments of the world to combat this scary thing that is going to kill us all.)

How many boon doggles has government spent and wasted money on?

Houston always floods. Yes, but the problems of flooding have more to do with proper drainage than anything else. Flooding is always a complicated thing, because of the mass amount of rain this area can get with a single storm that decides to camp out here for days on end sometimes. (I've lived it more than once.)

If people throw garbage in the bayous, they clog up. Leading to more flooding. People not cleaning up leaves from drainage systems. Garbage in bayous and drainage systems aren't the only problem. But I put this here to illustrate flooding is a complicated issue for a major city at sea level.

Far more complicated than simply blaming it on climate change. That's an easy excuse if you ask me.

100 year flood plain. Why call it a 100 year flood plain? Because there isn't much of a flood risk, but there is a chance in a 100 years you will flood.

This 100 year example I use here is because Hurricane Harvey flooding was considered an 800 year flood event.

Why is timing like this important? because things change. Events happen. If you take the 20 minutes necessary to watch the Milankovitch Cycles video I posted above you'll have a far better understanding how much more complicated the climate change debate is.

The earth has gone thru a multitude of changes. Burning fossil fuels had nothing to do with it.

I remember when I was 16 years old. The talk then was Aids, you get bit by a mosquito and you'll die of Aids. Then shortly after that scare the ozone layer hole is going to cause everyone to get skin cancer, boils on your skin. There is always some 'thing' that is out to get man kind. How dare you? This sounds so salacious for a 16 year old does it?

People continue to die, just as they always have. Wars, disease, hunger, old age, cancer you name it. Not much has changed in the 50+ years that I know of. The next 50, probably not much more. The world may get a degree or two warmer, there will probably be a few more storms than normal. There will be flooding just like there always has been. Earth quakes, tornadoes, typhoons. Yep, the world is a scary place.

After 10 years pass and people witness the mistakes of those who claimed this or that... well it's just the news cycle. A new scare will come to attract you to something else.

I can tell you the deeper I dig, the more I am certain that climate talk is above the pay grades of those who claim to know so much. Sixteen years old or not.

Of course all electric homes mean developers don't need to run natural gas lines through subdivisions and into buildings. In many rural areas, NG is not an option so all electric eliminates LPG which is definitely more expensive (usually equivalent to electric strip heat), inconvenient (delivered by truck) and dangerous (heavier than air). Natural gas heating has an advantage in leaky houses, primarily because it is easily oversized and traditionally low cost.

I remember saying this to an Asheville area HERS rater 10 or more years ago - the writing was on the wall back then (though obviously not as clear as it is now). They were always chasing tax credits and whatever had a credit won - no matter the bigger picture. I'm glad people are starting to see this.

The sad part about the information- Nuclear hasn't changed. With all its advancements, nuclear power would be the best option. Wind and solar can not/will not keep pace with the demand. Also sad, is none of you guys ever really talk about it (not PC I guess).
50 years from now it will be the direction we will go. The visual pollution from wind and farms will be the topic of the day.

Tad, I'm certainly not anti-nuclear, but I am realistic about it. I dont think you can absolutely say that "nuclear power would be the best option". See GA Power's disaster trying to build a nuke plant on budget in GA. Also, you cant say "best option" without addressing how you would handle nuclear waste. Personally, I'm not against Yucca Mountain but then again a train loaded with nuclear waste wouldnt be driving by my house. Wind/solar + storage will absolutely keep pace with demand.

The new technology of Nuclear is looking to have almost no waste (the waste becomes an energy source also). The need for Yucca will be a thing of the past. The USA is way behind in this. The more we go electric (without nuclear power) the more of a mess we will make the countryside look with our attempt to produce said electricity. Many of the hillsides in the central part of my state are littered with wind turbines and solar panels are even a bigger eyesore.
This is off the topic of the article so I'll end here.

We cannot afford the time lag to get nuclear operation. During the 10 year window between funding and power output, the Earth may be too close to the tipping point for the nuclear to make much difference. China and India are already putting together massive solar arrays in months. So, stop all fossil plants and use the nuclear to takeover some baseload functions when we finally retire the last ones.

I do not agree with this assessment of nuclear. Proponents have since the late 40's had a pie-in-the-sky projection of it. The fact is that it is really messy and and the dream of waste --> fuel is highly exaggerated. The subsidies for fuel and waste management as well as Federal insurance subsidies as well as its own footprint as well as its highly risky nature and capital intensive characteristics make it, even now after 70 years, a very questionably valid approach -- long term. We have 80+ near-dead reactors just waiting for their concrete tombstones ... and everyone is bracing for that cost. You have asserted that solar is ugly. I say it is the most beautiful technology imaginable, as it directly takes the Sun's nuclear-produced photons and converts it directly into our highest quality energy for use. 10-20 times more efficiently than photosynthesis. And we have not even begun to sequester its thermal content for winter-time use.

The real trouble with your view point however is that it does not allow for the realization that constant, growing, increasing, 24-7 electricity is a thoroughly backward assumption for the actual direction of humanity -- the reason being that it is a losing game. We either allow ourselves to evolve past the ridiculous addition to a 'growth' economy by settling into a sot of material stasis, or we simply cease to exist. Either we evolve into full sustainability, or we disappear. The last thing we need is 'nuclear'. Solar fields ugly? They are barely different than vineyards, and can put anywhere. I ran my house in 1980 solely with 4 small panels. I had to help the inspector find them on the property.

The combination of stored solar PV, stored solar thermal, wind, hydro, more satisfying lifestyle changes, reduced population and consumption will make the thought of limitless electricity ridiculous. If you imagine our lives in 50 years to be anything like the primitive economics and lifestyles we have now, you are ignoring what humans do: We Evolve! Please join the process.

