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Guest opinion: California needs an equitable strategy for transitioning to all-electric buildings

Original post made on Apr 4, 2021

In an op-ed first published by CalMatters, Ethan Elkind and Ted Lamm argue why state leaders should develop a strategy for the long-term phaseout of natural gas in our buildings.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, April 4, 2021, 8:45 AM

Comments (30)

Posted by Ed Kahl
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 4, 2021 at 10:33 am

Ed Kahl is a registered user.

Electrifying office and industrial buildings will increase blackouts in CA because wind and solar electricity are unreliable. Wind doesn’t blow enough at night to provide steady state power. Retro-fitting existing office buildings is extremely costly and the money would be better spent developing affordable battery storage, exploring alternative forms of green energy like the solar/hydrogen cycle, and updating our grid and transmission lines. There is also little bang for the buck converting office buildings to all electricity because most of their energy use is for electricity for lighting and cooling. Heating is mostly achieved by the greenhouse effect of windows. The main beneficiary of our prematurely electrifying office buildings will be Austin TX which will welcome our businesses and their tax bases with open arms.


Posted by John
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2021 at 12:14 pm

John is a registered user.

Until our electric grid is made more robust and reliable, residents will resist the mandate for all heating and cooking to be lectric. Higher costs, although declining, also remain a disincentive.
Let's see if we can target some federal dollars to address these underlying issues.


Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 5, 2021 at 2:30 pm

Enough is a registered user.

Many of us prefer gas for things such as cooking and heating and as of the last time I looked there is not a good alternative to gas on-demand water heaters. I am all for reducing the carbon footprint (that is one reason I installed solar) but until there are good alternatives don't try to push all electric


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 6, 2021 at 7:59 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Electric water heating is terrible. Always has been. It's expensive and slow. Until that is overcome there will continue to be resistance to all electric.

In addition, until ALL electricity is generated without producing CO2, all it is doing is producing carbon somewhere else. We need to talk about the energy that no one wants to talk about, nuclear. It works well in europe and there is no reason not to use it here, especially if the goal is to reduce carbon emissions and go all electric. Renewables will never produce enough power for that goal.

And as someone else mentioned until the grid is brought into this century and made more robust there will be resistance.


Posted by Tom
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 6, 2021 at 1:57 pm

Tom is a registered user.

Three big changes have occurred to give us chance at preserving a livable climate for many.
1) Advanced heat pumps that are 300-400% efficient at moving heat to the temperatures we want for comfort and hot water (the same machines even provide summer cooling, plus induction cooking that's twice as efficient as my old gas cooktop and much cleaner and safer.
2) Clean electric policies from Peninsula Clean Energy (providing 100% carbon free electric volumes matched to annual usage.)
3) Our understanding of climate change and the importance of transitioning off of dangerous polluting methane.
And there's a lot of helpful info to plan our home's safe clean future in this free guide. Web Link


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 6, 2021 at 6:42 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Tom:

I'm sorry, but my experience with hybrid, heat pump water heaters is they are just as bad at heating water as standard electric. Not to mention heating water with a heat pump relies on pulling heat from the air to heat the water. If it's cold, like it is in winter, there's not much heat to pull. No one I've installed them for has been happy with them.

Yes, we on the peninsula have access to power generated by renewables. Much of the rest of the state and the country doesn't. So, their electricity gets generated by burning fuel. Again, until there is a consistent, reliable supply of power to all of the grid, people will still resist going all electric.

Let's not get started on the environmental devastation caused by the mining of the rare earth metals used in batteries and electric vehicles. Until these things are addressed we're just trading one environmental problem for another.


Posted by Tom
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 7, 2021 at 2:42 pm

Tom is a registered user.

The heat pump water heaters I've helped friends install in garages and basements on the peninsula are working great and people are happy with them.

Air that feels cold to warm blooded humans has plenty of heat for extraction by heat pumps. (Our freezers are cooled by a heat pump extracting heat at about zero degrees F and putting that heat into the kitchen at about 80F )

I don't think we have to delay action on preserving the climate until everything else is perfect everywhere else. If we delay, we overburden our kids. So, I'm for moving forward here and now.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 7, 2021 at 3:55 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Tom:

If we trade one environmental disaster for another how does that relieve the burden to our kids? How about we find a way to fix the problem we have without creating another?


