What Exactly Is Home Electrification?
by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Facilitator
A key component of decarbonization plans in many states and countries is electrifiying energy usage previously served by fossil fuels. Proponents suggest that with electrification our homes will be more environmentally friendly, have cleaner inside air, will be safer, and will provide tools for managing our utility bills. But many homeowners don't understand what electrification even means. Let’s explore some specifics.
What do homeowners do to electrify?
Electrifying your home means replacing current uses fueled by natural gas, propane, gasoline, or fuel oil with electric appliances. But there may be other necessary steps to take first:
- Upgrade your service panel: If you have an older or smaller home, your service panel may only be sized to 100A. Most likely you will need to upgrade it to 200A. This means calling an electrician and spending some money just to get ready. If you are going to buy an electric vehicle (EV) you may also need the electrician to run a new 240V circuit and install a charger in your garage or driveway.
- Check with your utility: In some cases, the utility service line may not have sufficient capacity to serve all the new load. In this case, the utility will have to replace the cable. Whether they charge for that or not will vary by utility.
Once you’ve upgraded your panel and the utility says you’re good to go, should you start buying new appliances? Probably not yet. First you should work to make your home as energy efficient as is practical since the less energy you need, the less you’ll have to spend on appliance capacity and on energy consumption after the appliances go in.
- Get an energy audit: Many utilities will perform an audit for free or for a nominal fee. But there are also other organizations or companies that will provide audits. Your goal is to find cost-effective ways to reduce the energy use in home.
- Implement cost effective energy efficient steps: This will likely include sealing leaks with caulk and weatherstripping, being sure all your lightbulbs are LEDs, installing smart thermostats, and using smart outlets to control “phantom loads” such as TVs drawing power even when they are turned off. But beneficial investments may also include more extensive measures such as upgrading insulation or replacing older windows.
Finally you are ready to consider electrification! What might this include?
- Buy an EV or PHEV: Replacing your gasoline-powered vehicles with an electric vehicle (EV) or plug-in electric vehicle (PHEV) is now a feasible step. Numerous new models have come onto the market and more are on their way. If you aren’t confident about finding public charging stations when you are away from home, a PHEV can be a good option. These vehicles have both an electric and a gasoline engine. The electric covers most of your local driving, but you have the capability of running on gasoline on longer trips.
- Replace your air conditioning and furnace with a heat pump: A heat pump is an efficient appliance that provides cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter. The key here is to be proactive as your AC and furnace are getting near the end of their life. A heat pump is a large investment, but it can make sense if you are looking to buy a new AC unit and a new furnace. But if you buy a new AC system or furnace now, you are probably locking that system in place for at least 10 years before it makes financial sense to replace it. And if your furnace fails on a cold winter day, you will likely do whatever is fastest to restore heat.
Technician completing installation of an electric heat pump
- Replace your gas stove with an induction range: There’s been a lot in the media lately about gas stoves as potential regulations have become the newest political football. Many consumers love gas stoves for the ability to control the heat and resist electric stoves because they grew up frustrated by radiant coil stove tops. But modern electric induction stoves offer similar control and performance to gas stoves. And recent research suggests that gas stoves negatively impact air quality within homes. While it’s not cheap to swap out a functioning stove, induction stoves will likely be the future of home cooking.
- Replace your gas water heater with a heat-pump water heater or an electric instant water heater: In much of the U.S., gas water heaters have been the default technology for many years with a large cost advantage over electric resistance water heating. But two newer electric technologies offer similar performance and, in some cases, equivalent economics. These are an electric instant water heater or an electric heat-pump water heater.
- Replace your gas dryer with a heat-pump dryer: Much like water heaters, gas dryers have long been the default technology in many regions due to better economics over electric resistance dryers. But the alternative of an electric heat-pump dryer is now available.
If you do some or all of these installations, you will now be using lots more electricity than you previously did and you may find yourself looking for tools to manage your electric bills. This might require even more new technology including:
- Solar panels: By generating your own electricity from the sun, you will reduce the amount of electricity you need to buy from the utility
- Smart home control system: By controlling when and how your appliances use energy in your home, you may be able to take advantage of price differences at different times of day under time-of-use rates and or participate in demand-response programs that pay you for reducing loads at specific times.
- Home battery: By being able to store and discharge electricity, you further your ability to take advantage of time-of-use rates and demand-response programs. You can also keep critical appliances running during utility outages.
A home system set-up to use solar power, battery storage, and provide backup during outages (Source: Liberty Utilities)
Of course, all this sounds great but to do it all will cost much more than most homeowners have sitting around to spend on energy technology. Assuming most homeowners aren’t highly successful entrepreneurs and don’t have a very generous rich uncle, external sources of funding will be required. These are becoming available through local or state programs as well as federal programs funded by the recent Infrastructure and Inflation Reduction Act bills. Options that may become available include low-interest loans, on-bill utility loans, grants, and tax credits. Depending on what is available in your region, now may be the time to start thinking about moving toward electrification.
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