You both can be right! :) Yes, 100% we need to create a less consumption based society, that makes decisions in a truly sustainable way. That is REALLY HARD by the way. But we also can't deny the truth that our society is not going to be able to support itself by putting up individual solar and wind energy sources (4 panels?! Not capable of running my design+build business office with only 4 solar panels in Portland Oregon all year, no way). There are lots of great examples of how to reduce consumption (Passive House!) and there are also great examples of safe, clean nuclear power. The horrific accidents with antiquated, poorly designed nuclear tech have put a black eye on this power source. But unless someone invents a perpetual motion machine, nuclear options will come back in fashion eventually. The key will be to create a community willing to look holistically at the overall life cycle of these sources and build in maintenance and upgrade costs into their financial models over the quick "How Cheap Can We Get It" position we take to most purchases in this country today. It is possible and is being done elsewhere, and hard to image here. But then...times they are a changing!

Agree 100% on the big picture. Let's add a few smaller pictures reasons why this is the way to go: 1) Heat pump tech / efficiency is constantly improving, solar PV tech / efficiency is constantly improving, appliance and LED tech / efficiency is constantly improving, 2) Electric cars cost less to own and operate than their gas counterparts (and they pair really nicely with an all electric efficient house w/ solar PV, and 3) Home batteries are available now and will soon be A LOT less expensive, which opens the doors to making your all electric / solar PV investment, even more worthwhile. Plus one more for good luck: 4) Induction cooktops are the future of cooking!

100% right Ryan! As you know, we live in a 'maybe Passive House' ;) that is all electric with induction stove, heat pump water heater and mini-splits and an electric car, in not so sunny Portland and we are shooting for net zero (including the car!) It is very possible and IMHO the only way we should be building in the 21st century!

The environmental cost electric cars is horrific. It boggles me how people like you and that other push all electric, fail to take into account the amount of strip mining it takes to make batteries and the processing required to make the batteries. The extra copper wiring, control boards and all the unseen incidentals.

Consumer reports did an article a few years ago and showed it takes 10 years of ownership of the Honda prius to reach the break even point of ownership cost. Even more, the "carbon foot print" that is touted takes almost 10+ year to reach the break even point.
Solar panels aren't free on the environment, neither are the production or dismantling of windmills which seems to be going really well.... https://www.americanexperiment.org/2019/08/argus-leader-sioux-falls-land...

I see nothing wrong w/ options and improving efficiency but the utopia selling of society of being all electric is simply BS. Ignorantly, the same folks that despise oil companies as "big oil" are simply choosing to follow a different evil who will some day be know as "big electric".

The electric/alternative industry is a government subsidized industry, just like so many others. When it takes 1 gallon of diesel, 2 gallons of gas and 2 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of ethanol( I live in corn country), it simply reminds me that alternative energy isn't cracked up to what they claim it to be. Call it what it is, an option, don't lie and call it the world savior.

I want affordable comfort in my home and experience tells me I need both oil/gas and electric to do so. Come live up in my neck of the woods w/ your all electric and tell me I can have both comfort and affordability. In minus -20/-30 winters, neither is realistic and neither is attainable.

"The environmental cost electric cars is horrific."
"strip mining it takes to make batteries and the processing required to make the batteries"
Let's examine the math behind your statement. The Model 3 battery costs $12,000 in the Standard Model which could not have more than $6,000 worth of energy for "strip mining" as you suggest otherwise the battery would cost them more. Strip miners pay the same for their energy as anyone else.
Cost of operation of electric cars, ideally from renewable results in zero pollution but even if ran them off diesel generators they'd still use a third of the power of an ICE car.
Typical ICE car might do 500,000 miles lifetime at 35mpg = 20,000 us gallons at avg cost of $4/gal = $80,000 This amount of gas will produce 160,000 lb of CO2 and lots of NOx. The CO2 could be pulled out of the atmosphere for say $300 per ton although you need to use renewables to do that otherwise you'd make 3 times more CO2 than you started with so let's say we'll never pull that CO2 out and simply sustain the damage it causes. NOx is responsible for about $110B / year in extra health costs (in US alone) so your ICE car takes a share of the blame for that.
Let's not forget the massive pollution caused in hydrocarbon recovery that I estimate is worth more than the fuel itself. Just methane emissions alone during nat gas recovery is 3.5% of the total which doubles natural gas's contribution to global warming.
"The extra copper wiring" Tesla Model S had 3 km of wiring but very little of it is the heavy duty stuff. Model 3 has 1.5 km and Model Y to have 0.1 km. So the electric car has a bit more copper perhaps but the ICE car has thousands of moving parts the electric car does not.
"takes 10 years of ownership of the Honda prius to reach the break even" It is a Toyota Prius and that might have been true when it came out because it was expensive and still was mostly pushed by the gas engine. Toyota recently opened up their patents on what could be the best hybrid drive because they're obsolete. No reason to have a gas engine at all. Toyota is hoping their competition will get seduced into making obsolete hybrid cars which could finish them off.
Current break even on a Tesla Model 3 vs Toyota Corolla is 5 years in states with $0.15 /kwh energy costs and $3/gallon gas prices that should really be $10/gallon with subsidies removed and partial payment for environmental and health damage. Tesla Model 3 voted by Motor Trend as best car in 70 years is massively better than any competitor in every way.

I agree that ethanol is not truly renewable and a bad option.

"Come live up in my neck of the woods w/ your all electric and tell me I can have both comfort and affordability. In minus -20/-30 winters, neither is realistic and neither is attainable."
30% of all cars sold in Norway are electric. Probably colder than where you live. Electric has some advantages in that you can warm them up in your garage without poisoning yourself.
"comfort" yes electric way more comfortable.
"affordable" yes way more affordable in every climate.
Another benefit is that you will not skid your Model 3 no matter how icy it is with electronic traction control that will not let you spin out even on solid ice. Lots of videos on this of drivers doing hot laps on frozen Finish lakes. My bro had 4wd GM suv for winter driving but his Model S was way better in snow and ice so he got rid of his winter car. more affordable.

