A few of us have long advocated for the all-electric home as an important way to address climate change. To go all-electric, the key strategy is to reduce electric loads by installing light-emitting diode (LED) lighting, top Energy Star electric appliances, and electric heat pumps for drying clothes, heating water, and providing space heating/cooling. Adding an electric car to the package is another potent reducer of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), for gas-powered cars and light trucks contribute 22 percent of GHG chemicals to the atmosphere. Moreover, the all-electric home has the potential to generate the needed power with onsite renewables, principally photovoltaic modules. The result is a zero-net-energy (ZNE) home that is carbon neutral.
But even without the renewable-energy component, the all-electric home makes sense. According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, electricity generated in the U.S. in 2018 came principally from coal (32 percent of the mix), natural gas (29 percent), and nuclear power (22 percent). Solar and wind together accounted for just over 8 percent.
Going back a decade to 2008, also per the Lawrence Livermore Lab, the portion from coal constituted 51 percent of the total. In other words, coal dropped from 51 percent to 32 percent as an input for U.S. electricity in just 10 years. Natural gas as a component of electrical energy generation went up, but only by about half of the decrease from coal. The other half of the reduction was made up for by solar and wind. Together, they realized approximately a six-fold growth.
Looking back even further in time, roughly 40 years, to the late 1970s, the big change has been essentially the elimination of petroleum and liquid natural gas from electricity generation. Fossil fuel went from about 19 percent of the electricity energy mix to about a half percent today.
The big takeaway from these trends is that electricity keeps getting cleaner. Petroleum is almost completely gone, coal is rapidly disappearing, and solar and wind are beginning to take off. Homeowners and businesses often must choose between electricity and natural gas. Electricity is clearly the better choice for the environment. Natural gas, if anything, is probably getting dirtier, with all the environmental issues around fracking and the other methods of high-intensity extraction.
There are safety factors that favor electricity as well: the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from gas water heaters and other gas appliances. Such appliances can also depressurize your home, which can lead to drawing in bad or even toxic air from an attached garage or from the crawl space.
Extreme weather events are causing growing anxiety about utility power outages. These do not diminish the advantages of going all-electric but are best addressed through a combination of solar panels and onsite battery storage, topics for future articles.