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Electrify Everything: These Are The Most Important Things To Change ASAP

Mark Jacobson in his book Renewable Energy and Storage for Everything has laid out a plan to convert virtually all energy use in the world from fossil fuel to electricity. He includes such things as steel and concrete production, and high-speed long-distance air travel that most people hadn’t even considered until he did his research and laid out a plan in his articles.

He has also explained in his book how we will generate this electricity in the quickest, most economical, least carbon intensive possible way with wind, water, and solar. Also see my article: “Green Energy: Let’s Do the Quickest Smartest Things First.”

Once electricity is generated in the least carbon intensive way, what conversion from fossil fuel use to electricity can be done quickest, most economically, and with the greatest impact first.

Private Light-Duty Electric Vehicles: I put this first because countries like Norway, Germany, and China are well on their way to totally converting from fossil fuel to battery electric vehicles for new car sales. Many of our readers including myself have already purchased and are for the large part driving EVs and doing our best to evangelize them. This is an extremely visible sector, and if the general public and politicians can see great progress in this area, it will encourage them to address the rest of the problem.

How did Norway, a country with cold temperatures that reduce battery performance and require cabin heating, get to 90% of auto sales being sales of new electric vehicles? 1) High gas prices (if you think gas prices in the US are high now, go to European countries that have very high gas taxes). 2) No sales taxes on EVs (gas vehicles sales are heavily taxed). 3) Free tolls on highways and ferries. 4) Access to bus and HOV lanes. Also, Norway vehicle sales are quite small, so there was no problem with EV manufacturers being able to meet the demand.

However, other countries with somewhat bigger or huge vehicle sales are well on their way, with Germany at 26% and China at 28% of all new EV sales. Germany and China also have incentives and regulations that encourage and require EV adoption.

Most other countries with large vehicle sales have exceeded the 5% or 10% adoption rate that is the typical indicator of a new technology market takeover. Even in the US — where Tesla, GM, and Nissan have nearly or completely exhausted federal subsidies — the new BEV adoption rate has already reached 5.6%. The biggest problem now is switching a massive automotive industry to EVs and manufacturing enough batteries to power them. The market leader, Tesla, will be manufacturing at a rate of 3 million EVs per year in massive factories in Fremont, California; Austin, Texas; Shanghai, China; and Berlin, Germany soon. Tesla Giga Texas is the largest building in the world, 3 times the size of the US pentagon, and will eventually build millions of Model Ys, Model 3s, Cybertrucks, and Tesla Semis per year. But this is still a drop in the bucket in a world market of 67 million new vehicles per year. Other companies like Volkswagen in Europe and BYD in China are also committed to massive expansion of EV manufacturing, with companies like Ford and GM moving forward as well. However, we still have companies like Toyota and Honda that are doing everything they can do slow down the conversion to EVs. The whole industry will need to transition quickly to BEVs to convert entirely to electric propulsion.

Heavy-Duty Electric Vehicles: Even though there are many fewer vehicles in this class, the duty cycle of them is much higher and diesel engines tend to pollute more. Tesla is the main proponent of battery electric propulsion for long-distance heavy-duty vehicles, but even it has delayed the production of the Tesla Semi for several years, mainly because of a lack of sufficient supplies of high-performance batteries. However, many heavy-duty Semis have predictable short-range routes, and numerous companies — such as Volvo, Mercedes, Lion, etc. — are already manufacturing BEVs for this application.

Commercial Electric Vehicles: The duty cycle of fleet vehicles is also often very high. Numerous companies — such as Hertz, Amazon, and Walmart — have placed orders for tens of thousands of BEVs for their businesses. Unfortunately, their suppliers — such as Tesla, Rivian and Canoo — have made relatively few deliveries up to this point. Even the USPS is planning to power 20% of the new vehicles in its massive vehicle replacement program with electricity. We can only hope that enough political pressure can be brought to bear to raise this number to close to 100%.

It is quite possible that total world new electric vehicle adoption will be over 50% of new vehicle sales within 5 years, However, even when it approaches 95%, it will be at least another decade before the total fleet numbers will match those numbers.

Cold Climate Heat Pumps. Credit: US DOE

Electrified Heating and Air Conditioning: All air conditioning has been totally electrified using heat pump technology since widespread adoption began in warm climates in the 1960s. Homes have been warmed by resistance electric baseboard heating for many years. However, resistance heating is not efficient and very expensive compared to fossil gas and oil, which have been the go-to technology for the past 75 years. Heat pumps are the most efficient technology for heating with electricity. Heat pumps have recently become more efficient and can now also be used in cold climates. For the coldest days in super cold climates, they can use resistance heating or a subterranean heat source to continue to function. Also, heat pumps can be used that can efficiently heat and cool with the same unit. Unfortunately, heat pumps for heating have a high upfront cost, which makes them a difficult choice for upgrades and also for furnace replacement when required by furnace failure. For this to happen quickly on a wide scale, substantial government subsidies are required. It is much more practical to install heat pump units which can both heat and cool for new construction. This will only happen on a wide scale if building codes are changed. We are now seeing for the first time that some cities are forbidding fossil gas hookups in new construction. It’s this kind of regulation that will speed up the adoption of two-way heat pump heating and cooling.

Europe in general and Germany in particular are facing the threat of blackmail by cutoff of fossil gas from their Russian supplier. If Germany is going to avoid freezing homes this coming winter, it must conduct a massive conversion to heat pump technology in a very short period of time. It may also get some liquified fossil gas (LNG) by ship from the US and other countries, but that will not nearly compensate for a complete cutoff of the fossil gas pipelines from Russia this winter.

Zero Energy Buildings: I have described how conventional buildings can be heated and cooled without the use of fossil fuels. However, conservation techniques using maximum insulation and totally eliminating air leaks can reduce the energy demand of buildings to near zero. This is a critical step for many homes and buildings.

Electric Shipping: This is another area where one might guess that electric propulsion would be impossible. However, new short-range ferries and other ships are now being powered by batteries and electric motors. It is not conceivable how to do this for huge ships that are under sail for weeks across the oceans. New technology, such as vertical rotating sails and kite type sails, have been developed to reduce fossil fuel use in long-distance shipping by up to 20%. However, it is most likely only possible to use electricity in two steps to power long-distance shipping. Excess electricity from wind farms and solar fields can be used to make green hydrogen, and fuel cells can turn that hydrogen back into electricity to power long-distance carbon-free shipping.

Electric Aviation: Many companies are expending large efforts to use battery technology and electric motors to power short-range commuter aircraft and drone-type vertical takeoff aircraft. As battery technology improves, these aircraft will have longer and longer range. Mid-range aircraft would most likely be electrically powered through the use of green hydrogen and fuel cells. Long-range aircraft would need to be powered by directly burning green hydrogen or using it to make green jet fuel.

Electric Steel and Cement Production: I am not an expert in this technology, but I assume it would require using green hydrogen burned directly or as part of a needed type of green fuel. Explore our green steel and cement archives for more on those topics.

Electric Everything: I wrote a series of articles under the title “Electric Everything” for CleanTechnica that list how almost everything my readers and I could think of is becoming available in battery electric versions. However, most of them would not have a huge effect on the amount of fossil fuel reduction compared to the items listed above.

Comments: Please use the comments section to add the things I have missed or give your take on how we can electrify everything.

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Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler, PhD, former leader of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization & Analysis Laboratory (creator of this iconic image), and avid CleanTechnica reader. Also: Research Meteorologist (Emeritus) at NASA GSFC, Adjunct Professor at Viterbo University On-Line Studies, PSIA L2 Certified Alpine Ski Instructor at Brighton Utah Ski School.


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