This is a complex issue and there's a lot to know but unless you've driven an electric car extensively, you'll never know the benefits on the assumption that you're open minded enough to embrace the future.

Right there with you.

Heat pump water heater, multisplit ductless heat pump, insulation and air sealing brought up to snuff, EV car in the driveway, and just signed contract for solar panels.

We each make choices.

That reply is both a red herring and tongue n cheek.

Your natural gas and petrol/diesel production is also stripping the Earth of resources, just like the construction of batteries.

This is the typical 'wind turbines kill birds' argument. What about the crap those coal smokestacks chugged out? That foul air killed no birds?!
Hah!

If you were genuinely fair, you would admit the imperfections on both sides instead of being biased and condescending.

I still think that it depends on who your electric supplier is and what their mix is. The national averages are not the same as what individuals get.

Well with some gas logs in fireplace and electric power dies you have a system backup which prevent your house and pipes from freezing. I'm certainly not betting my investment in my house on total electric as some of my neighbors did in NH, so when power went out in snowstorm it was hotel time if you could get there in a blizzard. We had oil fired hot water furnace and gravity kept the registers warm and hot water but no pump for the well. So melted snow for toilets. Power was out for three days, but we lived well, spouse cooked on Swedish wood stove with gallon of oysters I had just brought in from New Orleans the night storm hit. Best oysters ever with candle lights as well!!

Exactly John. All electric is a fallacy. Twice in the last 6 years w/ have been w/o electricity in the dead of winter. Thankfully power was out only for 2 days each time but we knew the storm was coming in advance and I turned up our new 2-stage gas furnace and got the house near 80*. That kept us from from suffering too bad but after 2 days we were in the low 60*s. Years prior the outlying area lost power for 2 weeks after a bad snow/ice storm. Those w/ generators fired up the their gas furnaces and survived. Everyone else had damage due to frozen pipes and had to resort to traveling 250 miles east to Omaha to stay in hotels.

All electric doesn't fair well in ice/snow storms and broken power lines. Even if you're "self sustaining", solar panels don't work covered in snow and ice. How does the older home owner deal w/ this? My elder folks would be screwed if they didn't have gas heat and supplemental generator electric.

The planet has changed dramatically over the last 14 million years and it will continue to do so. Getting locked on any one "solution" will create more problems long term than it solves. We need to have options.

We had just moved into a rented underground home when a wet snowstorm hit in 2010 in Massachusetts. All the area had power out for 4-7 days. Our neighbors ran out and bought generators to try and keep their homes above freezing. The noise was deafening. But our bright, tight little underground home stayed 60-64 degrees thanks to the south facing window wall and thermal mass.
I got into weatherization in order to make a change in the amount of energy our homes use. Retrofitting a house at a time in the weatherization program is good, but we really need to start building underground if we want to save energy.

"And your heat pump won't depressurize your house and suck in toxic air from the garage because it has no need for combustion air."

Combustion air rates are much smaller than most people believe. Even a slightly unbalanced duct system can depressurize the house or individual rooms FAR more than the very low air volumes needed for combustion air. A heat pump is no different from a gas furnace in that regard.

Allison
Bailes

Dana, I see it worked.  When I wrote that line, I was thinking of you and your comments (at GBA, I believe) about duct-induced pressures and infiltration.  I thought about noting that my comment didn't apply to the duct system but didn't want to make things too complicated here.  I'm glad you jumped in to add that extra information.

I've been trolled! :-)

The International Fuel Gas Code only requires 1 cfm of active supply ventilation per 2400 BTU/hr of burner size (for both combustion & dilution air make up) for gas appliances in doored-off air tight mechanical rooms. Thus a 40K furnace can't/won't draw more than 40K/2.4K= 16.7 cfm, which isn't a very significant depressurization factor relative to a whole house (and the code has a generous margin for safety, not what it actually draws.)

A 600-1000 cfm air handler on a mid-static or higher duct system would usually drive more outdoor air leakage than the combustion air draw for the furnace supplying the heat.

Allison
Bailes

Dana, yes, you're right.  I didn't think through that part of the article because I was in a hurry to get to the main point.  I've gone back and deleted the offending part.  Thanks for calling me out on that!

I agree that an all-electric house, especially in north country, needs a backup energy / heating plan to keep pipes freezing and be able to safely remain in the home. If a blizzard or freezing rain event knocks out power, family safety should not depend on relocating(which may not be possible) to a hotel room (which likely won't be available.)

But that's no reason to run costly gas lines or have complex propane infrastructure solely for backup needs ...I would submit that a simple, flexible, relatively inexpensive and highly independent backup source of heat allows a reasonably northern home to stay safe and livable for days at a time even during multi-day cold snaps:

That would be a properly selected and installed woodstove.

The technology has been around for centuries. It reliably and sustainably converts very locally available solid fuel into usable heat. Though I am now a Floridian, my house has a small woodstove that we enjoy gathering around during cooler weather. I remember a general guideline that an acre of woodland sustainably annually yields a cord of firewood - depending on species, 20+ million btus

A woodstove also provides a hot surface for rudimentary cooking, hot water for tea and coffee, and, in a pinch, limited bathing.

Yes, and then there is even more sustainable Coppiced wood burnt in a masonry heater.

I have constructed an all electric home in the Northeast, I have 30 solar panels and it provides enough energy to provide all of my energy need for heating, cooling water heater, everything.... Because of insulating the home very efficiently the house will never drop below 55 degrees even without the heat on. The single heat pump keeps the home nice and cozy even on a snowy 0 degree day. If everyone built a new house this way they would be able to eliminate all needs for fuel in their homes. Obviously this is not an option for everyone but there is an option that exists...

