The nation seems to be adopting electrification as it seeks to minimize climate change. New data published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows that more Americans have taken to electrical sources of home heating than traditional natural gas systems.
Electrification, the process of converting all systems that use fossil fuels to run on electricity, is a growing idea in the United States, and it is central to the Biden Administration’s and the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) plan to address climate change. The end goal of electrification is to then be able to power buildings and other systems with electricity that is produced through renewable energy, such as solar and wind, or other clean energy sources. An obvious example of electrification can be found in the growing popularity and manufacturing of electric vehicles. Electrifying other sectors, such as residential heating, presents many challenges, especially when there is a massive network of existing infrastructure supporting a non-electrified process. In-home heating, which has been dominated by natural gas as a fuel for decades, the existing gas lines and systems already in place provided a barrier to entry that could dissuade individuals from exploring alternative options. However, the EIA report indicates that many consumers have looked past these potential issues, and have embraced alternative electrical sources, primarily heat pumps. According to the report, 69 million households in the U.S. used electricity to heat their homes in 2020, compared to 58 million that used natural gas. Heat pumps accounted for 15 percent of all residential heating sources in the same year. What exactly is a heat pump and how does it differ from a traditional natural gas furnace? Heat pumps do not generate heat, but rather transfer warm air from one space to another. More specifically, they move cool air from warm areas to cooler areas and hot air from cooler areas to warmer areas through an electricity-based process. For example, with respect to home heating, a heat pump would remove cold air from a house, and move it outdoors, while also pulling any warm air from outside into the house. The process leaves the house warmer and the outdoors cooler. The same principles apply to cooling but in reverse. As no heat is generated, and the only electricity necessary is for moving the air, heating pumps provide an energy-efficient way of heating and cooling homes. The goal of residential electrification is still far in the future, but a growing number of states have passed energy laws making electrification a goal and providing funding incentives to homeowners who make the switch. Continued governmental support, such as the federal infrastructure bill passed last year, will continue to be needed to encourage these efforts.