Clean Electric Heating Already Cost-Effective for Many
By Pierre Delforge
A new report bolsters the case for widespread electrification of heat and hot water in buildings.
The report by the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) finds that replacing onsite use of fossil fuels in buildings by efficient and flexible electric heating is a key component of the deep decarbonization necessary to limit global average temperature increase to 2°C.
It also concludes that if our country is to reach decarbonization goals, it will require eliminating most or all of the pollution generated by the burning of fossil fuels in furnaces and water heaters, along with other measures.
The report reinforces the findings of an earlier NRDC study, which cites broad electrification of buildings, factories and vehicles as among the ambitious but achievable actions needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050 and stave off the worst effects of climate change.
NRDC's report, America's Clean Energy Frontier: The Pathway to a Safer Climate Future, envisions roughly 90 percent of U.S. residential and commercial buildings to use electric space- and water-heating appliances by 2050, up from just under half today. It also calls for boosting the use of electric vehicles so that they represent about 30 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030 and 85 percent by 2050.
Both reports highlight the benefits of using electricity from an increasingly clean grid in place of fossil fuels like natural gas for space and water heating, an often overlooked, but critical path for reducing carbon pollution.
RMI's report, The Economics of Electrifying Buildings, notes that electrification can deliver cost savings, especially for new home construction, oil and propane customers, and homes that bundle electrification with rooftop solar.
When owners of existing homes install or replace an air conditioner at the same time as they electrify heating, electrification costs roughly the same as a new gas furnace and A/C. And this is when home electrification is still avant-garde, and early adopters pay premium prices for equipment, installation and electricity use. As the market develops, competition increases, and utilities offer electric rates that better reflect the cost of supplying energy at different times of day, electrification costs will come down, making it the more cost-effective option for most Americans.
Electric space and water heating also can be managed to shift energy consumption in time, aiding the cost-effective integration of large amounts of renewable energy onto the grid, the report notes. This can further reduce carbon pollution and generate utility bill savings. This is already becoming important in states like California which have committed to ramping up their use of clean energy like solar and wind power.
Both reports are must reads for state and local officials who have moved to pick up the slack on climate action in the absence of Washington's leadership in confronting the crisis. The authors have the following recommendations for utilities, regulators and policymakers:
1. Prioritize rapid electrification of buildings currently using propane and heating oil in space and water heating.
2. Stop supporting the expansion of the natural gas distribution system, including for new construction.
3. Bundle demand flexibility programs, new rate designs, and energy efficiency with electrification initiatives.
4. Expand demand flexibility options for existing electric space and water heating loads.
5. Update energy efficiency resource standards and related goals to account for total energy reduction across fuels (fossil fuels and electricity).
But more can—and must—be done.
Assembly Bill 3232, which has passed the Assembly and is now before the Senate, would require the California Energy Commission to assess how best to reduce emissions from residential and commercial buildings by at least 40 percent below the 1990 levels by 2030.
Senate Bill 1477, which has passed the Senate and is before the Assembly, would require the energy commission to develop two programs: the first to provide incentives for designers and builders to innovate and build near-zero emissions new buildings; the second to spur the market development of clean heating technologies such as high-efficiency heat pumps.
The fossil fuels and the electricity we use in buildings are responsible for roughly one quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in California, and natural gas and propane burned for space and water heating are the largest source of those emissions.
Nationally, the burning of fossil fuels for space and water heating in buildings generates 560 million tons of carbon pollution each year, a tenth of total U.S. emissions, the RMI study notes.
Substituting electricity for fossil fuels to heat homes and businesses could cut U.S. carbon pollution by 10 percent, the RMI study says.
But building electrification faces challenges, such as low consumer awareness of the benefits and availability of the technology, limited contractor expertise and higher upfront costs for high-efficiency products.
SB 1477 would help reduce costs by developing the market for clean heating technologies in the way that California's Solar Initiative has driven the growth of solar in the state. As RMI's analysis points out, the cost of new heating technology such as heat pumps will decline as the market grows.
As RMI's and NRDC's reports spell out, electrification offers significant opportunities to cut harmful pollution, and reduce utility bills, two critical opportunities to help mitigate California's air pollution and housing affordability challenges.
We now need to turn the opportunities into action.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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