Kirt, why would this not be "for everyone"? If our choice was eliminate fossil fuels or suffer catastrophic climate change consequences, it would seem the starting point would be efficient homes like yours. People might have to sacrifice some floor area to keep the costs down but I suspect that homes like yours mfd in volume might not cost any more than the poor performing houses we are being offered. Is the limitation the area needed for the solar panels or the cost of construction or are you thinking of apartment units that don't have the room for solar panels?
Our experience with merely requiring airtightness tests in WA State forced builders to rethink their high rise building construction methods such that they now produce higher performance buildings at similar cost aided to a large degree by shorter construction times when using more advanced building materials (more expensive but much faster to build yielding time is money savings). Who knew? When detractors say that high performance buildings cannot happen, they actually don't know that to be true.
Having looked at homes all over the world, I use America as the example of the worst possible building performance; higher than necessary energy costs, lots of IAQ problems, uncomfortable and limited in their life expectancy. Even when codes attempt to prevent awesomely bad homes, states like TX have a tiny compliance on their duct leakage codes resulting in new homes that lose half the energy put into their systems from new. But then they have a right to cheap energy right and selling energy is good for the economy right!?

I agree with Dana. I think the depressurization argument has little practical merit. In addition to unbalanced duct systems, I consider range hoods, vented clothes dryers and gas cooking appliances to be more problematic in terms of depressurization and IAQ in tight home.s And what about wood-burning fireplaces?! At least with central heating appliances, we have plenty of closed-combustion options to choose from.

While I understand the 'big picture' premise, my clients pay me to find optimal value, not impose my own personal predilection to pursue a low-carbon lifestyle. So I'll continue specifying fossil fuel heat for projects in cold climates that have access to inexpensive natural gas.

Note that I may also specify a heat pump in that situation (dual-fuel), given the relatively small incremental cost of a heat pump over a straight AC condenser. This provides flexibility as relative energy prices are sure to change. Or, the homeowner's environmental priorities could change :-)

But electricity keeps getting more expensive!

Allison
Bailes

Bruce, I'm not sure what's happening to electricity rates where you are, but here in Georgia and in other places, electricity has actually gotten cheaper.  Here's what I wrote about it three years ago:

Falling Electricity Rates, Bill Tracking, and Energy Efficiency

My spreadsheet shows that our rates have come up a bit since 2016 but we're still not as high as we were in 2015.

The long term inflation-adjusted price of electricity is falling, not rising, and has been for 50 years or more. This despite short term and localized pric spikes.

In the growth of variable renewables that have near zero marginal cost, there is a strong and growing downward pressure on wholesale electricity pricing, since wind & solar is usually contracted for at a fixed price, or in some instances merchant renewables get bid into the day ahead market $0/MWH, becoming price takers rather then price setters. Until the subsidy goes away wind generators can even bid in at slightly negative pricing and still make money on the production credits, much to the aggravation of slow-ramping nuclear & coal generation operators.

Residential solar salespeople often use LUDICROUS electricity price inflation projections of 5-6% per year looking forward to demonstrate just how much the rooftop PV is going to "save" over it's lifecycle. In some cases this could be considered outright fraud, since there has never been a decade where residential retail pricing outstripped the base rate of inflation by more than a few percent.

Using LL's charts, the likely cause of the reduction in electricity prices in GA was a reduction in demand (they don't show demand, but generation, but likely one followed the other). The key change in electricity generation in GA between 2010 and 2014 was... Natural Gas. Wind continued to provide nothing, Solar added less than .5T BTUs to get to 1.1T BTU, a rounding error at 1/10th of 1% of all electrical generation. Gas went from 180T BTU to 297T BTU, roughly 26% of total electrical generation (14% in 2010). This increase was likely due to fracking. It did not make up for the decrease in coal generation. This all during a period where nationally, solar and wind subsidies increased, national policy attempted to end coal, and fracking, well, there was a mix of regulation there, but I wouldn't say it was favored. This is clearly reflected nationally in the significant increase in NG as a the source of electrical generation, far exceeding all other sources combined.

Admitting, I'm taking some educated assumptions above, I'm a bit pressed to understand how your all electric house adapts the big picture you painted. At this time, the switch from NG in your home to electric simply moves the pipe from your house to your power station.

It's gone up in Houston area. I was paying about 9 to 10 cents per KWH in 2018. It's up to just over 11 cents in 2019.

While you can find cheaper rates in Houston, due to deregulation almost always have to be using more than 2000 KWH's per month. Then you can find rates around 7 or 8 cents per KWH. I use around 500 KWH in the winter here in an all electric home built in the late 70's. I think I had a high usage this summer around 1700 KWH.

Putting in a Inverter heat pump hopefully next week if the weather cooperates a little.

Allison
Bailes

Buzz, if you click through to the actual article I linked to in my comment, you'll see that the reason for the decrease was falling gas prices, not lower demand.  And it wasn't just in Geogia; it was mostly a national trend that missed just a few areas.

Also, your assumptions are wrong.  Here are the fuel sources for electricity generation in Georgia, according to the US Energy Information Administration:

Georgia electricity generation fuel sources

And if you want to see how my "all electric house adapts the big picture," go back and read the last section of this article again.  I thought it was pretty clear.

Georgia is something of a special case, since it has a vertically integrated state wide electric utility monopoly that almost always gets it's way the state regulators. The fact that GA ratepayers are PRE-paying for the Vogtle #3 & #4 nuclear powerplants is a travesty. The full levelized lifecycle cost of the power out of those plants are a multiple of the cost of utility scale PV, and even more expensive than mid-scale commercial & industrial PV, a "competitor" that Georgia Power has pretty much managed to keep out of the market until the vote a couple of years ago by the state legislators. In any other similarly sunny state with more ratepayer-favorable regulatory structures there would be may times the amount of small and mid-scale solar already installed than there currently is in Georgia. (Florida has similar but not identical issues.)

