We often think of alternative energy technologies as one part of whole-home or building solutions that may still include some elements of natural gas or other fuel sources. But recently, some compelling arguments have been made for the total electrification of new and existing homes and buildings. This process enables owners to see the largest possible return on their solar investment and even achieve carbon-negative status.
There was a time when the upfront cost to build or retrofit a home or building seemed prohibitive, but as climate change continues and technologies that abate it are further refined, there’s a two-pronged incentive for investment in renewable energy sources.
Let’s take a look at the environmental and economic case for all-electric homes and buildings:
Environmental: Carbon-Negative Buildings
Frontier Group recently advocated for all-electric buildings, noting that “wind and solar power are rapidly replacing dirty fossil fuels like coal as leading sources of our electricity. As our electricity grid becomes cleaner, replacing the direct burning of fossil fuels like gas, heating oil and propane in our buildings will reduce climate change and air pollution.” As natural disasters continue to increase in frequency and effect due to the destabilizing factor of ongoing climate change, there is a lot to be said for the creation of all-electric buildings.
Natural gas, once positioned as a “bridge” between traditional fuels and renewable energy, is losing ground on both environmental and economic terms. Traditionally, furnaces, boilers, and water heaters have been run on gas, but the future is electric - and existing technologies are increasingly well-positioned to get us there.
In GreenTechMedia, Barry Cinnamon makes his own case for all-electric homes, writing that “with currently available solar, battery and heat pump technology, every building under two stories with a sunny roof can be a net generator of energy — essentially carbon-negative.” Through a combination of existing technologies, builders or retrofitters can turn a new or existing home into an all-electric energy generator, eliminating carbon output and even selling excess power back to the grid to become truly carbon-negative.
Economic: Increasing Renewable’s ROI
Cinnamon also notes that “Altruism aside, generation is less expensive than conservation for existing buildings.” Replacing HVAC and other home systems with higher-efficiency models that still rely on natural gas is ultimately more expensive than investing in solar power production and storage technology, which cut costs and may ultimately become profitable over the life of the system.
For new construction, Justin Gerdes writes that “Full electrification is typically the cheaper option in new buildings,” because “builders avoid the cost of installing natural-gas lines and meters, and improved energy efficiency can keep rising electricity bills in check.” This holds true even in colder climates. Full electrification means there is only one utility bill, and with solar power in the equation, that cost can be made negligible or even non-existent.
When builders or retrofitters consider energy efficiency measures, energy storage technologies, and renewable energy systems as a package, the resulting buildings require less energy and less maintenance and also benefit from reduced costs. In the best cases, all-electric buildings powered by renewables can generate more than they use and become profitable for the owner.
All-Electric Homes & Buildings
What does an all-electric home or building entail? The technologies that are most often still run on gas include furnaces, boilers, water heaters, and stoves. An all-electric building replaces all of these with more advanced, efficient electric appliances that can be powered by solar or wind energy.
Gerdes notes that “Heat pumps are the enabling technology of widespread building electrification. Unlike conventional furnaces or boilers, which burn fuels to produce heat, heat pumps use electricity to send heat where it’s needed or remove it from where it’s not, much like a refrigerator.” Heat pumps have the added benefit of providing both heating and cooling through the same equipment.
As electric technology advances, there is an incredible range of options becoming available to consumers and builders. From electric car charging capabilities to LED outdoor lighting and electric pool pumps, all of a home’s needs can now be met with electricity.
A Bright Idea
At Solar Design Studio, we’ve anticipated the future of all-electric homes and buildings with our Everything Solar strategy. Our clients have access to a full range of electric technologies that can be effectively powered by solar energy, reducing costs and increasing their return on their investment in renewables. If you’re curious about leaving gas behind for environmental or economic reasons, contact us to learn more!