On a recent Sunday afternoon, I went to a room in the basement of a library in Upper Arlington, Ohio, for the first meeting of a group trying to go all-electric and ditch fossil fuels.
About a dozen people were there, plus the organizers: Madeline Fleisher, an environmental lawyer whom I’ve known for years, and Andy Leber, an Ohio State University psychology professor whom I was just meeting. Both are leaders of community sustainability organizations in the suburbs of Columbus.
I was there because I wanted to write about it, but also because I’ve long thought about going all-electric in my house. My century-old home in Columbus has a furnace, water heater and range that run on natural gas.
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I imagined that a conversion would mean a giant, multiphase project with a bunch of contractors and a heartburn-inducing cost. And, I was troubled by the fact that I couldn’t get reliable information about how my monthly energy costs would change.
But it turns out that I don’t need to make this transition all in one giant step, as Fleisher and Leber explained.
I could start by buying an electric range, which would help to allay my concerns about indoor air quality from burning natural gas.
Then, I could replace my gas water heater with one that runs on electricity. I could save the most expensive and complicated part—the switch to electric heating—for later.
But to do any of this, I need to start thinking about it today.
“Number one is to plan ahead,” Fleisher said.
Often, when we replace a furnace, water heater or stove, it is under duress. One of those pieces of equipment has died and we need a new one as soon as possible. That’s not the time to begin to explore an electric option.
To make the switch, you probably need to upgrade the power outlets that the new equipment will use, and may need to make additional improvements to the house’s wiring or the main electric panel. To do this the right way, you want to get several estimates from electricians.
Also, you may need to wait weeks or longer to get delivery of some of the best electric appliance options.
In my case, my range and water heater are old enough to replace but show no signs of breaking down any time soon.
I have time to do my research and get the work done in an orderly way.
Estimate the Costs
If I wanted to upgrade my main electric panel, wiring and outlets all at once, and buy all new appliances, the answer is “more than I can afford.”
But I can switch to electric cooking for a cost of about $1,000 for a new range plus maybe $300 for electrical upgrades.
By starting with the range, I also give myself time to get more information about how to go about the bigger changes, like the switch to electric heat.
In the long run, I would like to get my heating and air conditioning from an air source heat pump, and stop using my gas furnace. But to do this the right way, I need to add insulation and plug air leaks throughout the house. To be truly effective, especially in cold climates, a heat pump needs to be operating in a space with few air leaks.
A heat pump is an electric system that functions like an air conditioner to provide cooling in the summer, and also can run in reverse and provide heat in the winter. The technology has been around for decades, but the new models released in the last few years are reaching new heights of efficiency.
The Inflation Reduction Act contains incentives designed to help with many aspects of making our homes more energy efficient. Fleisher has a rundown on her blog, including tax credits for home energy audits, insulation and efficient appliances. Her blog, called Climate Smart Handbook, contains lots more advice and analysis about switching to clean energy.
The big question I still don’t have an answer to is about monthly energy costs. I’d like to know how my bills are likely to change if I go from natural gas to electric.
Fleisher and Leber said they haven’t been able to find a satisfactory answer either, despite lots of trying.
“It drives me nuts,” Fleisher said.
RMI, the nonprofit research organization, has done modeling that shows heat pumps lead to net savings over the lifetime of the equipment compared to using natural gas.
But that doesn’t tell me what the costs would be in the specific conditions of my house.
Consider an EV
Compared to the complexity of converting a house to all-electric, buying an electric vehicle is a breeze.
Leber explained that the biggest thing most people can do to reduce their use of fossil fuels is to switch to an EV.
This is part of the discussion of home electrification because most people who own EVs do the bulk of their charging at home. The charging equipment is an add-on expense for most EVs, but some automakers include it with the vehicle.
Most people will need to upgrade their wiring to allow for charging that is fast enough to get to nearly full power overnight. Also, companies are working to introduce bi-directional charging, which can charge a vehicle and also allow the vehicle to provide power to the house during a power outage.
Cars are responsible for roughly half of a household’s carbon emissions, Leber said, which is in line with calculations I’ve seen from other sources. For houses that heat with gas, space heating is about one-fourth of emissions. Cooking is less than 5 percent.