Without the competition from third party near-zero marginal cost sources, and imposing a special pre-payment rate-adder to pay for the nuclear albatrosses (that will almost certainly become stranded assets well before the normal lifecycle of a large nuke) the retail rates don't have the same downward pressure than in some other areas.

For levelized cost assessments (from investment bankers who decide what is/is-not a good risk) see:

https://www.lazard.com/media/450784/lazards-levelized-cost-of-energy-ver...

For the past 10-15 years New England's rates tended to rise and fall with the contract price of natural gas, but that phenomenon is likely to change within the next decade as large scale offshore wind gets built out, along with one or more transimission lines between Massachusetts (about half the total load in the ISO-New England region) and Canadian hydro power in Quebec & New Brunswick. Natural gas pipeline constraints have made for short term electricity price spikes, but for the region to meet it's legislated carbon emissions targets increase gas pipeline capacity would also quickly become a stranded asset well ahead of a normal lifecycle.

In recent years new wind & solar capacity has outpaced natural gas generation capacity, despite the surge in gas built-out in the early 2010s.

https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=30112

While combined cycle gas plants have been operating about a 50% capacity factor compared to about 20% for PV and 35% for midwestern wind, offshore wind on the east coast from NC to ME is projected to run north of 50%, and in some instances north of 60%, better than most European offshore wind, predominantly due to a more favorable wind resource, but also reaping the incremental improvements in offshore wind technology. (Newer European offshore wind is running 50% capacity factors in some locations.) Initial contract bids in Massachusetts came in well under the levelized cost of power from a new nuclear plant, and the same is likely to prove true in the Carolinas, where in SC they wisely scrapped the SCANA nuclear plants that were the close siblings of Georgia's Vogtle #3 & #4.

Georgia could be players in this game too, despite somewhat lower offshore wind speeds. But with a guaranteed profit off the giga-nuke projects already under way there isn't going to be any push from Georgia Power/Southern Company in that direction. The most expensive day for the ratepayer is the day they load the fuel and fire them up, incurring the substantial inevitable decommissioning costs, which are coming much sooner than it looks on paper.

I have been a supporter of going all-electric for residences for a long time. I have tried to figure out the barriers, especially in the warmer climates where heat pumps are competitive to natural gas furnaces in terms of first and operating costs. Part of the reason is water heaters--natural gas is cheaper than electric resistance, but now we have heat pump water heaters available. But the real reason is gas cooking. Personally, I am against it for IAQ reasons, but I have talked to many people who claim that gas stoves are far superior to electric stoves and do not want to give them up. So the real barrier is that many people in these warmer climates like California, Arizona, and Texas are willing to consider heat pumps over gas heat, but if they do, the gas utility will not provide service just to operate their stove and maybe a water heater.

I have heard that there are now high performance homes where the heating loads are so low that electric resistance heating is economically justified. However, some of these people still want a gas stove so they use a propane tank just for the stove. That is unbelievable to me, especially with the availability of electric induction cooktops. I guess that I am just not into cooking.

They may be enamored with gas cooking until they understand the health impact.
"Women who reported they mainly used gas for cooking had an increased risk of several asthma-like symptoms during the past 12 months including wheeze and asthma attacks. Women who used a gas stove or had an open gas fire had reduced lung function and increased airways obstruction compared with women who did not."
https://www.treehugger.com/green-architecture/piles-peer-reviewed-resear...
If perhaps your gas stove reduced your life expectancy by a few years and meant you'd have gradually decreased lung function and meant increased respiratory attacks on your kids, you'd toss your gas stove immediately.

Hi Roy, I've specified electric resistance heat for a handful of high performance homes over the years. But in most areas of the country (except perhaps at higher elevations), people need (or want) air conditioning, so the relatively small additional cost of a heat pump over a straight A/C condenser pretty much eliminates resistance heat from consideration.

Your comment regarding gas cooking is spot-on. Seems like I'm constantly trying to talk my clients out of gas cooking appliances, with limited success.

Colin, I know some guys on ASHRAE SPC 62.2 who are quite up to speed on IAQ, but they are into cooking and won't give up gas stoves. They are advocates for the use of range exhaust hoods, but many of us have doubts about their efficiency at removing cooking contaminants.

My non scientific study of gas range hoods where I boil a pot of water and not the path the steam takes, indicates I capture 50% of the steam at best. For my home I installed my stove top upgainst a wall with another sidewall at 90 degrees to increase face velocity. The burner in the corner would capture 90% but the other burners were still around 60%.
I see range hoods mostly open on 3 sides, some 4 sides and don't think they capture much at all. Add weak fans to the mix and you've got an IAQ problem for sure.
Just as we were all forced to wear seat belts and have airbags for our own good, we shouldn't be given the option unless they want to build a porch kitchen open on 3 sides more like where we'd bbq.

Let the FREE market decide. I would have had to pay 3 times larger life insurance premiums if I said I smoked. By all means let us not interfere with free choice; we don't want gas cooker lovers wars but make 'em pay and you'll see them change their minds fast. The same should be said for frack gas. The economist claims that every frack gas company will go bankrupt due to faster well depletion and in their wake will leave massive environmental and air quality problems that the public will bear. The Cheap frack gas bubble will burst and we must be putting alternatives in place now.

If your all-electric home is a Passive House, the concerns regarding the need for a back-up system are minimized. I built a certified Passive House in Woodstock, NY, climate zone 6, and included an accessory apartment. I lived in the apartment for one winter during construction. The house was an empty shell; insulated, but no mechanical equipment was yet installed. The well water went to the house and then on to the apartment, so I monitored the house temperature. Outdoor temperature dropped as low as minus 15 F; the house dropped only to the high 30s F.

