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Why and How to Electrify Everything

Posted on 4 May 2022 by dana1981

This is a re-post from the Citizens' Climate Lobby blog

Electrification is a hot topic right now, with many countries searching for ways to reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas as Putin’s war atrocities in Ukraine worsen by the day. Fortunately, many of the solutions to reduce long-term fossil fuel financial flows to the Russian government by pursuing an “electrify everything” strategy can also serve to address the climate crisis.  

The plan comprises two steps: 1) decarbonize our electricity supply, and then 2) fuel as much of the economy as possible with that clean electricity. Fortunately, step 1 is already happening, with nearly 80% of new electricity being installed in America this year coming from clean sources. The second step – switching to electric technologies – is critical to curbing both dependences on fossil fuels from abusive regimes and climate change.

Keishaa Austin, Head of Engagement and Partnerships at Rewiring America, touched on these points in CCL’s April national call. CCL also wrote a blog post about her perspective on electrifying everything. Let’s dive a little deeper into the details about how expanding electrification and efficiency can solve a variety of important problems, how the campaign can be advanced, and what people can do to help.

Why electrify everything?

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that future greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel infrastructure that’s already in place or in the planning stages are enough to use up the entire remaining Paris target carbon budget. Simply put, to keep global warming below 2°C we have to transition away from fossil fuels immediately. Building additional oil and gas and coal infrastructure means either missing the Paris targets or decommissioning power plants, refineries, and pipelines early, leading to potentially trillions of dollars in “stranded assets” that won’t be able to fully recoup their investment costs.

But fossil fuels power every corner of the economy, from transportation (mostly cars and trucks) to buildings (mostly space and water heating and cooking) and industrial processes. The good news is that most of these applications have cleaner, more efficient electric replacement options available.

How #ElectrifyEverything meshes with CCL’s goals

Sources of US greenhouse gas emissions. Data from the US EPA; chart created by Dana Nuccitelli

Deploying those electric alternatives would reduce dependence on Russian oil and gas, minimize stranded fossil fuel assets, and curb greenhouse gas emissions. But they would also yield numerous other benefits. Electrification yields cleaner air, improving people’s health especially in marginalized communities that are frequently located near big sources of dirty pollution, as well as lessening indoor air pollution that causes childhood asthma. It also improves energy security and price stability, because electricity is made in America and has much more stable prices than the fossil fuels that are subject to a global market. And it would help protect against future inflation, which as we’re seeing right now is often driven by those same unstable fossil fuel prices.

How do we electrify everything?

The availability of electric solutions varies by sector. For transportation, electric vehicles are a great alternative. The IPCC reported that battery costs have plummeted by 85% over the past decade. Research has shown that due to the high efficiency of EVs and the growth of renewable energy, 94% of Americans now live in areas where driving an EV produces lower emissions than a 50-mile-per-gallon gasoline car. Electrifying trucks and buses in addition to cars, as well as reducing driving are also important measures to reduce transportation emissions.

For buildings, fossil fuels are often used to provide heat. About two-thirds of buildings’ direct fossil fuel use heats indoor spaces, another quarter heats water, and the rest is used for cooking or drying laundry or industrial heating. Replacing fossil fuel furnaces and boilers and water heaters are thus key steps to decarbonize buildings. This transition can be achieved by deploying electric heat pumps that transfer heat very efficiently from the surrounding environment and can provide both heating and cooling services from a single unit. Replacing gas stoves can also help cut building carbon emissions while providing the added benefit of cleaner indoor air, reducing cases of childhood asthma and other adverse health effects.  Improving building energy efficiency is another important and cost-effective solution for this sector.

Some industrial processes can be electrified (like using electric arc furnaces to make steel from scrap), but electrification is less suitable for other industrial applications, so a range of solutions will be needed to decarbonize this sector.

A carbon pollution price would improve the cost competitiveness of electric solutions relative to their fossil fuel counterparts, so CCL’s long advocacy for this policy is helpful to the “electrify everything” movement. A carbon price would accelerate electrification and efficiency efforts.

Up-front costs also often pose a key barrier to the implementation of electric solutions. Although they might break even or save money over their lifetimes due to higher efficiency and lower fuel costs, EVs and heat pumps and induction stoves generally have higher initial purchase costs than their fossil fuel counterparts. This barrier can be overcome through point-of-sale rebates and other subsidies, which are particularly important for helping lower-income households afford these solutions. Electrification also requires infrastructure improvements: homes often need electrical panel upgrades, and EV adoption requires that sufficient charging stations be available to meet the increased demand.