Fleisher and Leber organized the session because they want to go all-electric in their homes and want to help others do the same.
The two friends are hoping to find like-minded neighbors to form a co-op of sorts to share information about the best contractors and appliances, and share experiences. They are responding to a lack of information in the marketplace, with few local contractors who are comfortable with electric conversions.
And, they are coming to this with strong personal interests in sustainability.
Fleisher is now a staff attorney for a corporation that makes insulation, and previously worked for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, an advocacy group active across the Midwest. She also is the leader of Sustainable Upper Arlington, a community organization in the inner-ring Columbus suburb where she and her family live.
Leber teaches in the psychology department at Ohio State, specializing in neuroscience. He and his family live in Grandview Heights, an inner-ring suburb right next to Upper Arlington, and he is the leader of Sustainable Grandview.
Both of them have rooftop solar, which, if they can stop burning natural gas, will mean that nearly all of their home energy use will be coming from renewable sources.
I can’t do rooftop solar because of the gigantic—and beautiful—tree to my house’s immediate south, which means solar panels wouldn’t get enough light to be worthwhile.
But I can do everything else, with proper planning. And, thanks to this session, I feel like I have a better idea of how to take the first steps.
Other stories about the energy transition to take note of this week:
For China’s Auto Market, Electric Isn’t the Future. It’s the Present: Consumers in China are on pace to buy more new electric vehicles this year than the rest of the world combined. EVs and plug-in hybrids are now about one-fifth of the Chinese market that is shifting from a focus on government subsidies to market competition based on features and pricing, as Daisuke Wakabayashi and Claire Fu report for The New York Times. Strong demand for EVs is a bright spot in an otherwise sluggish Chinese economy. Meanwhile, the United State is far behind in EV market share and in development of domestic manufacturing capacity for making EVs and batteries. The Inflation Reduction Act contains provisions to make the country more competitive, but China is far ahead.
Manchin Pulls His Permitting Bill, but It’s Not Dead Yet: The U.S. Senate has passed a key budget bill, but it doesn’t include Sen. Joe Manchin’s measure that would ease permitting of energy projects. Manchin (D-West Virginia) pulled his plan from the larger bill once it became clear that there wasn’t enough support to pass it. But the permitting measure is still the subject of bipartisan talks that may lead to it resurfacing in some other form, as Jeremy Dillon, Nick Sobczyk and Emma Dumain report for E&E News. Manchin’s plan faced opposition from progressives who said it would lead to a boom in fossil fuel projects, and from conservatives who said it didn’t go far enough. But some supporters of clean energy have argued that permitting reform is necessary to accelerate the transition to clean energy. “I’m very open-minded to whatever the next steps are,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “I think everyone’s going to have to take a breath and regroup, but permitting reform is essential for our climate goals.”
GM to Invest $760 Million in Toledo Plant to Make Important Part for EVs: General Motors has said it will invest $760 million at its Toledo Propulsion Systems plant to prepare to make drive units for electric vehicles. The automaker said the drive units will be used in the 2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV, 2024 GMC Sierra EV and GMC Hummer EVs, as Jamie L. La Reau reports for the Detroit Free Press. The drive units convert electric power from the battery pack to the motion of the wheels.
Exxon’s Long-Shot Embrace of Carbon Capture Area Just Got Massive Support from Congress: ExxonMobil’s vision of the future includes oil refineries that continue to distill crude oil and fossil fuel power plants that continue to churn away, too. The energy giant has proposed a massive project in the Houston area that would allow those facilities to keep operating in a carbon-constrained world by capturing and storing the carbon. And that proposal stands to get billions of dollars in assistance from the federal government, as my colleague Nick Kusnetz reports. If Exxon and its partners meet their 2030 goals for Houston, they stand to receive more than $4 billion per year from taxpayers for up to 12 years. “Paying them to do this is paying a ransom on the planet,” said Corey Williams, who until recently served as the research and policy director at Air Alliance Houston, an environmental advocacy group.
Inside Clean Energy is ICN’s weekly bulletin of news and analysis about the energy transition. Send news tips and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.