Opinion: Heed the Cry, Electrify
Pictured Above: Mini-split air source heat pump air conditioning and heating units are now designed to work well under harsh winter conditions.
by Anshul Gupta and Gordian Raacke
The most recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, prepared and reviewed by thousands of scientists and experts from 195 countries, spell a grim climate prognosis following the failure of the world’s leading carbon polluters to take meaningful action, due in large part to the well-documented disinformation campaigns by the fossil-fuel industry.
Meanwhile, climate deterioration marked by the growing frequency and intensity of fires, floods, droughts, and extreme-weather events is tracking even worse than scientists’ predictions. Barring immediate concerted efforts, our world could be unrecognizable by the end of the century.
The end of the century is within the lifetime of a child born today.
The ramifications of climate collapse go far beyond rising temperatures and oceans. Even those fortunate enough to dodge its worst physical impacts would not escape the consequences of mass migrations, geopolitical upheavals, biodiversity loss, and ecosystem disruptions.
This winter’s balmy weather may not have been bothersome to many, but we’ll likely see an overabundance of all kinds of pests in the spring and summer, including deadly ticks, on Long Island.
The Island is already among the regions hit the hardest in New York State by costly disasters related to climate change. Its renowned pine barrens are being decimated by the northward spread of the southern pine beetle. Scallop harvests have plummeted by 98% and ocean acidification could wipe out other shellfish populations, as well.
Parts of the East End could become an archipelago by the end of the century as rising seas permanently submerge low-lying areas. Saltwater intrusion into aquifers will render water supplies undrinkable. Hurricanes of heightened intensity could demolish entire communities.
Recognizing the shrinking window to make amends, governments worldwide have been spurred into action in recent years, and nearly all countries promised a global concerted effort in Paris in 2015.
As the world’s eleventh largest economy, New York State has a critical role in this endeavor, and it passed a landmark climate law, The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), in 2019, aligning the state’s climate goals with the targets of the Paris Climate Accord.
Reducing our carbon emissions at the required speed and scale will undoubtedly entail wading through thorny issues and making tough choices. The inconvenient truth is that we can either commence a controlled, orderly transition now, or soon face a chaotic, disruptive one from climate and ecological collapse.
In order to succeed in the challenging but essential task of decarbonizing its economy, New York will need to embrace an all-electric future and mostly get off fossil fuels.
Electrification is the approach espoused by almost all experts because the entire economy would naturally decarbonize following a greening of the electric grid, as Long Island’s is poised to with the imminent addition of solar, battery storage, and offshore wind power.
Major electric utilities like LIPA and Con Edison have endorsed this scenario. This is also the most cost-effective and energy-efficient decarbonization strategy because electric vehicles and heat pumps use only a fraction of the energy of their fuel-based counterparts. EV sales are already booming because owners prefer their handling, fuel efficiency, and low maintenance. Many builders and home buyers are choosing affordable and superior all-electric homes.
With the US becoming the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas, the era of cheap gas is over and just like gasoline, we now see gas heating costs soar in response to geopolitical disturbances. To make matters worse, new gas hookups costing thousands of dollars each are given away mostly for free and their more than 200 million dollars of annual cost is tacked onto everyone’s delivery charges.
Not only would it be cheaper to construct and heat new buildings with highly efficient and reliable cold-climate heat pumps, but a switch to all-electric construction could also offer existing gas customers future cost reprieves.
Like many climate solutions, electrification comes with significant health and economic benefits. The outdoor pollution from fossil fuels in New York’s buildings is estimated to be responsible for about 2,000 deaths each year, with about $22 billion in associated healthcare costs.
Similarly, indoor pollution from leakage and combustion of gas is linked to myriad health risks, including asthma among children and dementia among the elderly.
According to the 2022 Clean Energy Industry Report, New York’s clean energy jobs grew 13 percent over five years compared to an 11 percent decline in conventional energy over the same period. Due to tax credits from the federal Inflation Reduction Act, the more EVs and heat pumps are sold in New York, the fewer tax dollars will flow out of the state. On the other hand, burning fossil fuels that New York doesn’t produce drains funds from the state.
Electrification of our homes and vehicles also has the potential to improve safety. Just like we stock up on groceries before storms, we’ll be able to stock up on electrons.
A fully charged Ford F-150 Lighting can easily power an induction cooktop, a heat-pump water heater, and a small mini-split or a space heater for two to three days in an emergency. On the road, a half-charged battery of a stranded EV can run the seat warmers for a couple of days – something that will deplete a conventional vehicle’s fuel in hours.
By the time the CLCPA’s mandates fully take effect in the middle of the next decade, these technologies will be much cheaper and more versatile with advances in microgrids and vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-vehicle charging.
None of these benefits have prevented the fossil fuel industry and its allies from attempting to delay and dilute the provisions of New York’s climate law with their decades-old playbook of sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Not surprisingly, electrification is a major target of disinformation by special interests with culture wars over gas stoves and fear mongering over grid capacity, power failures, and cold climate, etc.
In reality, heat pumps and Long Island are a match made in heaven. With relatively mild winters, the homes here won’t need to install top-gun units. LIPA’s electric load peaks at around five gigawatts in the summer but barely makes it to three gigawatts in the winter. Adding winter load will spread the fixed grid costs over more usage and reduce per kilowatt-hour delivery prices. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), 26 percent of US homes are already all-electric and 57 percent rely on electricity for cooking. A majority of Americans do not cook on gas.
Even fossil fueled heating doesn’t work during power failures without expensive generators. A look at poweroutage.us would reveal that power outages are uncommon beyond severe weather events, but HVAC technicians and plumbers rescue thousands of shivering customers from broken boilers, furnaces, and water heaters almost every winter day.
Washington recently became the first state in the nation to mandate electric heat pumps for heating, cooling, and hot water in all new buildings starting July 2023. Much-colder Montreal’s ban on fossil fuels in new construction starts next year, and 80 percent of new cars sold in Norway are now pure electric. The technology is ready, the economics are favorable, all we need for saving money while saving lives is to muster the political courage to stand up to special interests and hasten the transition to all-electric buildings and transportation.
Anshul Gupta is a Steering Committee member of the Climate Reality Project’s NYS Coalition. Gordian Raacke is executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island.