Natural gas and other fossil fuels are commonly used in buildings to heat spaces and water, to cook and even dry clothes. But studies have shown that these activities account for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. This is one of the reasons that the electrification of buildings is such a hot topic.
Buildings have been electrified since Thomas Edison first started lighting up Manhattan in the late 1800s. In our modern world, electrification has come to mean much more than electric lights in every building, especially considering climate change and our need to reduce our emissions. Today it means replacing fossil fuels with clean energy generated by renewable, zero-carbon sources like wind and solar. But there are a lot of misconceptions around the viability of electrification, so we’ve set out to bust four of the most common myths.
Myth 1. Electrification isn’t any better for the environment
One common myth around electrification is that switching from natural gas systems to electric ones won’t be any better for the environment. Critics cite the fact that power plants still burn fossil fuels to generate electricity – and the more we electrify buildings, and manufacturing processes, the more electricity we’ll need. There’s no denying that the grid is still powered in part by the burning of fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. But that’s quickly changing.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 20% of the electricity generated in the United States comes from renewable sources. That’s double what it was 10 years ago. The federal government’s goal is to bring that number up to a whopping 80% by 2030, so we’re clearly on the path to shifting our energy mix.
The bottom line is that while electrification may cause slightly higher carbon emissions today, in the long run it’s the more sustainable choice for new construction and when replacing existing building systems.
Myth 2. Electrification is more expensive
Another common misconception is that the cost of electricity is much higher than natural gas. Even before recent events drove natural gas higher, renewable energy (3-6 cents per kilowatt hour) was significantly cheaper than fossil fuels (5-17 cents per kilowatt hour).
Electrification also reduces the price of new construction because it eliminates the need to run natural gas infrastructure into the area.
Myth 3. The health risks of natural gas in buildings aren’t that bad
Buildings with natural gas-burning ovens, for example, have anywhere from 50% to 400% higher levels of pollutants like nitrogen dioxide than those that don’t. That’s the same pollutant that comes out of the tailpipe of your car and over time it can cause breathing issues like asthma.
Fossil-fueled equipment also emits potentially deadly gases, such as carbon monoxide. Electric-powered appliances and equipment, by contrast, have no onsite emissions.
Myth 4. You’re in trouble if the power goes out
Many people are concerned that if their space heating and water heating systems all run on electricity, they’ll be in big trouble if the power goes out. While they feel safer with their familiar natural gas systems, they tend to forget that even a gas-fueled heating system relies on electricity to power the thermostat and the fans that move heated air around. If the power goes out, your gas appliances and equipment won’t run without backup power. That means natural gas really has no advantage
In fact, it’s electrification that comes out on top here. Better battery systems, the increasing adoption of commercial solar and an increasingly resilient power grid all work to provide reliable electricity to businesses across the country.
So now you know the facts. Maybe it’s time you started electrifying your building.