I use a portable generator with an interlock in the electrical panel intermittently during outages for the well pump, cooking, water heating, and keeping the refrigerators cold, running only one major appliance at a time. Outages are rarely long enough to bother. Next time I might use a battery back-up system.

I heated a previous home with a wood stove, and miss the ambiance. So I think about including a wood stove in my next project, yet that means a large thermal bridge for a year-round energy penalty. And I don't miss the mess--since I rely on an energy recovery ventilation system, filtered fresh air means almost no dust.

I regularly open the home for tours and have two rooms available on AirBnB (The Woodstock Passive House). This is the Woodstock famous for the 1969 concert which was forced to move over an hour away.

Has anyone done the risk analysis on the need for combustion source heat for backup in cold climates? We had a two week long outage in 1997 and it was nice to have a wood stove; fortunately it wasn't as cold as January should be during that long outage. With extreme ice storms and whipsawing winter freeze / thaws it can easily happen. And keep in mind legacy transmission infrastructure is aging.
Matthew

Allison, I'm curious to know the criteria you used to select your HPWH?

Allison
Bailes

Tim, I'll talk about that in an article just about the heat pump water heater soon.

Great! Looking forward to it.

Somewhat playing devils advocate but essentially the best argument you can make for the #electrifyeverything movement is hey your electricity isn't using as much coal?

So riddle me this, what happens when Natural Gas prices jump, it starts being seen as evil due to fracking, or you start experiencing rolling blackouts or brownouts due to infrastructure problems? You know they have a saying about history & being doomed to repeat it.

There is a lot of good things about going all electric, but the opposite can be said for keeping a mix which I got into a few months ago: http://thehtrc.com/2019/monday-musings-electrify-this

Just like many things in the building science arena the answer for what should I do starts with "it depends" - informed minds generally make smarter choices than those just following a crowd or fad

"So riddle me this, what happens when Natural Gas prices jump, it starts being seen as evil due to fracking..."

If that happens, you think that you'd really be better with natural gas heat rather than electric???

In short - yep by a mile in most markets as history as shown before. Those that have fall backs that still work (hydro, nukes, & yes even coal) they won't get reamed as bad for electricity and for all electric / mixed it would basically be a wash.

With that the biggest thing missing in almost all of the electrify everything pieces is if you are going to spend crazy money installing XY or Z to be in on a fad, make sure you take care of the other items to reduce usage & need. I really have no problems with the concept - if I was building new down south I would probably be all electric assuming I had a big enough battery bank or better yet a huge LPG tank in the back for the generator when things go down. If I was stuck running a natural gas line for backups, well then I would be almost all gas for the appliances.

You cannot have a meaningful discussion of energy sources and use without looking at the whole picture. Some of the areas not discussed here are: wind and solar are not always available, so storage is important; battery storage is getting more efficient and less expensive, but at what cost to the environment; increased use of electricity will require changes to our electric distribution systems, particularly dealing with peak demand.
The majority of housing is very energy inefficient. In colder climates, they do not do well when electricity supply goes out. They quickly get cold and are subject to freezing/burst pipes.
Some are touting the benefits of not using fossil fuels for heat and hot water and cooking, and how well a tight house performs. As we build our houses tighter, "we" are not paying enough attention to IAQ (indoor air quality). The ASHRE standards are too broad and do not take into account the actual conditions in a house, such as when there are a lot of cats, dogs, plants, etc. I have been encountering many people with IAQ problems in their tight houses because they don't know how to operate there ventilation system and/or it was designed/installed poorly.
"Always look at the whole picture"; "The more you look, the more you see (and if you don't look, you don't see)"; "If you don't test, you guess"

I have an all-electric home in Connecticut and rent one in southeastern North Carolina. The electric rate in NC (3.45cents per) I can live with but the rate in CT (15.711cents per)is horrific. Is there an explanation for this other than political graft?

@Robert wrote: The electric rate in NC (3.45cents per)

That can't be accurate, at least not for Duke or any other provider I'm aware of. Can you be more specific?

15 Cents? I live in Eversource territory in Branford, CT, and pay 21 cents at my home, and due to demand metering and minimum service charges, over 35 cents on my commercial properties. You need to take the total dollars paid and divide it my the KWH used, to include all those insidious service charges, taxes and itemized surcharges. One reason we pay so much is that 45% of our power comes from an antique nuke plant that costs oodles to run, and that we are still paying Eversource for stranded investments when they were forced to sell off their generation plants. Natural gas is expensive in CT due a lack of transportation pipe lines, and a lack of competition in gas delivery.

The trick is to deliver more affordable and cleaner electricity. Norway delivers 90% of electric from hydro power anf sells its North Sea oil to the rest of Europe. Hydro and nuclear are highly efficient and increasingly safe, but can't be done at backyard scale.

Nuclear is not a consideration and requires massive government subsidies to get online and centuries of subsidies to manage the radioactive waste. Wind does not require the subsidies nor does it generate radioactive waste but generated power needs to be transmitted many hundreds of miles. Put solar panels on a house and there is no added cost for new transmission lines and the grid is more stable and protected from micro fluctuations from the power plants. In this situation the homeowners are subsidizing non solar panel homeowners as no new power plant needs to be built that is needed for only the peak summer power demand for air conditioning and rates are lower as a result.

