#ElectrifyEverything or should I rephrase it as; Gas or Electric is fast becoming the new Paper or Plastic it seems… I couldn’t help but shake my head at the newest headline on one of the forums I frequent “The problem with Gas Stoves” with a single simple minded comment with a link to a piece entitled “Your Gas Stove Is Bad for You and the Planet — To help solve the climate crisis, we need to electrify everything.” Seriously? Even funnier was someone on the radio trying to say how the taste of food is impacted by the fuel choice & went bleh it was cooked with gas… I guess they never eat out & only use charcoal or wood chips.
Now don’t get me wrong there are some strong points behind the “Electrify Everything” movement which is actually being spearheaded by a good friend of mine – Nate Adams of Energy Smart of Ohio. Granted there are many other people involved but he is fast becoming the face of the movement & the link above gives a good summation of it which was done by him (I suggest if you don’t know about it, check out the link first). The question though is, is this really for you? Needless to say there is a lot into it so lets start with some of the preposterous things being bandied about & then get down to some high level arguments for & against…
Stop Climate Change:
Let me simply say – not a chance & don’t waste your breath trying to sell it this way. But… No – it doesn’t fly except for a very small subset of the population.
I don’t care what appliance you are using, in most areas of the country you are burning some sort of fossil fuel to produce the heat &/or electricity needed to power it. Swap out your gas water heater for an electric one – guess what your power is still probably coming from some sort of fossil fuel & during periods of high loads you are almost guaranteed it is coming from either Natural Gas or Coal.
Think the future looks brighter? Personally the chart above is wrong – I truly expect coal to be just under 20% by 2035 with the remainder going 5% more for renewables with the other 15% going to Natural Gas with maybe some nuclear.
No more Gas Line Explosions:
I can’t recall who posted a pic once of a Natural Gas Pipeline explosion that destroyed a house and then they tied it into the Electrify This movement & insinuated that this would have prevented / curbed it. Well the truth of the matter is that by switching out your gas range to an induction one would not help prevent this in the slightest & could actually help make it happen more often. Why – well electricity being produced from said gas requires a lot more gas under higher pressure than someone heating water or a turkey in their oven. The biggest issue, our nations infrastructure is getting worse & needs to be updated to handle the higher demands being placed on it.
Electric is more Efficient:
Yeah, no it isn’t… For example the 4500 or so KWH of electricity I use a year actually is only about a third of the actual electricity produced just to deliver it. Essentially 9000 KWH are lost in transmission / distribution, net generating losses (i.e. electricity required to produce electricity – fuel handling equipment, water pumps, fans, pollution control equipment…), etc… So that 220% efficient Heat pump (2.2) water heater is only a .73 efficient or less than a typical gas water heater…
But wait, doesn’t that also apply to Propane or Natural Gas being delivered to the house? Well in some ways you could go down that rabbit hole, but… the same would also apply to the utilities also; whether it is aspen trees being cut into chips, coal being mined & delivered, or natural gas / propane being delivered to the generating station. If you want to go with a standard – check out the kBtu/SF method.
Back to Reality – Which is better?
The answer like many is, it depends. What are your goals or are you trying to accomplish? Do you just want to reduce costs, cut the plug, eliminate the gas meter, go Net Zero, or… Until you can truly answer that, no one can truly say, hey, this is the best solution for you. With that, here are some points to ponder.
Reducing usage is always best:
No I am not talking about having to wear sweaters during the winter inside (though there is nothing wrong with that if you like to) but rather increasing the efficiency of the system or unit, reducing issues that impact it, etc… Way to often I see people blow tens of thousands of dollars on green bling (oversized solar, geo thermal) & they still aren’t comfortable.
Reduced House Values:
This one will pop up if you are talking to realtors – It is just a fact, an electric only house will generally sell for less all things being equal. With that said if an entire community is all electric the argument is mute to some extent. Yes it does depend on what surrounding communities are around. I don’t see it as a real issue as electric only can work in most of the country though that leads us to…
Many people need or want some sort of backup power – storms come through, etc…. If you do electrify everything & kill the gas meter you have one big issue, how do you get said backup power? Battery Power & systems are making some big jumps but lets face it, unless you are talking about power being restored within an hour (or maybe a few) for many of these wall systems, you are toast after that.
Even for those who are all solar, they generally are in for a rude awakening as their systems go down if the grid goes down. Saving grace if your community is all electric, you just might be able to put a backup generator in with Propane. Ok maybe I will keep my gas meter for just this – pretty expensive backup with the monthly fees for just having a meter.