State and local governments often offer these sorts of rebates. Many cities have also implemented gas bans and electrification codes for new buildings – policies that save money for home builders and owners while reducing carbon and indoor air pollution, but which are politically controversial.

The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year invested tens of billions of dollars in the electric grid and EVs and their charging infrastructure that are now being deployed. The climate provisions currently being considered by Congress as part of the budget reconciliation process include many more investments to accelerate electrification – EV and heat pump subsidies, funding for home electrification and efficiency programs, expanding EV charging infrastructure, and public transit. Folks are encouraged to contact their representatives to remind them of the importance of passing these climate provisions and ideally also a carbon fee and dividend through the reconciliation process this year.  

As the IPCC has just warned, time is running out to make this transition. The longer we delay, the higher the costs will become to the climate, the economy, domestic security, and to Americans’ health. This is an electric opportunity that we can’t afford to miss.

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Comments 1 to 17:

  1. Don't electify where equivalent or better service can be provided in a way that uses less valuable electricity system capacity; e.g. building heating and cooling can can be accomplished directly via district energy systems from natural resources like the sun or deep water or waste heat or surplus power with just a little help from heat pumps and seasonal thermal enegy storage.  BTW air source heat pumps are not efficient at the very low temperature which is exactly where a lot of the heating is needed in the northern US and Canada and the heating peak demand could be about three times the current electricity system winter available capacity (my estimate for Ontario).  

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  2. John S.:

    When I Goggled "how cold can heat pumps work" I found this quote

    "In fact, heat pumps are now the best heating option just about everywhere on the planet. Below 0° Fahrenheit, heat pumps can still heat your home with more than twice the efficiency of gas heating or standard electric heating (such as electric furnaces and baseboard heaters). They’ve been tested and approved as far north as the Arctic Circle, and are popular options in very cold countries like Finland and Norway." my emphasis. source

    Please provide a reference to support your wild claim that heat pumps are not efficient in cold weather.  My source says they are still efficient but not as efficient as during normal weather.  Where I live heat pumps have an "emergency heat" switch for even colder weather.  I use it about 2 days every other year.  (My heat pump is in Florida and is designed to cool better than heat).  As heat pumps continue to be developed we can expect efficiencies to improve across the board.

    Most plans I have seen try to use as much district heating as possible because large installations can utilize energy more efficiently.  Heat pumps are recommended for people who are not able to obtain district heating.

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  3. It is a fantasy that we can produce 'clean' electricity by renewables it simply will not work.

    The reason is basic and due to the nature of renewable generation, technically known as asynchronous, i.e. it is uncontrollable and grids need to be controlled to fine limits with regard to input and demand, i.e. they must be in balance at all times.

    Fossil fuelled generation is generally considered as back up for grids with large penetration of renewable generation, however it is much more than that, they provide the balancing of input and demand as they can modulate output mostly automatically. They are the backbone of any grid and remove that backbone the grid will not function.

    THE only possible solution is nuclear, unpopular as it is in many countries, but it is Hobson's choice for a reliable and non CO2 emitting electrical system.  It is not without problems as nuclear is unflexible generally so work will be required in that area, possibly with small modular recators.

    Renewables are a dead end!

    California claim 100% renewble generation at times but that is only possible by connection to neighbouring grids. It does not mean renewables are a solution.

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  4. John S,

    with regard to heat pumps there is much misunderstanding and confusion betwen Coefficient of Performance and efficiency, although linked they are not the same. Efficiency starts at the power station where the fuel is burned, loses in generation, transmission and distrbution are about 60%.

    Air source heat pumps are not particularly efficient and they certainly are less effective than gas heating when it gets really cold. They do work, as long as the house is designed for them but retrofitting a house designed for gas or oil  heating is expensive and not economical in my view.

    If it were governments would not be mandating that gas boilers, after a certain date, will not be allowed for sale. (U.K. anyway) If they are better and cheaper that is what the general public will choose. No need for any laws.

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  5. IanR @3   : you may be the very person I can ask for your good opinion.

    I was recently watching the Youtuber "Potholer54" and his video "A Clean Energy Solution Embraced By Both Sides".  He discussed the large expansion of Wind/Solar electricity generation in Australia ~ in particular their state of South Australia.   On viewing the Australian "NEM" website -National Energy Market - (reporting real time generation figures) over a number of weeks, I saw that South Australia was mostly showing renewables as 40 - 95% of the state total (depending on time of day).  The non-renewable portion was supplied by CCGasTurbine generators.

