Energy Efficiency

Home electrification crucial to Calif. decarbonization: study

A new study argues that electrification of homes in California can have a deep and rapid impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

The study, commissioned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, and Southern California Edison, found electrification could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in single family homes by about 30% to 60% in 2020, compared with a natural gas-fueled home. And, as California draws closer to its goal of 100% clean energy by 2045 and emissions from electricity generation decrease, the emission reductions are estimated to increase to between 80% and 90% by 2050.

The largest source of greenhouse gas savings, according to the study, which was conducted by Energy + Environmental Economics, comes from eliminating on-site combustion of natural gas. The increase in GHG emissions from refrigerant leakage associated with heat pumps in the all-electric home is relatively small, since the mixed-fuel home uses a conventional air conditioner, which also results in GHG emissions from leaked refrigerant gases, the study argues.

No other home decarbonization strategies have been demonstrated to meet this level of decarbonization in this time frame, the authors of the study say.

Greenhouse gas emissions from California buildings represent about 25% of the state’s total emissions, according to a 2018 study by Energy + Environmental Economics. If the state is going to meet is goal of reducing GHG emissions 40% by 2030, emissions from buildings will have to fall by 40% or more over the next decade and, if the state is going to reach its 100% clean energy by 2045 goal, high levels of building electrification will likely be required, that report said.

The new study, Residential Building Electrification in California, was commissioned as a follow-on to the consulting firm’s 2018 report and to provide an assessment of the customer economics of building electrification and of the market barriers and opportunities for electrification that were not included in the previous study.

The new study found that a newly built all-electric home could save a home owner between $130 and $540 per year compared with the cost of a gas-fueled home. Developers also could see savings because they would not have to lay gas pipelines, and those savings could be passed on to home owners.

Energy + Environmental Economics’ modeling demonstrated that 76% of new all-electric homes will save at least $15 per month on equipment and energy bills over the life of the equipment relative to new mixed-fuel homes. For retrofitted homes, the modeling suggested that single-family homes could save between $10 and $60 per month on energy bills, and 84% of homes would save up to $30 per month on total lifecycle costs.

The study looked at houses of three different vintages in six different California climates and included both single-family and low-rise multifamily homes.

“Building electrification is a key component of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing savings for our customers, which is a win-win for everyone,” Arlen Orchard, SMUD’s CEO and general manager, said in a statement. “This study will help us meet our climate goals, maximize our reductions and improve air quality across our region.”

Last fall, SMUD partnered with national homebuilder D.R. Horton to build 104 all-electric homes in two new neighborhoods. At the time, SMUD said it expected to continue to work with home builders on its electrification efforts.

“We at LADWP are grateful to be a part of an effort in California with our partner agencies and organizations who see building electrification as a critical part in the larger goal of a sustainable future,” said Nancy Sutley, chief sustainability officer for LADWP.  

“The results of this study provide additional insights that complement LADWP’s ongoing efforts toward our overall clean energy goals, and we are committed to doing our part,” she said.