Electrifying our buildings makes so much sense. What holds us back?
In so many ways, electrifying buildings makes sense even without considering carbon reduction goals. What holds us back?
A companion report, “Beneficial Electrification in Colorado: Market Barriers and Policy Recommendations,” identifies 10 market barriers and 8 possible solutions.
The first of the 10 market barriers is limited consumer awareness and demand. Colorado’s residential and commercial building owners are mostly unfamiliar with heat pumps for space heating and water heating. If aware of them at all, they think they work in warmer climates, unaware of advances that now make them efficient to about -13 F.
Then there’s gas cooking. It’s viewed as superior by many to traditional electric stoves. Induction cooktops are still not perceived as a distinct cooking experience. Gas cooking can be unhealthy, because of the fugitive gas, although few people are aware of this drawback.
In short, there’s a lot of education that needs to be done, and at several levels.
But then there are the houses like mine, which is 131 years old and wasn’t exactly designed for heat pumps. (Market Barrier #5)
Utilities must be involved, but they have reservations. The consultants, GDS Associates, identified several perceived problems that the utilities want addressed. One barrier is a Public Utilities Commission rule that prohibits natural gas utilities from incorporating fuel switching away from natural gas in their energy efficiency programs. The consultants talked with five electric utilities, three of which also have natural gas service territories.
Another concern has to do with HB 19-1261, the driver of statewide decarbonization efforts. What if promoting beneficial electrification causes the utilities to increase their emissions from generation of electricity? The utilities want to see protection.
The report recommends several actions to address these perceived risks: a clear rule from the PUC or perhaps legislation to enable PUC rule-making. The goal is the big picture, the reduction in emissions, and how to properly account for that.
The report also calls for the state government to electrify its own buildings, leading by example. It suggests Colorado legislators consider implementing legislation to develop beneficial electrification funds or goals for electric utilities and funding for state-sponsored programs.
“Beneficial electrification in buildings is unlikely to substantially increase its market share over the coming decade without considerable programmatic support. Other states have developed utility-sponsored programs to support the market with incentives, technical support, and related market development activities
The report also recommends workforce development initiatives to ensure that electrification becomes a part of technical training apprenticeships and professional licensures.
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In this transition from gas to electricity in homes, one critical element will be ensuring equity. The worry is that low- and moderate-income households may end up burdened with covering a disproportionate share of stranded costs for a natural gas system for which others no longer have need. This in particular is a concern for rural Colorado.
A similar concern was raised by the Office of Consumer Counsel in a settlement agreement reached in June among Xcel, the Colorado Energy Office, and several others. In that settlement, the stakeholders agreed —if the PUC agrees—to have discussions to help wrangle through some of the issues about beneficial electrification for buildings during the next year.
The report also recommends that Colorado study closely what other states—most notably California, New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont—have already done to speed along beneficial electrification. — Allen Best
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