Electric Heat vs Gas Furnace:
Yes folks, they now have heat pumps that can work in cold climates. That is one item Nate uses in his area (Ohio) to Electrify Everything. Many builders are loath to try this in many Northern climates and even more temperate ones because they are worried about them producing enough heat. Sorry but that wouldn’t be why I would be worried – I would be more worried about people not utilizing them properly & utilizing the emergency or resistance heat which would send their bills sky rocketing. Personally if I was going all electric or even staying on gas I would go hydronic. As for those that have strip heat only – change it out as there is nothing efficient about that at all.
As for comfort – folks that comes down to a host of factors; proper sizing, proper installation, proper insulation, how you use it, etc… If your “bonus” room is to cold during the winter & to hot during the summer, swapping out systems won’t help. If one room hardly gets any airflow, a new system won’t help. If your furnace / AC is oversized, sure a new heat pump might help assuming it gets sized properly.
Hot Water Heaters:
Believe it or not but the biggest “burner” in new construction homes is the water heater. There are generally three arguments for Electrify; lower operating cost for Heat Pump style systems, carbon monoxide is a non issue, & “locational flexibility” due to no flue.
Lower Operating Cost – first notice that they talk about “Heat Pump style” systems not regular ones or lord forbid on demand (with some requiring 60 amp or larger breakers). That can be true depending on how you use it – assuming you have plenty of time for it to recover because if you don’t that heat pump, turns into a traditional electric water heater. What’s best for you – well that depends on a host of factors & maybe I will finally get to that article….
Carbon Monoxide – hands down it is electric all the way on this though direct vent eliminates that concern for the most part
“Locational Flexibility” – umm have you seen the size of these behemoths that can easily be 7′ tall & wider than any traditional one? Look if you are doing new construction, sure this can be a selling point but if you ae stuck with an existing place you can be in trouble. Now if you are designing from scratch – use your head on the building layout please.
Interestingly I never see or hear them talk about dryers though it hasn’t been till recently that ENERGY STAR started certifying them. Gas is still generally cheaper to run but generally costs more to buy, while electric is just the opposite and generally requires a 240 outlet… With that they do have ventless systems & even heat pump styles now, but if you have a lot of laundry those last two might not be for you
Cooktops & Ovens:
Gas is evil, it produces Carbon Monoxide seems to be almost all the studies lately have been focusing on. Ok also ventilation thankfully. The most interesting thing is that I haven’t seen many studies on the other byproducts of cooking like fine particulates that are created based on the type of unit. Why is this interesting, well because the electric ones have big issues in this arena (yes even induction systems) due to the direct surface contact of the pan to the heat source.
Basically if you have gas in the house you would be silly to go with an electric oven. As for a separate cooktop I would probably opt for Induction myself. The biggest thing is make sure you use your kitchen hood (that needs to vent outside) when cooking. For regular burners (electric or gas) use the one that is right for the pot. Make sure all your pots, pas, etc… are clean especially the bottoms of them.
Does it make sense to go partway?
In all reality it makes no sense to say have a gas furnace and change everything else over to electric as you will be paying the gas company no matter what, every month. Now if this is part of a master plan or you are keeping the gas also for backup power, than sure it can make sense. Do you like cooking with electric than by all means go for it. Many people will buy an electric dryer because it is cheaper & that’s fine – just make sure you know it is probably going to cost you more in the long run.
In many ways, the right answer isn’t always black & white – relax, don’t believe all the hype and make your own informed decision.
Nate Adams says
Thanks for the shout out!
One important point – 2/3 of the energy isn’t lost if the electricity is renewable. You’re down to 5-15% transmission and distribution losses.
This makes clean energy nearly 300% efficient (because heat pumps are ~300% efficient.) To be fair, the energy is still used, but it doesn’t have to be piped or wired in, it comes from the air outside the building.
On the coldest/hottest days you’re correct that the generation will likely be fossil fuel based. Haven’t run the numbers but I doubt that’s as much as 10% of annual usage. Are you ok with moving to 90% clean energy? Is that possible with any other path?
A side point on electric homes – give it time. Odds are they will have cachet within the next 10 years.
And lastly, dryers. Perhaps it would be helpful to talk about how much operation cost difference there is? Haven’t looked at that level of an energy model recently, but I’d bet we’re arguing over $20-40/year, and that’s only if gas prices stay at 40 year lows.
I greatly appreciate you taking the time to write this!
SLS Construction says
My pleasure & thanks for chiming in. Direct solar, yes you stand bigger gains but how much is grid tied – all piped out or used local, etc… sorry I was at 1700 words & there is way to much for just one piece – one reason why I linked to some of the solar pieces here which I need to update for the Tesla wall along with other items.
