The case for electrifying your home—and how to do it right

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According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, countries must take immediate action to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to prevent massive loss and destruction. The good news is that experts believe it’s possible to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 through steps such as using energy more efficiently, slowing deforestation, and speeding up the adoption of renewable energy.Many of those strategies require new laws, regulations, or funding to move forward at the speed and scale that’s needed. But one strategy that’s increasingly feasible for many consumers is powering their homes and devices with electricity from clean sources. This article explains why electrifying your home is an important strategy for climate change and provides some tips on how to get started.

1. Why go electric?

In 2020, about one-sixth the total U.S. electricity consumption was attributed to home energy. The majority (47%), followed by natural gas (42%), petroleum (8%), or renewable energy (7%). The power sector is moving in that direction rapidly: Nearly half (47%) of this energy came from electricity, with natural gas (42%), oil (88%, and renewable energy (7). And the power sector is rapidly moving that way: As a 2021 report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed, power producers have reduced their carbon emissions by 50% from what energy experts predicted in 2005.“This drop happened thanks to policy, market, and technology drivers,” a team of Lawrence Berkeley lab analysts concluded. Utilities are now using solar and wind power more because they have been able to increase their production and reduce costs. Natural gas is cheaper than the dirty, more expensive coal. Public policies encourage the adoption of more energy-efficient technology, such as LED lights bulbs. This convergence makes electric power a more climate-friendly choice than it was in 2005. [Photo: Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, CC BY-ND]

2. Heating pumps to keep you warm on cold or hot days

Since heating and cooling use so much energy, switching from an oil- or gas-powered furnace to a heat pump can greatly reduce a home’s carbon footprint. As University of Dayton sustainability expert Robert Brecha explains, heat pumps work by moving heat in and out of buildings, not by burning fossil fuel.“Extremely cold fluid circulates through coils of tubing in the heat pump’s outdoor unit,” Brecha writes. “That fluid absorbs energy in the form of heat from the surrounding air, which is warmer than the fluid. After the fluid has vaporized, it is circulated into a compressor. Any gas that is compressed heats up and this creates heat. Then the vapor moves through coils of tubing in the indoor unit of the heat pump, heating the building.”In summer, the process reverses: Heat pumps take energy from indoors and move that heat outdoors, just as a refrigerator removes heat from the chamber where it stores food and expels it into the air in the room where it sits.Another option is a geothermal heat pump, which collects warmth from the Earth and uses the same process as air source heat pumps to move it into buildings. They are less expensive than other systems, as they involve digging below the earth to install tubing.

3. Cooking without gas—or heat

People who love to cook will find the idea of an electric stove a daunting prospect. Many home chefs see gas flames as more responsive and precise than electric burners.But magnetic induction, which cooks food by generating a magnetic field under the pot, eliminates the need to fire up a burner altogether.“Instead of conventional burners, the cooking spots on induction cooktops are called hobs, and consist of wire coils embedded in the cooktop’s surface,” writes Binghamton University electrical engineering professor Kenneth McLeod.Moving an electric charge through those wires creates a magnetic field, which in turn creates an electric field in the bottom of the cookware. “Because of resistance, the pan will heat up, even though the hob does not,” McLeod explains.Induction cooktops warm up and cool down very quickly and offer highly accurate temperature control. They also are easy to clean, since they are made of glass, and safer than electric stoves since the hobs don’t stay hot when pans are lifted off of them. Induction cooktops are more expensive, so many utilities provide rebates.

4. As a backup power source, electric cars

Electricity made it even harder for residents to experience power outages because they had electric heating systems and cook stoves. There will soon be a backup option: you can power your house from an electric car. With electric vehicles and light trucks becoming more popular in America, many automakers have introduced new models and designs of EVs. Some of these new rides will offer bidirectional charging—the ability to charge a car battery at home, then move that power back into the house, and eventually, into the grid.Only a few models offer this capacity now, and it requires special equipment that can add several thousand dollars to the price of an EV. But Penn State energy expert Seth Blumsack sees value in this emerging technology.“Enabling homeowners to use their vehicles as backup when the power goes down would reduce the social impacts of large-scale blackouts. It also would give utilities more time to restore service—especially when there is substantial damage to power poles and wires,” Blumsack explains. “Bidirectional charging is also an integral part of a broader vision for a next-generation electric grid in which millions of EVs are constantly taking power from the grid and giving it back—a key element of an electrified future.”Jennifer Weeks is a senior environment + energy editor at The Conversation.

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