The American Gas Association has reacted to a seeming existential threat created by proposals of mandated residential electrification
BY ROBERT P. MADER
The American Gas Association commissioned a study by consulting firm ICF that came out this month (July 2018) entitled “Implications of Policy-Driven Residential Electrification.” AGA is reacting to proposals by some greenies in the City of Denver, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, The Province of Ontario, the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, and some groups in California, Oregon and Washington, that would require all homes to be all-electric as a way to minimize greenhouse gases.
It’s a very serious, carefully done 92-page study that sets out to debunk the whole notion that homes should be required to be all electric, as in production of gas furnaces and water heaters would have to be banned. In essence, AGA is staging a massive preemptive strike against something that I don’t think is going to be an actual problem. I’m a pretty green guy but banning the manufacture of gas appliances is a whacky idea that’s not going to happen.
While the study is carefully done, I have problems with some of its assumptions. For example, the tables and graphs on heat pump versus gas furnace heating efficiency assume heat pump capacity down to 5°F-10°F. Walking through the AHR Expo that past January, all of the heat pump manufacturers were claiming 100% heat pump heating capacity down to -5°F.
Here’s a sentence that I bumped on:
“Electrifying the entire residential sector by 2035 would increase peak electric system demand and could require the size of the entire U.S. power generation sector to almost double by 2035.”
Wait, what? The entire residential sector? By 2035? What are the odds, other than slim and none, of that happening?
The study then settles into a slightly more realistic scenario of conversion of 60 percent of residences to electric by 2035, although I think that’s unlikely too.
It’s arithmetic. According to the Census, there are 74 million single family houses in the U.S. All in all, there are more than 120 million dwelling units, which includes multi-family housing, dormitories, etc. There’s a need for around 1.5 million new housing units per year based on historical rates of household formation, plus around 300,000-400,000 homes are demolished each year. But getting back to 74 million single family homes, 60 percent is more than 44 million homes.
Manufacturers produce in the neighborhood of three million gas furnaces and 2.8 million heat pumps a year.
That’s why I said that forcing electrification is a whacky notion — it’s impractical. There isn’t enough manufacturing capacity. But I don’t think that matters as much as voter backlash when the greenies try to bring this up before a city council or a legislature for an actual vote.
The study comes to a number of conclusions that boil down to A) it’s too expensive for both homeowners and the owners of the electric grid, and B) it doesn’t reduce greenhouse gases by a lot; it’s more along the lines of 1.0-1.5 percent.
I also think that AGA is using this study (and probably some others) to promote continued conversion of electric utility generating capacity from coal to natural gas. That’s an easy case to make if the goal is limiting greenhouse gas production.
So, here’s what I think is really going to happen. Homes will be all-electric in some cases because it makes economic sense. Let’s consider that homes built in 2018 will probably have a useful life of 75 years, through 2093. It’s doubtful that we’ll be using gasoline engines in 2093. That means that a couple 240V car chargers will be a necessity in every garage. PV solar continues to get cheaper. There are solar shingles on the market today. There are residential battery storage devices on the market today and not just from Elon Musk. Schneider Electric is selling its ConextTM XW+ that stores 7.0-76.5 kW at a starting price of $3,351.99. Heat pump efficiency from companies like Daikin, Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, et al, is insane — like 33.00 SEER.
If you build homes in an amenable climate zone, i.e., not one with a design temperature of -20°F, and in a region with a decent amount of sunshine, a lot of those homes will be all electric, whereas today a lot of them would have gas heat. But they won’t be all-electric because gas furnaces have been banned.