What Is Building Electrification and Why Is it Important?
Building electrification is the process of replacing fossil fuel sources for heating, cooling, and appliances with modern, efficient electrical technology. Building electrification is one of the most important elements in the path to decarbonization.
Residential and commercial buildings account for 53.4% of New Jersey’s total energy consumption (1). New Jersey’s buildings emit 24.6 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per year (2) - equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions for over 5.2 million cars (3). The use of fossil fuels for heating, cooling, and cooking also impacts air quality, not just outdoors but indoors as well, contributing to asthma, heart disease and many other health issues (4).
New Jersey is transitioning our power grid away from fossil fuels and toward electricity. New Jersey’s last two coal-fired power plants retired in May 2022 and our state currently has the largest investment in offshore wind power in the U.S. Our buildings need to make the same transition. This is possible because of several new technologies that make heating and cooling with electricity far more efficient.
Heat Pumps: Energy-Efficient, Cost-Effective HVAC
Many – maybe even most – Americans still assume that electric heat is inefficient and expensive. However, air source heat pumps represent a revolution in electric heating technology and are three to five times more energy-efficient than their natural gas counterparts. Heat pumps can be used for both cooling and heating and newer heat pumps can heat homes even when outdoor temperatures drop to -10 or -20°F. Switching to heating and cooling buildings using heat pumps makes sense environmentally and financially.
Building Electrification Is a Social Justice Issue
In the United States today, 26 million low-income households burn costly, health-damaging, and climate-disrupting fossil fuels inside their homes. In addition to being overburdened by pollution from car, truck and other fossil fuel emissions, communities of color face high energy costs, high housing costs, and poor indoor air quality. Electrifying buildings in low-income communities can help lower cost burdens and protect public health while helping meet the country’s climate goals in a way that benefits all Americans, not just a select few.
Electrify Everything in Your Home
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, over half of the energy used in homes is for heating and air conditioning. While the need for heating and cooling varies based on the season, location, and type of home, the energy used for heating water, lighting and refrigeration is needed fairly consistently year-round. In 2015, water heating, lighting and refrigeration together accounted for 27% of total annual home energy use. The remaining share—21%—of home energy use was for devices such as televisions, cooking appliances, clothes washers, and clothes dryers, as well as a growing list of consumer electronics including computers, tablets, smartphones, video game consoles, and internet streaming devices.”
Many, but not all, of the energy-using appliances in homes are electric. Information about electrifying other appliances, such as induction cooktops, heat pump water heaters and heat pump dryers, is available in Rewiring America’s publication “Electrify Everything in Your Home.”
Promoting Building Electrification Through Education and Policy
Our chapter is working to accelerate New Jersey’s transition from fossil fuels to electricity for heating, cooling and cooking. Guided by the recommendations of the 2019 New Jersey Energy Master Plan and the New Jersey Global Warming Response Act 80x50 Report, we’re providing consumer education and policy recommendations to ease the clean energy transition, especially for those in low- and moderate-income communities.
On a policy level, we are working to improve the Energy Star ratings to incorporate heat pump technologies. We’re working to make heat pumps part of New Jersey’s building codes. We’re asking Governor Murphy to set a goal of installing 1 million heat pumps in New Jersey by 2030, and to prohibit additional LNG gas lines to New Jersey homes. In addition, we’re working with the State Assembly’s Environmental Committee to discuss efforts to support building electrification.
We are also working to promote better understanding of heat pump technology among contractors and consumers. We host a monthly webinar on heat pumps, with invited speakers and personal stories from residents and businesses. Find the next event in the chapter calendar.
Help Us Spread the Good News
Join our Building Electrification team! Contact our Building Electrification Coordinator - Steve Miller firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heat Pump Fact Sheet (Sierra Club)
Electrify Everything in your Home. Building electrification guidebook for homeowners and building managers.
ACEEE Report: Building Electrification Programs and Best Practices. Review of State electrification programs and incentives for residential and commercial buildings.
Decarbonizing Homes: Improving Health in Low-Income Communities through Beneficial Electrification. Rocky Mountain Institute report focusing on beneficial electrification to improve health, especially in low-income communities. https://rmi.org/insight/decarbonizing-homes/
Electrifying U.S. Industry: A Technology- and Process-Based Approach to Decarbonization. Technical Assessment provides an analysis of the current state of industrial electrification needs, the technologies available, and the potential for electrification in thirteen industrial subsectors.
https://climate.smiller.org/REF/.This webpage (frequently updated) lists documents, webinars, and other resources pertaining to building electrification.
1. New Jersey State Profile and Energy Estimates, New Jersey Energy Consumption by Sector, 2019. https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=NJ#tabs-2
2. 2020 New Jersey GWRA 80 X50 Report, p, 38. https://www.nj.gov/dep/climatechange/docs/nj-gwra-80x50-report-2020.pdf#page=59
3. A typical car emits 4.7 metric tons per year (EPA, 24,600,000/4,7= 5234042.553)
4. Effects of Residential Gas Appliances on Indoor and Outdoor Air Quality and Public Health in California, April 2020.