Carol Cross, with contributions from Tom Kabat
Within the circles in which I travel (nerdy climate-change activist types) the question has come up time and again: why are (some) builders against an all-electric code? What’s the attraction of gas infrastructure?
Tom Kabat, an energy and electrification consultant who I believe works in Menlo Park, gave us some answers that I’d like to share with you.
First off, he says California has had a legacy of gas because of being the number one oil producing state in the country in the 1920s. Later came the Warren-Alquist Act of 1974 following the first energy crisis. That act established the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the Energy efficiency Part 6 of the building code Title24. BTW, back then, technologies were less efficient, and the power grid was dirtier with no Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and no Community Choice Energy: think PCE.
Things are much different now, due to major advances in consumer electric space heating and cooling. With electricity we now get 4x the efficiency of gas heating and water heating at 3 to 4x the efficiency of a gas water heater. That, plus faster delivery of hot water than even tankless water heaters, an emergency water supply in the tank for many hours of hot water in a power outage, and induction cooktops surpassing gas in speed, precision, control, cleanliness, and safety make electricity a cost-saving choice.
And the electric portfolio policies have advanced, with all of California headed to 60% renewables (wind, solar, geothermal, etc.) by 2030 and fully carbon neutral by 2045. As you know, it’s already cleaner in the Bay Area: SVCE already at 100% carbon free power and PCE at 90% and headed to 100% by 2022.
He claims (and I believe him) that the construction industry is likely tradition bound and relationship bound. They make money the old-fashioned way, by repeating the same thing that worked last year, generally with the same suppliers and the same subs who may not have been trained in the new electric alternatives. Developers have not sensed customer preference for clean electric technologies and customers don’t know about them because developers don’t offer them. “It’s a lack of chickens and lack of eggs problem.” Meanwhile, we have new information re: the science on methane as a Greenhouse gas. We now understand methane (CH4) is 30 times as warming if it is leaked than if it is burned (oxidized into CO2). Unfortunately, we have also recently learned from aircraft infrared scanning, google map vehicle scanning, and from satellite imagery that much more gas is leaking than the gas industry has reported. You may have seen an article in the SF Chronicle just last week on this very discovery. The amount of gas leakage found by independent researchers more than doubles the climate chaos potential of natural gas and makes it even worse than burning coal.
Of course, there will continue to be some folks trying to make their livings off of gas and they will selectively argue with old inapplicable historic facts hoping the listener is unaware of the modern situation. But the truth is, our kids’ future depend on us getting GHGs out of the atmosphere asap, and electrifying buildings is an easy way to begin to get a handle on the problem. There’s simply no longer a good argument for continuing to build with gas infrastructure.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.