Posted by Tom
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 7, 2021 at 9:13 pm

Tom is a registered user.

I think we do our kids a favor by doing what we can do now to transition to clean energy systems (like heat pump water heaters powered by Peninsula Clean Energy's basic 100% carbon free electricity [at a slightly lower rate than PG&E]). If we start with that and move on to heat pump space heating and cooling (very efficient two-way air conditioners ) etc., we can start something that leaves our kids with an easier row to hoe. If they are not burdened by runaway climate change and all its costs and dangers and losses, they will have more economic band-width to tackle remaining environmental issues. I know it's not perfect, but I don't see a better practical path forward. I owe my kid my best shot at helping this transition to clean energy work out. I think of heat pump water heaters as little pieces of clean energy infrastructure. It feels like a step in the right direction.


Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 7, 2021 at 10:03 pm

Enough is a registered user.

Just curious, who has to foot the bill if you force people off of gas? Homeowners? They would need to convert furnaces, water heaters, stoves, dryers and other appliances and that is not cheap. Who would pay for that?


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 8, 2021 at 6:44 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Enough:

The homeowners and building owners foot the bill, of course. Government is very good at issuing mandates and not picking up the tab. Every house built now has to have solar panels. They are very expensive and the homeowner has to pay for them. Yes, they get an offset in a lower power bill, but it is years before the system pays for itself. They also don't last forever.

People and governments want to provide low cost housing, yet they put forth all kinds of mandates like solar and electrical requirements that drive up the cost of housing. Do they really want to provide lower cost housing, or do they just want to be seen as "doing something" about global warming? Something, that when one looks at the BIG picture, isn't really doing anything at all when one takes into account ALL of the negatives associated with it.


Posted by Tom
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 8, 2021 at 9:09 am

Tom is a registered user.

Regarding who pays... To jumpstart the transition to all-electric, there are incentives like the $2,500 one from Peninsula Clean Energy available: Web Link
And I see additional incentive for low income customers.
For the safe, clean, precise induction cooking I see $300 incentives from BayREN Web Link
As for solar, it appears to cost 1/4 as much as regular grid electricity. I see local installer SunWork.org offering it at about $2.50/Watt before Tax Credits and Tesla offering it down as low as $2.01/Watt. Even with a 5% interest loan factored into the system cost it would be a steady cost under 10 cents per kWh and that's lower than average peninsula utility electricity at 23 cents per kWh. So solar plus a loan is cheaper from day one. Or Solar without a loan is even cheaper (around 5 cents/kWh over the life of the system) if that's where you want to invest a couple thousand dollars.


Posted by Tom
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 8, 2021 at 9:22 am

Tom is a registered user.

Enough:

I sometimes ask myself a similar question: Who will foot the bill for climate change? I think it will be an escalating cost of damage and loss and crippling of systems burdening my offspring even more than me. I want to leave them a best chance at a great life like I've enjoyed. If that means I deploy some money now in cleaner devices that are fairer to the future, I'm OK with that.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 8, 2021 at 9:24 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Tom:

I'm happy for you that you have the money to deploy. Many of us don't.


Posted by kbehroozi
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Apr 8, 2021 at 1:55 pm

kbehroozi is a registered user.

MV, Tom (who is not particularly wealthy AFAIK) is donating tons of his time and engineering expertise to help people find inexpensive ways to transition away from gas, which has not only longer-term environmental implications but also near-term health benefits.

I agree that we need to be sensitive to the cost impacts of clean energy, and in fact that's the whole point of this article. You're skeptical. That's fine. What would it take to convince you? Cost neutralization? monthly savings? improved functionality? I'm genuinely curious.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 8, 2021 at 2:18 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

kbehroozi:

There are several things. Cost is one. Solar costs more initially. That is money a homeowner has to come up with. Not to mention virtually everything that is done to be "green" costs more than traditional building costs. Some of it provides immediate payback, but much of it is to cut carbon emissions. That's great, but not everyone has money to throw around trying to save the planet when they're struggling to put a roof over their head.