    I was very impressed by the 90 or 95% achieved during the middle part of the day.   Apparently the grid stabilization is achieved by a lithium battery (Tesla) of 150 MW power (but only 194 MWh capacity) for a population of 2 million.  Two or three synchronous condensers have recently been added to the mix ~ but I don't know if they are absolutely necessary or just supply an emergency stabilization back-up for the big battery.

    Obviously this arrangement is not do-able to such a high extent, in many countries.  But it does seem to be working well.

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  6. IanR , the other area I would like to get your opinion on, is the non-Wind / non-Solar type of low-carbon electricity generation.

    Geothermal seems to be "stuck in a hole" (excuse pun) and not going anywhere fast.  Nuclear fission seems almost  dead in the water, owing to huge costs and huge development delays ( though maybe Small Modular Reactors could come to the rescue here . . . but are currently at the pie-in-the-sky stage . . . as well as having the NIMBY problem ).  Fusion reactors of various sorts are still at the experimental stages, and are likely very many decades away from economic practicality.   And hydro-based generation is probably close to its upper limit of expansion.  And tidal-based generation suffers from its own economic problems.

    There doesn't seem to be much else going, in the low-carbon line.  One possibilty not yet discussed, is fuel-cell electricity generation, using bio-fuel such as ethanol or "electro-fuel" such as methanol.   Plane jetfuels need medium-chain hydrocarbons, such as bio-diesel equivalents.  But ships, automobiles (cars, trucks, heavy machinery) could do well on alcohols as fuel . . . provided that the researchers can come up with fuel-cells using cheap catalysts & robust internal membranes.   ~This could well be 10 or 20 years away.

    Fuel-cell electricity generation would clearly require a huge development of fuel sources . . . and (possibly?) might be very useful for vehicles and for electricity generation at locations of low population, and eventually be cheaper than storage batteries.

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  7. Ianr@3

    Many peer reviewed articles have been written about an all renewable energy energy system.  For example see Connelly et al 2016.  Connnelly reverences at least 20 other all renewable energy plans.  Many more have been pubished since.

    I am not aware of any energy plans that include more than 5% of all energy coming from nuclear power.  Please ciite a peer reviewed article that uses nuclear power.  Williams et al 2021  was the last group that I am aware of that supported an important place for nuclear.  their 2021 paper says that renewable energ yill be cheapest.

    Abbott 2012 lists about 15 reasons why nuclear can never produce more than about 5% of all energy.  Can you tell us how you plan to get enough uranium for your wild scheme since all known reserves of uranium would only power the world for about 5 years.

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  8. Ianr @4,

    You claim that "with regard to heat pumps there is much misunderstanding and confusion betwen Coefficient of Performance and efficiency" but then do not explain what the confusion is.  You seem very confused about efficiency.

    To make it simple, for gas furnaces " High efficiency furnaces offer 90% or more AFUE." (that means for 100 joules of energy in the gas only 95 joules of heat is delivered to the room.) source.  By contrast, a heat pump can deliver 400 joules of heat for every 100 joules of electricity used.  In very cold weather current heat pumps deliver 250 joules of heat for every 100 joules of electriicity.  As shown in Norway, they can be used to heat any structure in any cold except perhaps in the Antarctic.  In ten years heat pumps will be more efficient.  Gas is so last century.

    Heat pumps save a lot of money over their lifetime but are more expensive to install.  Many people only look at the installation costs and not the lifetime costs so the government helps them to save money  by giving iincentives to reduce installation costs.

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    Moderator Response:

    [BL] For everyone:

    Please note that you are responding to a user with the handle Iain R, not IanR. There is another user in the system with the handle IanR, but he has not been active for a while and is probably not the same person. Please pay close attention to user names.

  9. "Spinning mass" indeed used to be a challenging replacement problem to solve, for keeping voltage and AC frequency stable on the grid. That's now a fully solved technical problem, and in fact when one thinks through the fundamental physics of the matter, notional "solid state" grid stabilization is inherently more effective than KE in massive rotors in generators, "slow" ramping of PE from steam and combustion throttling, moderator rod insertion/removal and the like. 

    Similarly it used to be the case that heat pumps were largely ineffective in even fairly "mild" temperatures. No more. 

