Where did people go all electric? Not the places you expect

Dozens of local governments on both coasts have banned natural gas connections in new residential and commercial construction. In response, according to the most recent tally from S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Gas Ban Monitor, 20 state legislatures in the middle of the country have barred local authorities from banning natural gas hookups. At first glance, this looks like another exercise in red-state and blue-state bias and posture that will end badly.

There is, however, an encouraging twist. The aim of those pushing for a ban on gas hookups is to shift all household energy consumption to electricity, the idea being that as electricity becomes greener and greener ( in 2021, approximately 38% of electricity generation in the United States came from non-carbon dioxide emissions). (1) compared to 30% ten years ago), this will put a brake on global warming. And where are you most likely to find an all-electric home in the United States now? In Florida, where 77% of all occupied homes used only electricity for cooking and space and water heating in 2020 and where Governor Ron DeSantis and the legislature banned gas hookups the last year.

In the 20 states that have passed such laws, all-electric homes account for 38% of the total, compared to 18% in the rest of the country. Among the states with the smallest all-electric shares are California, where more than 50 local ordinances now prohibit new gas hookups and state regulations are closing in, and New York, where New York City recently enacted a splicing ban and the state legislature considered one earlier. This year.

These statistics, released this month, are taken from the 2020 edition of the Residential Energy Consumption Survey conducted every few years by the US Energy Information Administration. This is the first time such numbers have been available for all states, although the Census Bureau’s biannual U.S. Housing Survey contains similar information for some major states and metropolitan areas. The EIA withheld data from Vermont and New Mexico on all-electric homes “because either the relative standard error was greater than 50% or fewer than 10 households were in the reporting sample”, which which indicates that their all-electric share is probably quite small.

Beyond switching to electricity, another priority for those hoping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to replace heat pumps with less energy-efficient gas, oil or electric furnaces. The EIA also asked about heat pumps. There are too many states with withheld data to make a map worthwhile, so here’s a chart of the 15 states with the most central heat pumps, which make up nearly two-thirds of the national total and are mostly located in the south.

What you see here are the effects of history, geology and climate rather than political attitudes. States where much of the housing was built before World War II and where gas distribution networks were established a long time ago are less likely to have many all-electric homes. And because until recently, air-source heat pumps shut down when outside temperatures approach freezing, they’re mostly found where it’s rarely that cold. (Ground-source heat pumps work well in cold locations but have a much higher initial cost, and new air-source heat pumps designed for cold climates are just starting to catch on.)

Another way to see the impact of history and geology is to look at where people cook with gas. Seventy percent of Californians do, the highest share of any state. Florida and Maine are tied for last place at just 8%.

You can see why politicians in California and New York place such a premium on electrification – they still have a long way to go! You can also see why they are likely to run into obstacles, given how accustomed their constituents are to cooking with gas. As I wrote before, people don’t tend to get attached to their natural gas furnaces, but they love their Viking ranges. Banning gas hookups in new construction (1) takes nothing away from people who already have them and (2) actually makes life easier for developers and utilities (at least those who supply electricity in plus gas) that can avoid the cost and hassle of installing gas infrastructure. But growing pressure to convert existing gas cookers to electric looks likely to spark opposition even in dark blue areas.

On the other hand, the electrification push is aided by rising temperatures. The share of households without air conditioning is much higher in the West and Northeast than in the rest of the country, but ever hotter summers and lingering smoke from wildfires may change that.

This provides a market opportunity for heat pumps, which, in addition to keeping homes cooler, could also take care of heating needs. In states with high air conditioner usage levels, replacing AC-only systems when they fail with two-way heat pumps presents another big opportunity. It makes me think about how things might play out in gas-ban states, most of which already have plenty of air conditioners. In the best-case scenario, market forces will drive increased electrification regardless of policy, especially in states like Florida where all-electric is already the norm. What’s worse is that using gas for cooking and heating becomes a sort of anti-wake-up statement.

But aside from cooking, for which the evidence is mixed, the electric options seem to be clearly better than their petrol-powered rivals – as in, more energy efficient and also safer given that they don’t require routing power. flammable gas in homes. then burn it. And the gap will only grow as heat pump technology continues to advance and gas furnace technology does not. Plus, there’s no risk that Americans will completely turn their backs on electricity, which they need for their lights, televisions, computers, microwaves and… their second refrigerators.

Given the narrow range of results (from 25% with two or more refrigerators in Maine to 47% in Idaho), I wouldn’t make too much of the geographic breakdown here. Much of the variation between states is within the margin of error. But if a government agency needs to provide ownership data for multiple refrigerators by state, it would be a crime not to map it.

More other writers at Bloomberg Opinion:

When the weather is hot enough to kill: Fickling & Pollard

Talk of an oil market recession is overblown: Javier Blas

Your old fridge is Poutine’s friend. Throw it! : Javier Blas

(1) In order of the quantity of electricity produced, these are nuclear, wind, hydro, solar and geothermal.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Justin Fox is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering business. Former editorial director of Harvard Business Review, he has written for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market”.

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