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Greener And More Reliable Power Grids Are On The Horizon

Power Grid

Last month, the city council in Berkley, California, passed an ordinance requiring all new homes to be all-electric with no gas hook-ups beginning in January 2020. This month, Florida had its first net-zero energy K-12 school open.

Building electrification and net-zero energy buildings—such that generate at least the amount of energy they consume—could be the answer to cutting the carbon footprint of households and saving consumers money on energy bills in the long run, proponents argue.

In the future, smart appliances at all-electric homes could adjust the building’s energy use and balance the grid instead of straining it, Sonia Aggarwal, Vice President of energy and environmental policy firm Energy Innovation Policy and Technology and Director of America’s Power Plan, writes in Forbes.

If the U.S. invests in innovation and starts widespread use of smart appliances now, these efficient electric appliances could “turn millions of buildings in America into millions of batteries helping to balance our grid,” Aggarwal says.

The idea of having all heating, cooling, and hot water needs come from electricity only could save a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, building electrification proponents say. The gas trade association begs to differ, and points to the high costs of retrofitting an existing home to all-electric use.

According to the Building Electrification Initiative, 50-75 percent of the energy of a typical residential building in North America comes from fossil fuels to heat the building and heat water, while up to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in U.S. cities come from providing heat and hot water to buildings. Related: Tesla Stock Crashes On Poor Earnings Report

“High-efficiency electric air source heat pumps and heat pump water heaters offer a cleaner alternative to typical oil- and gas-fired building systems,” the initiative says.

Rocky Mountain Institute published a report last year that compares electric space and water heating to fossil-fueled space and water heating for both new construction and home retrofits under various electric rate structures in four cities: Oakland, California; Houston; Providence, Rhode Island; and Chicago.

“In many scenarios, notably for most new home construction, we find electrification of space and water heating and air conditioning reduces the homeowner’s costs over the lifetime of the appliances when compared with performing the same functions with fossil fuels,” according to the report.

In many existing homes currently heated with natural gas, however, building electrification will raise costs at today’s prices, compared to replacing gas furnaces and water heaters with new gas devices, Rocky Mountain Institute noted.

Yet, one side benefit of electric space and water heating could be the smart appliances that preheat or precool spaces during periods of low-cost electricity, “aiding the cost-effective integration of large amounts of renewable energy onto the grid,” the report says.

The American Gas Association (AGA) published last year an analysis prepared for AGA by ICF, which found that “policy-driven electrification would increase the average residential household energy-related costs (amortized appliance and electric system upgrade costs and utility bill payments) of affected households by between $750 and $910 per year, or about 38 percent to 46 percent.” Related: Africa’s First Unicorn IPO Is Coming To The NYSE

According to the gas association, another key finding is that “Widespread policy-driven residential electrification will lead to increases in peak electric demand, and could shift the U.S. electric grid from summer peaking to winter peaking in every region of the country, resulting in the need for new investments in the electric grid including generation capacity, transmission capacity, and distribution capacity.”

Proponents of building electrification admit that in order for the smart energy use and ‘homes acting as batteries’ to work, all-electric space and water heating in one home shouldn’t be an isolated ‘green’ island among other buildings—the approach needs widespread adoption if it were to balance rather than strain the grid.

The ‘deep decarbonization’ of the U.S. grid, on the other hand, is a totally different matter. Decarbonizing the U.S. grid and replacing fossil fuels with renewables could cost US$4.5 trillion in investments over the next 10 to 20 years, analysts at Wood Mackenzie have calculated.

Such a move away from fossil fuels would require the installation of 1,600 GW of new solar and wind capacity, the research firm said earlier this year. This compares with a total capacity of 1,060 GW across the United States, of which 130 GW is renewable capacity. 

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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