By Melody Redburn
To achieve equitable solutions to the climate crisis, every sector needs to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. These solutions will require economic and social transformation, informed by the best available science. Beneficial electrification (BE) is emerging as an important strategy for significantly reducing emissions.
What is beneficial electrification?
Beneficial electrification (BE) is the replacement of direct fossil fuel use in an end use (such as building heating systems) with clean electricity – with the goals of reducing overall emissions, lowering costs, and effectively using the power grid.
Why should you consider beneficial electrification?
BE can result in three primary benefits:
- Reduced emissions:
- Clean power is an obvious pathway to decarbonization for the energy sector (Bloomberg NEF, 2021).
- Emissions reduction in the power sector is driven predominantly by new wind and solar in emissions abatement scenario studies (Bloomberg NEF, 2021).
- Full electrification of the U.S. transportation and commercial and residential building sectors would double electricity use by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gases by 70 percent through the transition to clean electricity sources (EESI, n.d.).
- Improved energy efficiency:
- Heat pump technology is more efficient than natural gas furnaces or boilers – even in cold climates (McKenna, Shah, & Silberg, 2020).
- Heat pump water heaters (HPWH) can use half the energy and produce 77% the amount of energy, with fewer emissions compared to conventional gas-powered hot water tanks (Higgins & Miller, 2021).
- Efficiency of electrification technologies, combined with appliance and building efficiency, could result in 13-21% lower energy consumption by 2050 across the United States (Haley, et al., 2018).
- Improved public health and safety:
- Air pollution resulting from burning fuels in buildings can lead to higher health care costs due to increased risk of early death (Seals, 2020).
- Gas combustion in buildings contributes to increased rates of asthma, respiratory illness, headaches, and other health impacts (Seals, 2020).
- Fugitive emissions from oil and gas operations also contribute to increased ozone levels and poor outdoor air quality (Seals, 2020).
What’s the cost?
BE can be cost effective for people who (Billimoria, Guccione, Henchen, & Louis-Prescott, 2018):
- Are building new homes
- Have efficient homes, including insulation and air sealing
- Need to replace both a gas furnace and an air conditioner
- Bundle rooftop solar with electrification
Studies show that in Colorado, all-electric, highly efficient homes can save 4-10% on annual utility bills (Group 14 Engineering, 2020).
How to Get Started?
- Identify opportunities for electrification in your buildings and community:
Look into new development and major retrofit projects for opportunities to electrify, including upgrading heating systems, water heating, and cooking. Don’t forget about transportation – supporting electric vehicles is also a great way to electrify.
- Work with your utility provider:
To prepare for and encourage the shift to electricity, some electric utilities already offer customers financial incentives for beneficial electrification. Check with your utility for BE-supporting rate options, electrification rebates, and other incentives – and/or collaborate with them to develop incentives in your community.
- Look into requirements for your area:
Several states have passed or are working on passing legislation related to beneficial electrification. We’ve flagged some helpful resources below:
- Contact Brendle Group for help:
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider related to beneficial electrification. Below are just a few of the areas where Brendle Group can help.
- Conducting a building stock analysis to understand how and where natural gas is currently used in your community or organization
- Analyzing how beneficial electrification benefits your greenhouse gas emissions and carbon reduction goals
- Identifying strategies and developing an implementation plan to approach BE
- Working with your utility provider(s) to meet your BE goals/needs
- Determining how local and state policies will influence beneficial electrification, as well as the impacts on your community or organization
- Conducting literature reviews of current research and best practices to inform your organizational or community approach
- Identifying what assets may be good candidates for electrification
- Communicating with stakeholders about the impacts of BE
- And more, depending on your needs!
About the Author – Melody brings 12 years of engineering, project management, and product development skills to the Brendle Group team. She uses her skills for community energy planning, sustainability planning, and developing new tools to support clients’ energy efficiency and sustainability goals. Melody is also well versed in the business case for sustainability, having recently completed her MBA with a focus on sustainability at Colorado State University.
Prior to joining Brendle Group, Melody spent 7 years as a chemical process engineer for Burns & McDonnell Engineering in Kansas City, MO conducting analyses from feasibility through detailed engineering and construction. There, she gained experience with design calculations, data management, stakeholder engagement, and business development.
Buildings. Retrieved from RMI: https://rmi.org/insight/the-economics-of-electrifying-buildings/
Bloomberg NEF. (2021). New Energy Outlook.
Group 14 Engineering. (2020, November). Electrification of Commercial and Residential Buildings. Retrieved from Community Energy, Inc.: https://www.communityenergyinc.com/wp-content/uploads/Building-Electrification-Study-Group14-2020-11.09.pdf
Haley, B., Jadun, P., Jones, R., Logan, J., Mai, T., McMillan, C., . . . Vimmerstedt, L. (2018). Electrification Futures Study: Scenarios of Electric Technology Adoption and Power Consumption for the United States. Retrieved from NREL: https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy18osti/71500.pdf
Higgins, C., & Miller, A. (2021, January). The Building Electrification Technology Roadmap. Retrieved from New Buildings Institute: https://newbuildings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/BuildingElectrificationTechnologyRoadmap.pdf
McKenna, C., Shah, A., & Silberg, M. (2020, June 8). It’s Time to Incentivize Residential Heat Pumps. Retrieved from RMI: https://rmi.org/its-time-to-incentivize-residential-heat-pumps/
Seals, B. (2020, May 5). Indoor Air Pollution: The Link Between Climate and Health. Retrieved from RMI: https://rmi.org/indoor-air-pollution-the-link-between-climate-and-health