Electrification is Powered Up

Electrification is Powered Up

By Kasey Hegelein

Kasey Hegelin was Verdical Group’s Fall 2019 Marketing & Events Intern. Kasey is a senior at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she studies Economics and Food Studies.

The movement to electrify our buildings is growing more rapidly than ever. Building electrification aims to eliminate the demand for fossil fuels in our buildings by replacing fossil-fuel-reliant equipment with equipment that uses electricity. In many areas, the energy supplied by the grid will soon be cleaner than the energy supplied by natural gas. And many cities and states are working toward a 100% renewable grid — once that is achieved, their buildings’ systems, like heating and hot water, will be powered by carbon-free, renewable energy. 

Electrification provides energy security, as it lowers dependence on finite fossil fuels. The zero-carbon alternative is imperative in fighting climate change, as in addition to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, renewable-powered electric energy reduces pollution, improves air quality, and increases resiliency. 

As the need for electrifying California’s buildings to reduce the state’s climate impact becomes more clear, more and more California cities are instituting natural gas bans. In July, Berkeley became the first city in the United States to implement such a ban by forbidding natural gas hookups in new multi-family buildings. Berkeley instituted this ban in order to achieve the state’s goal of being powered by 100% renewable energy by 2045. Currently, 25% of greenhouse gas emissions in California come from building energy use. To meet California’s climate goals, natural gas must go. There are also health risks associated with natural gas usage, as gas appliances in homes release pollutants and leaks can cause headaches, fatigue, and nausea. Berkeley’s landmark law paved the way for other cities to consider electrification.

In October, San Jose became the largest city in the United States to implement a natural gas ban. The city found that it’s more affordable to build all-electric homes, as construction costs are lowered without the need for natural gas infrastructure. This could translate to cheaper home and rent pricing, which is desperately needed in the area. Electrification also benefits homeowners in the long term financially, as gas prices in San Jose are increasing. The ban only applies to new construction; however, the city does provide a rebate incentive to homeowners who switch to electric energy. Banning natural gas in a city this large is a huge step in tackling the climate emergency.

However, completely eliminating natural gas is difficult to accomplish. California has invested a lot of money in gas infrastructure, around $14 billion every year for building gas and system maintenance, assuming it would last for many years. More electrification means fewer people are paying for these maintenance costs, likely meaning that natural gas utility providers would need to raise the amount that remaining customers pay. To reach California’s climate goals, we’ll need to phase out natural gas infrastructure and appliances that use natural gas. The sooner California cities begin this transition, the sooner we can achieve large-scale decarbonization. 

Many other California cities are following San Jose and Berkeley’s lead by considering gas bans or electrification incentives. The Sierra Club reported that over 50 cities have passed policies, including Santa Monica, San Luis Obispo, and Palo Alto. Santa Monica and San Luis Obispo encourage all-electric new construction through required energy efficiency measures, and Palo Alto is writing ordinances banning natural gas infrastructure in new construction. Their green policies show others it is possible to affordably achieve climate goals, setting an example for city governments nationwide. 

Achieving net zero buildings is easier with electrification. Net zero energy buildings produce as much energy as they consume annually, minimizing energy requirements. Typically, they generate renewable energy with tools like solar panels, and utilize energy efficiency methods such as natural ventilation and shading devices. Using electricity instead of natural gas is one of the best ways to attain net zero, as emissions from fossil fuels are a huge component of energy consumption. 

The future of the sustainability movement is net zero. Most climate goals involve a transition to net zero; for example, Architecture2030 instituted a goal of net zero carbon in new buildings by 2030. Many cities and states across the country have pledged to meet climate goals. Los Angeles committed to using 100% renewable energy by 2045, and New York pledged to achieve net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. Net zero is the best way to contribute to the sustainability movement. 

Verdical Group offers net zero consulting services for all-electric buildings – email to learn more!