Generation – depends on area but I recall Cali for a while having issues every afternoon for quite a while which was easily over 10%. Yes I would love to see a lot more renewables & am quite shocked at how little some have done – especially as I noted in other pieces it works even as far north as Alaska. The biggest catch with renewables is sun isn’t always shining, wind doesn’t always blow so you have to have something to fill that gap not only local, but grid tied.
One other item I left out was CHP systems & microgrids – there you definitely need gas
Dryers – depends on usage but Energy Star certified labels for them run from 87 to 687 kwh with gas towards the high end there – now it gets down to costs but I would say you are probably pretty close price wise
Speaking as an electrical engineer that designs buildings.
The first step is definitely to reduce usage. We generally fail miserably at this step. The best standard I have seen for this is PassivHaus or Passive House. It has a maximum energy usage per sf per year limit. Double the standard levels of insulation and air-sealing the home are key to this energy reduction. Also, don’t by more house than you need. This alone saves you money and energy. Also those 8 burner ranges are overkill. What you never hear about these is the giant Make-up-air system needed to compensate for the huge exhaust load. There are lots of choices to make in building a home. Once the demand is low, electrify everything becomes easier.
Something not mentioned is that having no gas also means one less monthly fee. Many gas bill have a minimum connection fee each month.
“For example the 4500 or so KWH of electricity I use a year actually is only about a third of the actual electricity produced just to deliver it. Essentially 9000 KWH are lost in transmission / distribution, net generating losses”
This is wrong. You need to check your terminology better. Only about 1/3rd of the embodied energy in Coal gets converted into electricity. Of the electricity produced, nearly all of it gets delivered. About 95%.
Regarding climate change. Like I said earlier, reduction is the primary focus. I will agree that “today” our electricity is relatively dirty. Appliances and furnaces will last decades. I’m sure in 20 years our electricity will continue to clean up, while that gas will still remain the same. Plus, Solar has become very affordable, and continues to drop. I have the ability to create clean electricity at my house, I don’t have the ability to create clean natural gas.
One thing people don’t understand is that even with Solar, if the Utility grid goes down, so does your home. I foresee batteries becoming standard with Residential solar systems. This keeps the home energized when the Utility grid goes down and helps with payback as more Utilities pay next to nothing for selling Solar energy back into the grid.
If going electric, heat pumps are the way to go. I personally don’t like ground source heat pumps. They are too expensive to install and too expensive to maintain. The air source heat pumps are much cheaper, and as you pointed out, there are some able to handle cold weather.
For the water heater, if you are worried about recovery time, just add an extra storage tank. You can get a fiberglass tank dirt cheap that lasts for 50 years. These water heaters are best in a basement or laundry room. It does need a large volume of air and the noise does bother people. Plan around it.
Dryers I also prefer to be heat pump. But they do take twice as long as typical. This bothers people. If so, it is not for them. One thing not taken into the “cost” equation is all of the exhaust from a typical dryer, gas or electric. All of the air getting blown out is going to cause an equal amount of air to be sucked into the house from elsewhere. And that new air will need to be conditioned.
The gas range is where people are more emotional about using gas. It doesn’t seem that any amount of studies or calculations will matter. When everything else in the house has been electrified, is it worth having this as the only gas appliance. Give induction a try. You can buy a counter top induction cooker for $100. Most people who have tried induction end up loving it just as much as gas.
SLS Construction says
Interesting points & well thought out comments, many thanks for chiming in – just curious where are you located at, as some of this information is dependent on location (for example a storage tank in basement)
Terminology – granted I could use lots of jargon but I try not to if it isn’t required. With that you might want to check out Transmission & Distribution losses (for the grid) – they are a lot higher than you might think. Granted some areas will be lower than others but the 2/3 mark for that & other items is pretty average or as Nate made mention of – even solar going directly to the house is 5 – 15%
Interestingly “I have the ability to create clean electricity at my house, I don’t have the ability to create clean natural gas.” I have seen that line before but it wasn’t about generation but rather in relation to grid tied power coming in. Heh in the future my power will be cleaner than…
I definitely agree with batteries becoming more common not only in residential but utility wide – catch with that though is they are only good for about 4000 cycles, now what do we do with them…
Once again I appreciate you jumping in & hope you stop by more often – shoot we also do have options for guest posts / rebuttals (for example we have one for the cart before the horse piece linked above) if you are so interested.
Regarding transmission and distribution losses. The attached image is from the EIA website.
Total net generation + imports of electricity into the US in 2017 is 4,099,953,348 MWh.
Total retail sales + Utility usage + exports of electricity in the US in 2017 is 3,873,686,166 MWh.
94.5% of electricity generated is delivered.
(Sale = delivered to customer’s meter)
Total loss + unaccounted is 226,267,182 MWh.
5.5% total electricity is lost thru transmission and distribution in the US electricity grid.