Fight Climate Change by Decarbonizing your Home with Strategic Electrification

Jeff Gross

A typical Connecticut house is quite old, with a median construction date of 1964; in fact a full 22% of Connecticut homes were built before 1939 (Connecticut House Data from TownCharts). If you live in a typical Connecticut home, you have inherited decades-old ways of heating and cooling your house, fed by fuel oil trucked to your door or gas delivered via pipeline. Both fuels, of course, are carbon-intensive, subject to swings in market price, and can be inherently dangerous to store or consume. 

Fortunately, new options have come to the New England market that replace or supplement these legacy approaches and provide at least equivalent comfort and convenience compared to oil or gas. These options use smarter designs to multiply the value of an input unit of energy substantially – by a factor of three or four compared to legacy approaches, with the potential to reduce costs. New solutions are available to replace all the energy-intensive home applications, including space heating and cooling, domestic hot water, gas or electric ranges, and clothes dryers. Of course, LED lighting is already an established technology and provides efficiencies ten times greater than its predecessor, incandescent light bulbs. 

Many of these appliances take advantage of a century-old invention, heat pumps, which are familiar as compressors used in refrigerators and conventional air conditioning. Today’s innovations lie not only in more efficient components and sophisticated electronic controls, but also in clever packaging. For example, heat pumps can either heat or cool, so it is possible to replace a furnace and an air conditioner with a single modern unit. In other cases, both heating and cooling are used simultaneously, such as in a ventless clothes dryer, where heat is needed to evaporate moisture from the fabrics and cold is needed to condense moisture—before recirculating the air again to the heat stage.

Why might you consider such devices to replace, say, a gas or electric hot water heater that is at the end of its life? Certainly, lower lifecycle costs are compelling, not to mention that subsidies are generally available to defray the higher initial purchase price. Convenience and comfort are also selling points as the new devices provide more precise and easily modulated heating, cooling, or cooking. 

Just as importantly, however, these devices can entirely replace your direct dependence on fossil fuels by using smaller amounts of energy from the electric grid. In addition, the grid already boasts higher renewable content and thus lower carbon emissions than any direct fossil fuel usage. In the future, as market forces and regulatory oversight force utilities to increase wind, solar, and distributed generation, any appliances deployed today will automatically operate more cleanly, without the homeowner needing to make additional investments.

Fight Climate Change by Decarbonizing yo

A progressively decarbonizing grid is the basic premise of what is called Strategic Electrification, which also envisions a transformation to a more efficient distributed model where local generation (such as residential or community solar) interacts with smart devices (such as the devices outlined above). This will provide a cleaner, lower cost, and more reliable source of energy for daily life. 

If you are interested in a more hands-on introduction to these solutions, please join our webinar on January 14 to see Connecticut residents demonstrate in their homes a selection of such devices: Fight Climate Change by Electrifying your Home.

Jeff Gross is Chair of Sierra Club Connecticut’s Clean Transportation for All Committee.