It’s no secret that energy costs have risen this winter, and many Americans are feeling the pinch of their wallets when they turn up the heat for warmth. Why are the prices so high right now? It comes down to the uncertainty of supply and demand in the fossil fuel industry. Few commodities are as sensitive to price fluctuations as oil and gas – for example, the unit price of “natural” (fossil) gas has increased by more than 500% in the last 18 months. Since more than 60% of homes in the United States are heated with “natural” gas or other fossil fuels, consumers are extremely vulnerable to higher heating bills as prices fluctuate. Low-income residents and communities of color, who already face the highest energy loads, are the most vulnerable to price spikes. So how can families stay comfortable in their homes today, while keeping their long-term energy bills low and reducing carbon emissions? The answer is twofold: energy efficiency and super efficient electric heat pumps for heating and hot water.
Start with efficiency
Improving your home’s energy efficiency will go a long way to avoiding wasted heat, while improving comfort and reducing energy costs. Less energy use also helps reduce global warming emissions generated when fossil fuels are used for heating or power generation, which in turn reduces your home’s carbon footprint. Buildings offer a huge opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: switching to efficient electric heating systems and appliances powered by clean electricity could cut the country’s carbon emissions by a billion tonnes per year.
Efficiency improvements can be simple and cost-effective, from weatherproofing by sealing problem areas around windows and doors to reduce drafts, to adding insulation in walls and attics, to investing in more efficient appliances and equipment. Nearly 80% of homes in the United States were built in 1999 or earlier, before the advent of modern building energy codes designed to reduce energy waste, which means that the bulk of homes in the country are minimal. isolated. Additionally, the efficiency of appliances and equipment has increased dramatically over the past few decades, thanks to improved federal energy efficiency standards. This means that if you’re still heating your home with that 1970s or 80s furnace or heat pump, it’s going to cost a lot more to operate than a modern model.
A great place to start is to have a home energy assessment, where a professional will take a comprehensive look at your home to provide personalized recommendations on how to save energy and money. Many utility companies and states offer programs to offset the cost of this service – and energy efficiency upgrades often pay for themselves in terms of energy bill savings.
Free yourself from fossil fuels thanks to efficient electrification
First, homes need to be weatherized to reduce overall energy demand, which homeowners can do today. Insulation and air sealing act like a blanket for your home, keeping you warm and comfortable while preventing heated (or cooled!) air from escaping through cracks and gaps. Next, the main energy consuming systems in the house – space heating, air conditioning and water heating – should be powered by efficient electrical equipment. High-efficiency heat pumps are three to five times more efficient than typical gas-fired equipment for heating water and indoor spaces, and the equipment is readily available on the market. Efficient heat pumps save money over gas appliances in most cases today and will save more and more as gas prices continue to rise faster than electricity prices. This combination of efficiency and electrification will reduce bills and emissions.
Next, the power grid. Electrically heated homes are now largely insulated from price volatility, as electric utilities have diversified and hedged portfolios of energy resources, and renewables, which cost virtually nothing to exploit, represent an increasingly important part of the total supply. Last fall, the US Energy Information Administration predicted that retail heating oil prices would rise 30-54% from the previous winter. In contrast, retail electricity bills are only expected to increase by about 6%.
America’s electricity supply is cleaner than ever, with renewables accounting for about 20% of the energy used to generate electricity and growing rapidly. Renewables will continue to make up an increasing share of the electricity grid over time, making electricity prices less sensitive to price increases from the volatile fossil fuel industry – and unlike fossil fuels , renewable energy will never run out. As the network becomes cleaner, each building connected to this cleaner network will therefore emit fewer pollutants. Likewise, well-insulated buildings with high-performance equipment put less pressure on the network, avoid peaks in demand and keep costs more stable for everyone.
Utility bills can be further reduced if customers have access to electricity rates that reflect the varying cost of supplying energy at different times of the day. These time-of-use rates allow homeowners to save money on paying for their larger appliances, such as the car charger, heat pump water heater, washer or dryer, etc. to operate when electricity is cheapest, most abundant and likely to be generated from the cleanest sources.
With an electrical grid rapidly becoming cleaner, investing in energy efficiency and electrification will result in homes that are more comfortable, use less energy, have lower energy bills and are better to live in. Burning fossil fuels inside homes releases air pollutants that can exacerbate existing respiratory and health problems. In heavily polluted areas, especially in low-income communities that experience disproportionately poor air quality, such improvements are badly needed.
Turning vision into reality
To achieve this vision, we need supportive policies at all levels of government, especially to ensure that low-income tenants and homeowners have access to home energy improvements. This includes appliance efficiency standards that promote low-carbon electrical equipment, direct incentives to increase a home’s energy efficiency, rebates and tax credits for investing in electrical appliances and equipment. high-efficiency, and policies that accelerate the transition to a clean electricity grid. In particular, stringent appliance and efficiency standards have the potential to profitably transform the market for heat pump technology, making this transformative equipment available and affordable to everyone. Policies that reduce our reliance on fossil fuels will help stabilize energy prices for consumers while reducing the risks of climate change – that’s what we call a win.