Home Electrification Series: Part One

Home Electrification Series: Part One

Moving away from natural gas and switching to electric appliances

 Photo credit: iStock.com/Oleksandr Todorov

Photo credit: iStock.com/Oleksandr Todorov

In recent years, homeowners have increasingly considered leaving their natural gas appliances behind and making the switch to electric appliances instead, to eventually power their electric homes with solar energy and decrease their dependence on fossil fuels. This process is referred to as home electrification. But what are the motivations behind moving away from natural gas? Why should homeowners consider electric over gas appliances? And what are the benefits of an electric home? At Brighten Solar Co., we’re striving to create tools and share resources to help people make informed decisions. In this blog series, we will go over the different steps of home electrification and answer general questions about this topic. This first part of our series will highlight the major issues associated with natural gas, how California is encouraging a switch to electric appliances, and some of the benefits and incentives of making such a switch.

> Moving away from natural gas

The price of natural gas and the significant bill increases are motivating homeowners to upgrade their appliances. Indeed, the recent wet weather and the unexpected colder months have affected gas prices. The gas production was pressured to supply a large increase in demand which led to higher prices. Besides, the overall cost of natural gas also includes transmission, distribution, and storage costs which have steadily increased in recent years. In its 2022 California Electric and Gas Utility Costs Report, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) linked such utility increases to the price of oil. Indeed, “transportation costs represented 66.5 percent of total utility gas costs in 2022”. Natural gas prices also tend to climb as pipeline infrastructures experience unplanned maintenance and repair issues, reducing the capacity to deliver and store gas. Additionally, geopolitical conflicts can disrupt economies and natural gas markets, leading to global increases in gas export prices and translating into higher consumer bills.

Many homeowners are also concerned about the safety issues associated with natural gas appliances. Indeed, natural gas stoves can release carbon monoxide and other toxic pollutants into the air. Without proper ventilation, it can lead to poor indoor air quality and increase the risk of respiratory issues for everyone living in the home. The California Air Resources Board explains that “at elevated levels, carbon monoxide causes headaches, fatigue, and queasiness. At very high levels, brain and heart damage can occur, and even death”. Leaks can also be a concern; any loose connection, equipment malfunction, or improper appliance assembly can lead to a gas leak, even when the appliances are not in use, creating important health risks.

A third and important factor is the environmental impact associated with natural gas. Natural gas is a fossil fuel, and its extraction requires fracking, drilling, transportation, and storage before being distributed to our homes. The entire process is harmful to the environment, it releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere such as methane and CO2, which creates air pollution and contributes to global warming. The production of natural gas also creates a large amount of contaminated water which can pollute our water resources through spills, leaks, or faulty well construction. Additionally, the drilling and fracking of natural gas disturb the surrounding environment through land clearing and leveling, leading to wildlife habitat degradation. Buried transportation and distribution pipelines can also be subject to leaks and lead to the release of gas into the air, as well as water and soil pollution.

 Photo credit: iStock.com/Maksim Safaniuk

Photo credit: iStock.com/Maksim Safaniuk

> California legislation is encouraging the switch to all-electric homes

To further move away from natural gas and in an effort to reach Senate Bill 32’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below the 1990 levels by 2030, the state of California has updated its Energy Code requirements. As of January 1, 2023, all new constructions and remodels are required to have electric supply panels and circuitry to support all-electric appliances and heating. This requirement strongly encourages builders and homeowners to equip their homes with electric appliances and move away from natural gas. 

Locally, the City of Santa Barbara adopted an ordinance prohibiting natural gas in new buildings for all new permits submitted after January 1, 2022. As part of the effort to reach carbon neutrality by 2035 in the city, this ordinance does not allow any natural gas infrastructures in newly constructed buildings. 

These statewide and local new regulations are aiming to decrease fossil fuel dependence at a larger scale and help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions,  paving the way toward a zero-carbon future.

> Making the switch to electric appliances

Many home appliances can easily be switched to electric, helping homeowners reduce their carbon footprint and take the first step in making their home all-electric. Heat pumps use an efficient compressor to both heat and cool a home, more detailed information about heat pumps can be found in this blog post. Electric water heaters or solar water heaters can be especially interesting for pool heating, as pool heaters are significant natural gas users. Electric hot tubs and spas can also be heated with an electric water heater or solar water heater. Electric dryers are easier to maintain than gas dryers, will cost less money upfront, and remove the need for gas line connections to a home. Lastly, induction cooktops will create much better indoor air quality. Although the initial investment of an induction stove is higher than a gas stove, it is a more efficient way to cook meals as the heat is only created and transferred through the bottoms of cookware, which also offers a more precise and even heating.

 Photo credit: iStock.com/brizmaker

Photo credit: iStock.com/brizmaker

> Federal and state incentives

While switching gas appliances, homeowners have the opportunity to benefit from both federal and state incentives. The Federal Energy Efficiency Tax Credit qualifies heat pumps and other energy property costs that meet certain efficiency requirements, to receive a 30% tax credit, available until 2032. Here is more information regarding federal incentives.

The Central Coast Community Energy (3CE) offers a few rebates: up to $3,500 for a heat pump HVAC equipment, up to $3,800 for heat pump water heater equipment and installation, up to $2,000 for electric panel upgrades and replacement (if the upgrade is necessary when switching to electric appliances to shelter new electric loads), and an additional $1,000 per unit for CARE (California Alternate Rates for Energy Program) and FERA (Family Electric Rate Assistance Program) qualified customers.

The Tri-County Regional Energy Network (3CREN) also offers multifamily and single-family programs that provide incentives to property owners to support both electrification and energy-efficient projects.

Lastly, for all new residential construction, the California Electric Homes Program (CalEHP) offers incentives for electrification and energy storage systems. To be eligible for the incentives, the program requires that all participating projects have 100% all-electric residential spaces, and install heat pump space and water heating, induction cooking, thermostatic-mixing valves, segregated circuits, and smart thermostats.

> Takeaways

Federal and state incentives can ease the transition to electric appliances while lowering one’s carbon footprint. 3CE explains that “a home with all-electric appliances saves 2.5 metric tons of carbon a year, equivalent to taking one car off the road for an entire year”. However, home electrification does not end there. Making the switch to electric appliances is a great first step, but most of the energy powering home appliances is still coming from fossil fuels. Ensuring that the home’s energy comes from clean renewable sources is the next step. When their electricity comes from renewable energy, homeowners are able to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels while controlling their energy costs and making their home more efficient, comfortable, and sustainable. Our next blog will highlight the impact of producing and storing clean energy with a solar system and a grid-tied battery. Stay tuned to learn more about the next step of home electrification!