100% electricity is fine for a new house but upgrading the service to 200 amp at mine would cost over $10,000. The utility is unable to provide 24x7 power and so I spent the $10,000 on a natural gas powered generator to cover our needs for the 5 days a year we do not have electrical power. Fortunately the furnace and hot water heater use natural gas so less is needed from the generator. Prior to adding solar panels we were paying on average $0.22 per kWh in California and a third of our consumption was charged at $0.34 per kWh so adding solar was extremely cost effective. In California we pay twice as much for the natural gas coming from Texas as the people supplied in the east and this is the result of the Enron gaming of the system, the effects of which have lasted long after the death of the chief crook, Ken Lay.
Heat pumps are cost effective in certain climates and then the issue is finding people with the expertise to do a proper installation. Half the residential HVAC installations in U.S. homes are done with improperly sized units so assuming that people exist across the country with the necessary technical expertise shows remarkable ignorance.

Worse yet is the shortage of skilled people with so many companies going out of business starting in 2009 with the Great Recession which has continued to this day and actually gotten much worse. But for the skilled workers from Mexico we would not be able to get any construction, remodel, or replacement work done in California and I would bet the same is true for many parts of the country.

What California is doing in mandating solar panels on new homes will benefit both the industry with living wage jobs and the homeowners who have an integrated system that is designed into the construction of the home instead of bolted on later. Maybe with the death of one of the Koch brothers their funding of opposition to wind and solar will be decreased. One can hope.

Bruce- you stated "Put solar panels on a house and there is no added cost for new transmission lines and the grid is more stable and protected from micro fluctuations from the power plants. In this situation the homeowners are subsidizing non solar panel homeowners as no new power plant needs to be built that is needed for only the peak summer power demand for air conditioning and rates are lower as a result."
Many solar installations,at least what I see here in Vermont, do not supply all of the electric demand for the homes. Unless adequate and expensive battery storage is added to the home, there is still a need for transmission lines. Until the solar installs catch up to demand, power production and distribution will continue to need upgrading. Presently, at least in Vermont, homes with solar panels are getting paid a premium price for any excess electricity fed back to the grid, but are paying the same rate as their non-solar neighbors for any electricity that they use. The net result is far less money going to the power company from the solar owners. Someone has to pay for maintaining and upgrading the power infrastructure. Here in Vermont, it is weatherization and increased efficiency rather than added solar production that is saving the need for more power generation, even in the face of an increase in the number of customers (more housing and more businesses).

@Bruce, Brad is spot-on. In the absence of storage, rooftop solar only offsets capital investment in conventional gen capacity to the extent that it *persistently* reduces peak demand, which turns out to be, not much.

It's a common misconception that rooftop solar is 'good' for the grid because it more-or-less coincides with peak demand. The reality couldn't be further from the truth. A south-facing solar array peaks in late morning and slopes down from there, whereas peak demand (for summer-peaking utilities) occurs in late afternoon and early evening. For winter-peaking utilities, demand typically peaks pre-dawn and early AM. Almost perfectly out of sync with PV output! And since transmission and distribution facilities must be able to handle short-term peaks, it's no surprise that electric utilities in solar-heavy states are seeing significant reductions in kWh sales with little reduction in seasonal peaks.

Inexpensive storage may eventually change all that. Electric cars may drive battery prices down, but unless and until retail electric rate structures change, there's little incentive for a grid-tied home to invest in storage at any cost.

@Bruce, Brad is spot-on. In the absence of storage, rooftop solar only offsets future investment in conventional capacity to the extent that it *persistently* reduces peak demand, which turns out to be... not much.

It's a common misconception that rooftop solar is 'good' for the grid. The problem is that solar generation peak output doesn't align very well with peak demand. A south-facing solar array peaks in late morning and slopes down from there, whereas peak demand (for summer-peaking utilities) occurs in late afternoon into early evening. For winter-peaking utilities, demand typically peaks pre-dawn and early AM. In either case, peak demand is out of sync with solar generation. So it's not surprising that electric utilities in solar-heavy states are seeing significant reductions in kWh sales with little reduction in seasonal peaks. Keep in mind that transmission and distribution facilities must be sized and maintained to handle each and every short-term peak

Inexpensive storage may eventually change all that. No doubt electric vehicles will push battery prices lower. However, with current retail electric rate structures, there's not much incentive for grid-tied homes to invest in storage at any cost.

I have a 100% electric house in MA. 2 Rudd heat pump 50 gal water heaters running in heat pump mode all the time, have never run the electric element in them. They used 56kw in September with 4 bathrooms, dishwasher, washing machine, 2 occupants. Schluter tile floor heat in bathrooms . Kitchen has induction cooktop, electric wall oven. Heating and cooling is a Fujitsu AOU45RLXFZ with 4 zones slim ducted units. Insulation is approx R55 foam in the roof, walls with R30 made up with R21 foam with an additional 9.6 continuous polyiso around the whole building using zip-R9-sheathing. I don't have any combustibles, no gas piping, no gas tank. I have 30 solaria 360w panels on my roof providing 10800w. Highest generation was in June, 70kw in one day. The month of September generated 1.52MWh. The next steps I take will be to add a Pika Energy battery system for backup power . As long as I have this house I will never have an energy bill.

Living in Nebraska, we went from a heat pump/AC unit that could NOT keep us comfortable in the winter nor in the summer to a newer 2 stage AC unit and natural gas furnace. The new AC unit keep us cold in the summer and the 50 mph winds and sub zero temps in the winter were no match for forced air gas furnace heat.
In doing so, including the cost of the gas, we cut our winter utility bills in half. A "normal" winter electric bill in the winter exceeded $350/month and it barely kept the house at 68*. We constantly were cool, which I think is unreasonable in the middle of the winter. It is 2015 (when we did the switch), I'm an adult and I want to be comfortable. After the gas furnace, the house was never cool, cold or chilly, which also was the same experience my all electric/heat pump neighbors experienced.
Our electric AND gas combined in the dead of winter was never over $200 and I could have the house at 72-74* even if it was minus zero.
The idea of all electric is a falacy in any region that is region 1, 2 or 3. It may be great in TX but it is not realistic. I can't justify paying $350/month and still needing to be in a sweat top, sweat pants and a beanie. As a man that is ridiculous. 90% of women will agree w/ me.
There is nothing wrong w/ electric options and improving efficiency but the tree hugging idea of all electric comfortably and affordably is a fallacy. My HVAC guy would have made more $$ selling me a new all electric system but even he realized that the end user will not be happy.
I call BS on this all electric utopia.