    It's no wonder we get stuck in the past, at least a little bit. Personally I'm having a hard time adjusting my own head to progress. I'd never have believed only 10 years ago that I'd own an automobile capable of traveling 300 miles on a fundamentally squishy and historically unreliable pot of electrochemistry, but here I am today, with a four year old EV having 50,000 miles on the clock and no sign of degradation in the chemistry mess powering it.  And driving the thing makes me feel like I'm 16 again, for better or worse. It's far better than the Victorian-era tech I used have under the hood— in 2017 and 116 years after Vickie shuffled her mortal coil. 

    Things change and we must keep up!

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  10. Indeed, Doug Bostrom @9 , it appears the commenter "Iain R" has not been keeping up with advances.    In his post @3 , he claims that 'clean' electricity from renewables is an unworkable proposition, owing to the grid becoming "uncontrollable".

    Iain R 's opinions are 10 years out of date.   The evidence is in the South Australian example [mentioned @5 above]  ~ where a big Tesla battery provides millisecond  matching of load demand on the electricity grid, along with frequency control.   All this is very desirable for electricity generators.   And that ability, combined with grid market arbitraging, has made the S.A. Tesla big battery so profitable for the company owning it, that it has quickly paid off the battery's capital cost.   And the company has even recently enlarged the battery by 50% .

    It is a marvel how obsolete ideas can linger on. 

     

    (B)  Slightly off-topic, Doug, but could you comment on how your car's (lithium?) battery battery is doing so well.  Is this despite you "abusing" it with rapid recharges and lots of regenerative braking? . . . or are you babying it:  with trickle charges, gentle accelerations, 20-80% charge cycles, and suchlike?

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  11. Cold climate heat pumps: https://carbonswitch.com/best-cold-climate-heat-pump/

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  12. Eclectic, happy to answer.

    Our vehicle is rarely discharged below 1/5th of remaining capacity, usually charged only to about 90% so that "one pedal driving" is fully available (another absolute boon thanks leaping from the 19th to 21st century). We rarely fast charge. As well, this car (Bolt) doesn't fast charge above 55kW, which for one who cares about battery longevity is indeed a good thing. W/regard to regenerative braking, I've seen return to battery hitting 70kW but it's not a problem as these events are very short and don't  last long enough to expose imperfect cooling distribution in individual cells (due to engineering constraints on thermal management cells end up with a thermal gradient under prolonged high current in or out, which is not good due to pchem issues). 

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  13. Doug @12 , thank you for that information.

    I am not sure what is happening with the new vaunted pouch cell battery : but apparently Bolt advertises a very brisk 0-60 mph time . . . the sort of time which ( a few decades ago ) required a large sporty V8 engine.

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  14. Dana1981

    your link to the heatpumps indicate they only work down to -10f & -13f

    "Fujitsu cold climate heat pumps (AOU line) have a lot in common with Mitsubishi’s. But instead of delivering 100% of their capacity down to 5F, all but the smallest Fujitsu models offer 75-95% of their capacity. They’re rated to work down to -10F, just above Mitsubishi’s -13F."


    That doesnt do much good when places like MN, MT, ND, SD regularly have 1-2 weeks at a time with -20f .  Further 

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  15. Point of clarification: heat pumps don't "stop working" at a certain temperature. Their efficiency becomes less, and at a certain point they'll not be able to keep up with load. 

    In combination w/backup heat sources, the net result in practice is that heat pumps still substantially reduce energy consumption even at very low air source temperature. That portion of gain which is not obtained via combustion (near or far) is "electrified." 

    Performance in lower source temperature is exhaustively covered here (w/state of the art off-the-shelf equipment as of 7 years ago):

    Cold Climate Air Source Heat Pump (Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources)

     

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  16. @David-acct, properly-equipped Mitsubishi Hyper Heat mini-split ductless systems can function to as low as -25 F.  When such systems hit their base limit, they do shut down until temperatures rise above those minimal levels.  In northern climates, the point is to pair these systems with backup systems that can take over in the event of really cold airmasses dropping out of the Arctic for those few times per year that they actually occur.  No one is saying to use them as a standalone solution for all cases and climates.

    - Just a guy who used to sell those systems for a time in Northern Michigan.

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  17. The thing is if the heat pump cuts out at very low temperatures, have a few basic fan heaters or convection heaters available. They are very low cost to buy these days, and you wont be running them too often.

    "Dont make the perfect the enemy of the good" (Voltaire)

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