As more and more homeowners make the switch to both solar panels and electric vehicles in the US, the clean energy transition is now about more than just increasing clean energy. Increasingly, an important piece of the clean energy transition is electrification. Electrification is a vital piece of any carbon reduction plan, and could have some big implications for the appliances in your home–and your garage!
The concept of electrification rests on one simple principle: the goal is to transition everything to being powered by electricity.
Today, many processes that require energy are not yet powered by electricity. This is an important distinction. For instance, most cars on the road are powered by gasoline. In this case, gasoline is the source of energy for the car. But instead of using gasoline to power your car, you could be using electricity. The concept of electrification consists of transitioning away from a gasoline powered vehicle to a vehicle powered by electricity.
Why is electrification important?
Electrification is an essential strategy to reduce carbon emissions. A dozen states representing more than a quarter of Americans have already committed to either 100 percent clean energy or zero emission targets, targets which will require efforts across sectors to achieve. And switching to renewable energy to reduce emissions in the electric power sector is just one piece of the puzzle: according to the EPA, the electric power sector accounted for just 27 percent of US emissions in 2018. Transportation, the industrial sector, and heating and cooling for both homes and businesses all play a major role in contributing to emissions. So long as they’re still powered with fossil fuels, we’ll be limited in how far we can reduce our carbon emissions.
To give a sense of just how much effort is required to meet zero emission targets, a recent report from Princeton lays out the specific pathways to actually achieve these clean energy and climate goals. The comprehensive Net Zero America report (caution: opens as a 345 slide pdf), forecasts how we could actually transition the American economy to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and the results are achievable, if pretty astonishing.
From an electrification perspective, a net zero economy in 2050 calls for 300 million personal electric vehicles on the road, up from about 2 million today, and 130 million residences with air source heat pumps, or a jump to 80 percent of housing stock from just 10 percent today.
It’s past time to get to work!
What would it actually take to electrify everything?
A lot of electricity!
But beyond that slightly obvious answer, electrification of everything requires adoption of a suite of different technologies across sectors. These technologies already exist today, but are as of yet not widely adopted. Here’s what you can expect in an electrified future:
Heating and cooling
In parts of the country with a high heating load (like the frigid Northeast where EnergySage is based), most people heat their homes with a furnace that burns natural gas, propane, or oil. But a number of technologies exist today to transition from fossil-fuel-powered heating systems to electrified heating. A few of the most common include electric resistance heating, air source heat pumps, and ground source heat pumps.
The transportation sector contributed as many greenhouse gas emissions as the entire electric power sector in 2018. There’s one primary solution for transitioning away from fossil-fuel- powered vehicles: electric vehicles! The number of electric vehicle models announced over the last couple of years is astonishing, and major manufacturers moving away from internal combustion engine cars means your next car will likely be electric.
Electric vehicles aren’t the only option–some companies promise fuel cell or hydrogen powered vehicles for commercial settings–but they are the most mature technology available today.
Of all of the sectors to electrify, this one seems like it will be the toughest nut to crack. From manufacturing steel to powering forklifts in distribution centers, industrial processes typically require larger amounts of electricity than other applications or sectors.
This is an area that seems ideal for hydrogen. By using renewable resources to power a fuel cell, you can create clean, liquid hydrogen, which can power vehicles or industrial processes much the same way fossil fuels can, but without the emissions.
Meeting the increased demand due to electrification
At the end of the day, if we electrify everything but continue to have an electricity grid that’s powered predominantly by fossil fuels, then all of that effort will have been for naught. From an emissions reduction perspective, it would be very inefficient to switch from fossil fuel burned directly for a purpose (like gas for heating or gasoline in a car) to fossil fuels burned hundreds of miles away to create electricity that will travel across the transmission and distribution system and make its way to your home or vehicle.
Instead, it’ll be important to meet that additional electricity demand with clean, renewable energy resources, like solar and wind. And make no mistake, if we electrify everything, there will be significant additional demand for electricity. That same Princeton report referenced above suggests that a fully net-zero emission economy would increase electricity demand by 50 or 60 percent by 2050!
This is a massive opportunity for the development of clean energy in the US. In order to meet the increased demand for electricity from all of these electrified devices and sectors will require a significant build out of wind and solar power to ensure that electrification results in reduced emissions.
Begin planning for an all-electric future with EnergySage
Just as important as transitioning all of your energy needs to be powered by electricity is making sure that electricity comes from a clean resource like solar! Whether you already have electric heat and an EV or are thinking about electrifying your home in the future, solar is a great option. To get started with reputable solar installers in your area, register for a free account on EnergySage today. All it takes is an email address, and we’ll help connect you with pre-screened, vetted companies in your area.