If you’re trying to climb out of a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging. Our world is trying to climb out of the climate disruption hole being created by greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, we keep drilling, building pipelines, and connecting buildings to fossil fuels in the form of fracked methane, which has more global warming potential than coal. To avoid catastrophic climate disruption, it must stop – and soon.

Every new building MUST be constructed to consume only electricity. And that electricity should be generated from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, waves, or anything else that doesn’t worsen climate change. Every home, apartment, office, store, warehouse, and factory must perform all its functions without releasing ANY greenhouse gas pollution. Anyone who contributes to the construction of a building – whether it’s with their hands, mind, capital, or services – must do everything they can to make it compatible with a future free of greenhouse gases.

The Building Commitment

Buildings last for decades, and if they are well designed and built, they could last for centuries. When a person designs or builds any modern structure they are making a commitment on behalf of their community, nation, and planet to the long-term energy consumption of that building. The energy required for heating, cooling, lighting, and equipment is locked in. Our economy, our energy resources, and our atmosphere will need to support that building for its entire life. While it’s possible to retrofit a building, it’s far less expensive, less trouble, and it simply makes more sense to build them correctly in the first place. We can no longer afford to wait until a building needs to be replaced before making the transition from fossil energy to renewable energy.

Fossil Methane

Coal and petroleum have already been phased out of new buildings. We must now sever the connection between buildings and greenhouse gas generating fossil methane, or natural gas. Let’s face it, there is nothing natural about natural gas. Natural gas is a fossil deposit similar to coal or petroleum. Methane itself is roughly 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, making direct leakage into the atmosphere a serious problem. Burning fossil methane also releases these potent greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The highest level of CO2 ever recorded during human existence just occurred in 2019 – and increasing methane emissions will make this much worse. Fossil methane is not a “cleaner” alternative to other fossil fuels. Nor is it a bridge fuel to bide time. Time is up. All fossil fuels, including methane, must be phased out immediately. It is totally counterproductive to make a multi-decade commitment to yet another climate disrupting fuel.

All-Purpose Electricity

On the other hand, electricity can be created entirely from renewable energy sources – sources that release zero carbon or other greenhouse gases into our Earth’s atmosphere.

In residential buildings, natural gas is used for space heating, water heating, and cooking. All of these can be cost-effectively accomplished with off-the-shelf, highly energy-efficient electric technologies. An air source heat pump will maintain a comfortable indoor temperature in both heating and cooling seasons. The same heat pump technology provides abundant hot water. An induction cooktop cooks faster, is easier to fine tune than a gas range, and does not pollute indoor air. Heat pump clothes dryers, are gentler on clothes and are highly energy efficient. Anything natural gas can do, electricity can do better.

Heat Pump Technology

Heat pumps are central to this transition, because the overall energy efficiency of the system is much higher than burning fossil methane. However, heat pumps need to advance to the next generation to optimize their contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The refrigerants currently used in heat pumps have a high global warming potential (GWP) if they escape into the atmosphere. Low GWP refrigerants are available and should be more widely used to further improve the overall benefits of heat pump technology. Examples of these new devices, such as the Sanden Heat Pump Water Heater, are already available on the market.

Direct Cost

Electricity as a fuel is currently more expensive than fossil methane, but the electrical equipment used on site is far more energy efficient, helping level the playing field. For example, the combustion efficiency of most gas water heating tanks is around 62%. That means that only 62% of the heat content of the fuel is converted to hot water in the tank. The rest is wasted energy that escapes up the flue. The best tankless gas water heaters are around 96% efficient. Better, but still limited. A good heat pump water heater is around 300% efficient, meaning that each unit of electric energy purchased turns into three units of hot water in the tank. So homeowners pay less for hot water.

Indirect Cost

Can we afford to shift away from fossil methane? The answer is, we can’t afford NOT to! The science is very clear: fossil fuels drive climate change. Fossil methane seems inexpensive, because the industry is subsidized with cheap access to government land, tax breaks, free use of transportation infrastructure, and free use of the atmosphere as a dumping ground for air pollution. But the present and future costs of climate change are not included in the purchase price. Massive floods, wildfires, drought, famine, ever stronger tornadoes and hurricanes, and massive human migrations are the “second-hand smoke” from society’s addiction to fossil fuels. Gas explosions and fires are happening more frequently as pipelines age without adequate maintenance. The cost to public health and safety is far higher than the price paid at the gas meter. Clean, renewable energy benefits everyone.

Infrastructure Savings

Every home, commercial building, and neighborhood needs electricity for lights, appliances, and equipment, etc. For that reason, electricity is delivered to almost every location and is far more widely available than fossil methane. This system is already in place. Why should we invest valuable capital for redundant energy infrastructure? In California, consumers would save from $130 to $540 per year simply by NOT installing fossil methane connections to homes. It is past time for the entire economy to transition to one energy infrastructure that can integrate and distribute energy from all renewable sources.

Energy Efficiency First

There is more to this paradigm shift than switching away from greenhouse gas producing fuel sources. An essential step on this transition will be to construct each building to the highest standard of energy efficiency. The building shell must be designed and built to minimize energy needs. Then, equipment within the building must be the most energy efficient available. Solar electric and battery systems should be installed on-site whenever possible. Combining energy-efficient construction with all-electric buildings is an essential step to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

The All-Electric Future

The age of fossil methane is over. Electricity is the fuel of the future. It can be generated from cheap, abundant renewable energy resources. Modern heat pumps, highly energy-efficient appliances, and other technologies make it less expensive for consumers than today’s greenhouse gas emitting status quo. All-electric buildings are safer and easier to manage. As utility transmission and distribution evolves into a “smart” grid, it will become more resilient and easily grow to meet future demand. And renewable-sourced electricity provides us with the only realistic means by which we can preserve our modern lifestyle while effectively reducing greenhouse gases. From this day forward, all buildings MUST be all electric.