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One of the most critical pieces in the decarbonization puzzle is electrification. Electrification describes shifting use to electricity rather than the on-site use of fossil fuels for heating and cooking. Cities and municipalities across the country have passed electrification ordinances and introduced programs that prohibit the use of natural gas-operated appliances in new construction. These programs are typically part of the administration’s goal of using clean energy and drastically reducing a building’s Scope I emissions.

The push for electrification comes from two primary sources, the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and local legislation. The 2021 IECC includes increased efficiency requirements for installing combustion-based water heaters, dryers, or stoves. If residential construction installs a gas-operated appliance, an electric outlet must be installed within three feet of that appliance. This allows homeowners to easily move from gas to electricity in the future.

Legislation is popping up across the country, prohibiting natural gas infrastructure in new construction. In 2019, only one jurisdiction in the United States had passed an electrification ordinance. Today, around 30 US cities and counties have passed regulations that encourage or mandate all-electric buildings in new construction.

Does it cost more to run buildings on 100% electricity?

Electrification can be easily implemented for new construction and is typically the cheaper option. For existing buildings, it can be much more complicated and expensive. Even still, studies have shown that all-electric equipment is lower in both upfront costs and operation versus natural gas equipment. In 2018, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) released a study that examined both new construction and retrofit costs in different cities and climates. All-electric homes won based on cost and emissions savings over an assumed 15-year equipment lifetime.

Utility companies are providing additional economic incentives through programs that reward electrification. These incentives can vary from rebates on electric equipment to discounts on electricity costs.

Can the US electric grid accommodate a switch from gas to electric?

Recent concerns over the stability of the US electric grid have experts weary over the move to electrification. Texas, which experienced colder than average temperatures in 2021, showed the potential failures of a grid system with high demand. If electrification continues to build momentum, the US grid system would have to evolve and adapt to meet the demand.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, economywide electrification could increase US electricity consumption by up to 38 percent by 2050. However, overall “final energy” use would decline by up to 21 percent due to the high efficiency of electric technology compared to fossil fuel equipment.

Is electrification the way forward?

Electrification is a strong contender in the road towards decarbonization. It is feasible in many sectors but will face various challenges due to the high costs. To keep electrification moving forward, policymakers across the country will need to continue to encourage the move towards electric through legislation and incentives making electrification more accessible and affordable for everyone.

For more information about electrification and other strategies to reduce emissions,
contact the evolution team today.