I have lived 100% electric for over three years outside of Philadelphia. I live in 2,000 square feet. I use high efficiency split system heat pumps and an electric 50 gallon hot water heater. I get average electric bills of $80-100 a month. I did use spray foam insulation which added significantly to my upfront costs. As a backup system, I use a portable Honda generator and electric heat. I am able to maintain 60 degrees easily.

Good article. We must meet this climate crisis with innovation and a very hard turn toward renewables and efficiency. Electric is definitely better than the oil/coal/fracking alternatives. More stringent codes for renovations and new constructions at a minimum. Heat pumps and panels are indeed part of a solution.

Lots of bad information floating around with this discussion. Heat Pump water heaters are waaaay expensive and you'll never get a payback. Heat Pumps cost far more than Air conditioners even though the only real difference is a three way valve. Energy generated at a power plant has huge transmission losses as well. I am a senior citizen without the ability to have a tax credit for solar panels so I get no benefit from them. I used to live in Fairport, NY with its own power company and I paid 3.4 cents per KWH which means that most of us are paying way too much for electricity because of profit margins, not real cost.
I have a total electric home in South Carolina now and my average bill is $83 a month, so I can't complain a lot. I have lived here for 8 years and gone through 5 hurricanes without losing power for so much as a minute so my backup generator is unused. I bought a two stage heat pump with a SEER of 16 and have a standard electric water heater. My house is of no unusual design for energy efficiency either.
I don't think a lot of people would complain if they had my situation.
Just sayin'

I am still a proponent of all-electric for new residential construction for the reasons given by many of you. I do not think that we should try to push that on existing houses, especially in the north. As Allison pointed out, we have been moving in the right direction for quite a while now without a Green New Deal and I think that we can continue to do so.

I'm afraid the answer is not blowing in the wind. Earth's normal state is a planet-wide ice-free state. In fact, the planet has been ice-free for 85% of its existence. Not much we can do about it.

Allison, looking at the LLNL chart I'm curious about rejected energy. What is it exactly? The amount is huge and seems to be an obvious target for improvement. What do you know about efforts in this area?

At the end of the day, what is the cost to the consumer? Gas for heating, drying clothes, heating water, and cooking, is considerably cheaper. I compare my utility bills from my 42 year old house with a 19 year old AC/Furnace to those of an all electric house that's 10 years old, and there's no comparison: Gas wins, hands down, by hundreds of dollars every year.

The scolds and prudes at the city that set my electric and water rates love to use "Tiers" to "encourage" conservation, and they're inflexible with regard to the conditions outside. The result is: High bills in the summer, AND high bills in the winter, moreso when the heat pump has to use "emergency heating".

I don't get a different set of tiers when I'm all electric vs all gas, or one that varies by season, so every BTU I have to buy via converting a KWH now comes at a *much* higher cost. We can bandy about all day long about weather or not the green cultists are right, but at the end of the day, being stuck with rate tiers set by a committee more concerned with their political resumes, and thinking they have some moral obligation to "shape and guide" my lifestyle choices, is unacceptable.

California has been trying to lead the country in total residential electrictrification and a move from fossil fuel. In 2020 all new residences will be mandated to include solar panels. However, there are two major factors that have not to this date been solved. Solar panels only produce energy as long as the sun is shining and they degrade over time and cleanliness of the panels. In California, all you have to do is listen to any radio station for any period of time and you will hear solar contractors pitch not only installation but battery backup or generators. While there are precious few homes in California that are totally "off the grid" they are just that, rare and most, if not all depend on some type of generator or propane heat and refrigeration as a back up. The problem is storage for the electricity that is generated for use when the sun goes down. I could be wrong, but to my knowledge, there is not currently a battery backup that will provide full electricity for heating, cooking and hot water and all of the electric gadgets we have come to love and can't live without for more than six hours without the generator or control panel switching back to the electric grid. The utilities are also faced with the challenge of anticipating customer use. Once there is a demand how do they immediately ramp up production of electricity when it takes hours to days to come on line with a generation plant. I know there have been some strides made in generator plants that can come on line in hours, it is still far behind the demand time. That, coupled with the reduction in revenue when the sun is shining is going to make generation and transmission of electricity far more expensive.
So for now i'm thinking the best bet is to continue to make houses more energy efficient until the technology catches up with the demand rather than legislate the cost of new energy efficient housing completely out of reach of the average American.

I Have been a practicing mechanical contractor in a large midwestern Metropolitan area for 40+ years. I'm not an engineer, but regarding mechanical systems, with few exceptions it has served me well to assume that my customers desire the lowest cost of "ownership".

The problem is that providing customers "lowest cost of ownership" is an art with too few practicioners. Customers wants, needs, assumptions, ego's and assets are varied and often have expectations that are far from realistic. In the end though, unless supplemented by someone elses hard earned money (taxes), high ideals aren't really supported by our traditional "low bid" system and patchwork energy codes.

and.......can some one explain to me again, where does the "heat" come from to heat the water in a heat pump water heater ?

Wow. Quite a discussion. I like all-electric with cold-climate heat pumps (simple, better IAQ, & efficient) plus propane generator on a tank for resilience. Buy your propane at low prices and pay the fuel savings for CO2 offsets. Off-grid capable to whatever high or low temps you want. I also really like a good wood stove for survivability, local fuel, and aesthetic.

We all make choice with our resources and morals. I'm glad we have the freedom to make those choices, the intelligence to make progress, and the humanity be good stewards of our domain.

Add new comment