Functionality is another. Electric water heaters are terrible when compared to gas. Their recovery rate is abysmal compared to gas. The only way to improve their performance is to feed them more electricity which makes them even more costly to operate. If one wants to be more energy efficient a demand water heater is the way to go. I have yet to see an electric demand water heater that will provide what gas will.

Another is that the carbon output is just getting shifted in most cases. No, not on the peninsula, but most of the state does not have power supplied by solely renewable, hydro, or "green" power. So, forcing people into a much more expensive way to heat their homes and water is what you're doing with no real benefit to carbon reduction. If we are going to go all electric we have to have a stable reliable grid with a stable continuous power source. Until people are willing to get over their fear of nuclear power will we really be in a position where I would consider forcing people into all electric. Not retroactively either. That would put onerous costs on people if they are forced to retrofit. But, also see my other objection, lousy functionality.

The other thing I don't like about forcing everyone into electric is that the things like mining rare earth metals that are required to do that are environmentally devastating. You may not think that's so bad because it's devastating other countries, but it's our earth and I don't want to trade one environmental problem for another.


Posted by CyberVoter
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 11, 2021 at 7:34 am

CyberVoter is a registered user.

Once again, well-meaning people want to do "something" to combat Climate Change & forcing people to go "All Electric" sounds good. In fact, it it tremendously expensive and may actually make things worst. Unintended consequences include:'
1) More transmission & distribution lines that are expensive, ugly & cause greta environmental damage from construction (tree canopy reduction) and become a source of Forest fires.
2) All electric homes will (& are) drive a massive installation of standby diesel generators that are very polluting - but people demand backup with the unreliability of CA's Power Grid.
3) Destruction of the distribution pipelines that would enable Green/Clean Biogas to be commingled with Natural Gas & eventually replace it in many areas - Thus we kill a major Green Energy opportunity

If you want to make a real impact by 2030, spend your efforts canceling the High Speed Rail Project. Even its greatest advocates agree that it will take greater that 50 years to become Carbon Neutral -- IF the wild ridership projections would ever happen. Until then the carbon liberated in the construction & environmental damage will be a net massive Carbon Source!

Let's start doing good instead of just feeling good & spending other people's money!


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 11, 2021 at 7:48 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Well said CyberVoter


Posted by Tom
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 14, 2021 at 1:01 pm

Tom is a registered user.

More electric car companies are announcing that 2023 models will have 2-way charging so my car can be an affordable backup power supply to my house.
An EV battery may hold 5 or more days worth of home electric needs and my 6 cent per kWh low cost solar can recharge it.
Gas on-demand water heaters I've seen don't run in power outages since they depend on electric sensors, controllers, electric igniters and blowers. Electric heat pump water heaters have stored hot water and deliver it instantly (even in several-hour-long power outages) unlike on-demand water heaters that need to warm up after they sense water flow. Heat pump water heaters are very energy efficient since they don't have a drafty chimney up the middle and because they use a heat pump that gets 60-75% of its energy from the garage air. (operates as a heat mover like a backwards refrigerator to heat water).

We need to start somewhere, and it seems helpful to start with replacing burned out gas furnaces, water heaters and appliances with clean safe modern electric alternatives here.
But the climate problem is large problem and will require many parallel efforts. They say there is no one silver bullet for climate change but there is silver buckshot. So each of us can find ways to make progress without needing to stop each other. We don't need to wait for some silver bullet. We need to figure out how to take the next steps our city can take for climate progress.

Attacking climate change now will be less costly (because we can inspire many other cities to join us and act with with the leverage of leadership) than being attacked by climate change and then starting to work on it.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 14, 2021 at 2:18 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Sorry Tom, but as efficient as heat pump water heaters are, they still suck. Everyone I have installed them for has been very unhappy with them. The problem is the recovery rate. I don't think you will find a heat pump water heater with a recovery rate anywhere close to a gas fired water heater. Not to mention, high efficiency gas fired water heaters don't have "drafty flues". They have external ducted air intakes for combustion air. The combustion chambers are not open to the inside of the structure. The same is true for high efficiency furnaces.

Are we going to force people to retrofit their homes? This is extremely expensive and unless someone else is going to foot the bill, undoable. Of course, spending other peoples' money never seems to be a problem for those "saving the world".

