File this one under Y for Yikes! Natural gas investors in the US are already beset with a flooded market, sinking prices, accusations of Ponzi style business models, a mounting pile of evidence that fossil gas is not “cleaner” than coal, competition from low cost renewable energy, and local pushback against new pipelines. Now here comes another party heard from: the city of Berkeley, California, which has just banned gas hookups for certain types of new buildings constructed after January 1, 2020.
Natural Gas And Building Electrification: It’s Complicated
To be clear, all-electric buildings still consume natural gas if they are hooked up to a grid that includes gas power plants.
That’s the bad news for fans of climate action. The good news is that natural gas is beginning to lose its share of the US power generation market to wind and solar. Building electrification will help accelerate the demand for renewables.
In that regard, the building electrification movement is analogous to the emergence of the electric vehicle trend. EVs do support the fossil fuel supply chain when they are charged from a power grid that includes fossil power plants. However, EVs have also helped to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. The EV-related forces in support of wind and solar include EV owners and EV manufacturers (GM is a good example), charging systems companies, and the construction industry (looking at you, KB Home and Ford).
A similar wave of support for renewable energy is building from appliance manufacturers and other stakeholders in the building electrification movement.
That includes utilities, which are looking for ways to revalue the electricity grid in the face of slack demand.
California Says Buh-Bye To Natural Gas In Buildings
Local policy makers are also weighing in on building electrification. One good example is California, where regulators have long acted aggressively to control emissions from vehicles. Buildings are the next-most common source of greenhouse gas emissions in California and elsewhere, and that’s where the attention is focusing now.
That brings us to the City of Berkeley, which just became the first municipality in California to ban natural gas hookups for some new buildings, beginning at the last stroke of midnight on December 31 of this year.
Reporter Emilie Raguso of Berkeleyside.com has the story on the city’s transition to building electrification. Follow the link to support local journalism, but for those of you on the go, the gist of it is pretty simple: no new natural gas pipes for many types of new buildings in Berkeley.
The reason is pretty straightforward, too. Like many other local governments, Berkeley has set ambitious goals for reducing gas greenhouse emissions, and the numbers work against natural gas in buildings. In Berkeley, natural gas accounts for 73% of greenhouse gas emissions related to buildings, so out it goes.
As always, the devil is in the details. The new ordinance only applies to building types that are already under the analytic umbrella of the California Energy Commission. There are other exemptions as well.
However, exempted buildings must still be constructed with the capability of switching to electricity in the future. The regulations also automatically update to include additional building types as CEC expands its modeling.
Et Tu, Brute? US Energy Department Advises On Renewables
The US Department of Energy has been cheerleading for natural gas all throughout the Trump* administration (at the expense of coal, but whatever). Nevertheless, DOE is also aggressively pursuing wind and solar energy — which are now threatening gas’s grip on power generation in the US.
That dynamic is also at work in the building sector. Energy efficiency in buildings is a major focus of DOE research dollars, and the agency draws a connection between renewables and electrification:
Before you design a new home or remodel an existing one, consider investing in energy efficiency. You’ll save energy and money, and your home will be more comfortable and durable. The planning process is also a good time to look into a renewable energy system that can provide electricity, water heating, or space heating and cooling….
DOE also makes a pitch for ultra-efficient, all-electric homes:
…By advantage of local climate and site conditions, designers can often also incorporate passive solar heating and cooling and energy-efficient landscaping strategies. The intent is to reduce home energy use as cost-effectively as possible, and then meet the reduced load with on-site renewable energy systems.
What, no gas hookup? Do tell!
DOE continues to support research that improves energy efficiency for natural gas used in buildings, but that’s not a win-win for natural gas. Efficiency is one of the trends tamping down demand.
The building electrification movement is also getting some love from the construction industry, which sees an opportunity for cutting costs by eliminating gas hookups.
Electrification could also provide a pathway for building more affordable housing, more quickly. For some insights on that score CleanTechnica is reaching out to the Rocky Mountain Institute. RMI has been spearheading the electrification movement, deploying an approach similar to the Sierra Club’s successful Beyond Coal campaign, so stay tuned.
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