Change is in the air, and it’s downright electric.

Carbon-free renewables, their technology, and their economics have reached a stage that brightens our prospects for meaningful reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions that have threatened the future world of our dependents. It may actually be possible to start feeling good about something. Like, instead of fighting fossil fuels, might we try enthusing about electrification?

Know this: Electrification is the key to de-carbonizing the world’s energy.

As we discussed in a recent column, the economics of wind and solar are on a trajectory to actually supplant fossil fuels with or without subsidies or aggressive regulation in the coming decades. A widely acclaimed paper came out of the University of Oxford in September, demonstrating abundantly that “if solar photovoltaics, wind, batteries and hydrogen electrolyzers continue to follow their current exponentially increasing deployment trends for another decade, we achieve a near-net-zero emissions energy system within twenty-five years.”*

This does not mean that thoughtful energy policies aren’t necessary to actually outpace the warming that appears at present to be in store for us–but it does mean that electrification will not require the sacrifice and suffering that is threatened by the defenders of fossil fuels!

The best thing about it all is that we have a clear path forward as consumer-citizens. Everyone who understands that the climate crisis is an existential threat has struggled with questions of how to make a difference, how to do one’s part. Conclusions range from recycling straws to going off-grid, on foot, and overboard.Try this instead: focus your home economics on the shift to electricity.

There are a small number of large energy-related items that we all need to replace at intervals, and simply focusing on replacing them next time with electric versions of the fossil fueled items will truly make a difference. These include your car, your heating system, your hot water, and your cooking equipment. And if you need to have work done on your roof, consider adding solar panels and/or solar hot water.

Shifting to an electric car, a heat pump heating system, a heat pump water heater, and an induction cooktop will cut your total carbon footprint (from everything you do and buy) by about 24% to 33%. Importantly, these changes do not have a negative impact on your lifestyle or standard of living. And you don’t need to do them immediately–look ahead and budget for the day that you need to replace a thing.

Right now, the up-front costs of some of these electric-powered replacements are higher than the conventional replacements, but many of them will involve less maintenance or a longer life, lower lifetime cost–and hugely less emissions.

The following estimates are based on current typical prices for fuel oil, electricity and gasoline. Generating electricity does, at this time, involve some greenhouse gas emissions. Here we are assuming a typical rate of CO2 production of 350 grams per kWh.

Water heater- A heat pump water heater will use 60% less electricity than a standard electric water heater. A typical household of 3.2 people uses 50 gallons per day. Annual savings in Maine would be about $300. With a typical installation cost it can pay for itself in 3 years. Your CO2 emissions would be reduced by 0.65 metric ton. Switching from oil would reduce CO2 by 0.80 metric ton.

Home heating – Homes differ a lot in heating needs so let’s just use an example of one that uses 800 gallons of fuel oil per year in a typical furnace or boiler. Assume we are switching from fuel oil to air source heat pumps. The annual savings would be about $600 per year in energy cost.The CO2 production would go from around 8.7 metric tons down to 3.2 metric tons–a decrease of 5.5 metric tons.

Vehicle – A typical Maine driver goes around 15,000 miles per year. A 30 mpg gasoline powered car would use 500 gallons while the typical electric vehicle would use about 5000 kWh. That results in savings of $750 for energy and a CO2 reduction of 3.25 metric tons–from 5.0 tons to 1.75 ton.

Add solar PV – Suppose you could get 90% of your electricity from PVs. (Some on your roof and some from a community solar array.) Your CO2 rate would then be reduced to about 70 grams per kWh. Using this electricity in the three cases above would yield a total reduction of around 11.2 metric tons, about a 33% reduction in the average family’s total carbon footprint.

Each of us is faced with countless opportunities related to our carbon footprint every day–and it can be exhausting, boring, and annoying. But if everyone were to simply put electrification of the major elements of our households on their radar and budget for them, we will make a meaningful difference with minimal trouble.

Of course, some of us will never stop washing plastic bags and scrubbing cat food cans, but that’s our problem!

*https://www.inet.ox.ac.uk/files/energy_transition_paper-INET-working-paper.pdf

Paul Stancioff, PhD., is professor emeritus of physics at the University of Maine Farmington who dabbles in energy economics on the side. Cynthia Stancioff pursues climate action and sanity. Their emails are [email protected] and [email protected] . Previous columns can be found at https ://paulandcynthiaenergymatters.blogspot.com/.

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