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Advocacy Update, November 2019

Why Electrification Is Gaining Traction In California

For years the energy efficiency sector has focused on total savings, that paradigm has shifted, and now greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the primary consideration. Energy use in buildings accounts for about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions in California. The real question is, what is driving the sudden shift to an all-electric future?

The California energy commission released a report in early 2019 supporting building electrification. The report concluded that building electrification was “a key strategy” for reducing the state’s climate impacts, one that “offers the most promising path to achieving [greenhouse gas] reduction targets in the least costly manner.” This information explains some of the new focus on building electrification. Another consideration was a recent study that measured natural gas leaks in the transmission and distribution system. The report discovered that natural gas leaks during transmission are more than twice what experts had predicted. Methane leaks are potent GHG gas and are dangerous, let’s not forget the San Bruno explosion or the release of natural gas for months into the atmosphere at Aliso Canyon.

California building codes are addressing these concerns in new construction by requiring site production (solar panels) and requiring electrical hookups for all appliances. Existing buildings are harder to address. Some cities and counties are now using incentives to encourage all-electric retrofits. Another tactic is to adopt stricter local building codes. 

Reach Codes

In California, cities, and counties have the authority to adopt local ordinances, sometimes called “Reach Codes,” that require projects to exceed minimum requirements established in Title 24, (Energy Standards). Many cities and counties in California are now enforcing Reach Codes intended to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. 

Natural Gas Restrictions

More specifically, they are placing restrictions or all-out bans on natural gas. Natural gas is a fossil fuel comprised mostly of Methane. There are multiple concerns with the use of natural gas in buildings. First off, it is a fossil fuel which means it is not a renewable resource. Leaking methane damages the Earth’s ozone layer, which contributes to global warming. The combustion of natural gas creates emissions, which can pose serious health concerns, not to mention the fact that it can cause explosions.
Electricity, on the other hand, can be produced from several carbon-neutral, renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and hydro. As more renewables feed into the grid in the future, the electrical grid will continue to get “greener.” All of these factors combined are the reason for the push to an electric future.

Cities and counties have taken note and are working on solutions to reduce GHG emissions and decarbonization. Last year the city of Berkeley took a historic first step and banned natural hookups in new buildings. This ban is the first time a US city has restricted natural gas. More than 50 cities and counties in California are now considering similar policies to Berkeley’s. Many communities are placing outright bans on natural gas. Others are incentivizing building electrification. At the time I’m writing this, 13 cities and one county have banned natural gas.

The use of reach codes to push energy savings and GHG reductions is a powerful tool. As we move forward, more and more cities and counties will likely join the effort. The need to reduce our impact on the planet is critical. Reducing energy use should be the first consideration. 

The next step is deciding what means we use to provide energy. In California, and across the nation, electricity is starting to look like the preferred method to provide energy for buildings. It will not be the only solution, but for many applications, it is the right choice.

Charley Cormany
Executive Director

Read Advocacy Update from last month: Advocacy Update, October 2019