California Policy is rapidly pushing forward the electrification of buildings. The logic is straightforward, use the cleanest energy source available, electricity, and reduce site-generated emissions. For some, this seems like a no-brainer. For others, it feels like stripping them of the right to choose fossil fuels over electricity.
Why are the policymakers going in this direction? And how do we adjust to a future with all-electric buildings?
First off, you need to understand the motivation behind all-electric buildings. The state passed very aggressive climate regulations that set goals, with dates, for reducing emissions. The first step was to evaluate which industries produce significant emissions in California. Transportation is number one, but the emissions from buildings are not far down the list.
Emissions from buildings are primarily related to using fossil fuels for thermal loads. Thermal loads are “industry speak” for making heat. Space heating and making hot water require vast amounts of energy. In California, most of this energy is supplied by fossil fuels, namely natural gas.
Today, policymakers must explore ways we can meet our state’s aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals. It did not take for them to realize that we cannot meet these goals if we continue to rely on fossil fuel consumption in our buildings. Reducing GHGs is driving the push for all-electric buildings. It really is that simple.
Los Angeles is leading the way in the push to a carbon-free future. The region has enacted strict low nitrous oxide (Ultra Low NOx) emissions regulations. Why? In a word, smog. Smog is visible evidence of the impact of the burning of fossil fuels.
The regional air quality management district requires furnaces and water heaters sold in the LA basin to burn much cleaner than standard models. Manufacturers have stepped up to the demand and provided cleaner burning products. As you might imagine, these Ultra Low NOx units cost more. There is another downside. The clean-burning devices are having issues with reliability.
Contractors in the region have figured out they can avoid the cost and reliability issues by installing electric heat pumps, which produce no on-site emissions. The technology is proven, the cost is on par with existing fossil fuel-based solutions, and there are zero site-produced emissions. The air quality management district is supporting this trend with rebates.
NOx regulations in the LA basis are an example of policy driving changes that lead to unintended consequences. Thankfully, in this case, the result is a push to a cleaner future via electrification.