You continue to ignore that there is not a safe, sufficient and reliable power grid or source of power for everyone to go all electric. You also continue to ignore the fact that there is a large ecological impact to going all electric. The rare earth mining is devastating large areas right now.

People are not going to want to run their homes off the power of their car if the power goes out. Especially, if they need it to go to work. People will install or use fuel based back up generators.

Sorry, all electric is not ready for prime time and forcing people into it is just going to cause more problems than it solves.


Posted by Tom
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 16, 2021 at 9:46 am

Tom is a registered user.

The two easy ways I've found for satisfying clients' hot water needs with efficient heat pump water heaters are to choose a larger tank size e.g. 50, 65 or 80 gallons of stored already hot water and to dial up the temperature setting to 130F (or higher with a thermostatic mixing valve to blend it back down ) so they have a lot of instantly ready hot water. Instead of forcing people to retrofit their homes, perhaps we can get them to use two-way heat pumps that provide heating and cooling next time they want to add cooling or replace their cooling or their heating. That way they don't need to spend money maintaining or replacing their gas fired furnaces. This can even free up some garage space compared to having separate furnace and cooling. Lots of all electric homes are being built around the country. I see all-electric now as the way to avoid stranding new investments into gas fired equipment that will need to be retrofitted later to reduce mounting climate damage.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 16, 2021 at 10:30 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Tom:

hydrogen looks to be in our future. We outlaw natural gas now and we kill the needed future infrastructure for hydrogen distribution. We shouldn't be rushing head long into something without considering ALL the ramifications.


Posted by CyberVoter
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 16, 2021 at 11:15 am

CyberVoter is a registered user.

To Menlo Voter:

You are correct, by banning natural gas hook-ups we are removing the:
1) Future options of carrying Hydrogen or Biogas/RNG through National/State Pipelines to homes/restaurants/offices. etc.
2) Ability of the "Market" & individuals to determine the best option

We assume that the "Experts" have considered the entire environmental, economic & health implications and we MUST follow their "Science". The environmental, health & global economic impact of mining the rare earths & other metals/materials to make batteries & solar panels are vastly underestimated. Further, we develop/make the Natural Gas, Biogas, Hydrogen, Next Technologies in the USA. However, virtually all the raw materials & most of the components for Batteries, Solar Panels & Wind Turbines are controlled by & most made in China!

Banning Natural Gas connections is a "Fools Errand" and will be both an environmental & economic mistake. BUT, it "Feels Good". Let's continue to make Natural Gas an option & let the Consumer & Market make the choice!


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 16, 2021 at 11:22 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

CyberVoter:

Agreed!


Posted by Michael
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 20, 2021 at 1:44 pm

Michael is a registered user.

@cybervoter I agree, let the market make the choice but in the interest of fairness, to know what the market wants, remove all subsidies for fossils first.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 20, 2021 at 1:54 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Michael:

you'll need to remove subsidies for solar at the same time.


Posted by Michael
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 20, 2021 at 2:13 pm

Michael is a registered user.

@menlo voter, agreed. They do not require subsidies as long as we are are not subsidizing fossils. Will be enlightening to see what the beloved markets do with that.


Posted by CyberVoter
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 21, 2021 at 1:33 pm

CyberVoter is a registered user.

Menlo Voter & Michael:

I applaud you approach! I would very much like to see comprehensive & complete analysis of the subsidies, incentives & taxes/disincentives for:

1) Natural Gas
2) Oil/Gas
3) Biogas
4) Entire Solar System (Mineral mining, Solar panels, installation, etc.)
5) Entire Wind Turbine System
6) Nuclear Power
7) Hydro
8 Various Electricity generating options

Shut down & "Close out"/decommissioning & maintenance costs should also be included. IF you can "Pick & Choose", you can always prove "Your Choice" to be the best!

Make them compete equally & let the Market choose!


Posted by Michael
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 22, 2021 at 7:33 am

Michael is a registered user.

@cybervoter Also include all the costs of cleanup and health costs from respiratory problems, cancers and such for all choices. Need very thorough analysis to make an informed decision.


Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 22, 2021 at 8:18 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Michael:

agreed. Impacts and costs analyzed need to include the ecological impacts of things like mining of materials for various options.


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