Replace your Gas Appliances by 2035

By Angela Deegan

Fast forward to the year 2035 in San Diego. We’ve achieved our goal of a 100% clean power supply. All our electricity needs are supplied by carbon-free power. We’re proclaiming we’re a carbon-free city. But half the energy in our homes is still from burning natural gas?  

Half of California residential energy use is “natural gas” – a fossil fuel. If in 2035 we’re still using gas for space and water heating in our homes, we will have failed. We will have missed a huge opportunity to tackle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and worsening climate extremes – which we could easily have done by switching our gas appliances to electric. 

We must make the switch from fossil-fuels to electricity. It’s how we leverage the clean electricity goals that groups like SanDiego350 and many others have worked so hard to put in place. This concept of using 100% clean power for everything is referred to simply as “electrify everything”. It is key to slashing our greenhouse gas emissions and fighting against worsening climate extremes. “Everything” means everything that currently uses fossil fuels – like cars, buses, small engine lawnmowers, emergency generators, you name it! Inside the home, it means gas appliances. 

We’re in a climate emergency. Here in California, it’s all around us – more destructive wildfires, longer fire seasons, hotter heat waves, coastal flooding. Continuing to add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere will only make it even worse.  

Clean electricity is generated from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal – not fossil fuels, like coal and gas. San Diego and many other California municipalities have committed to 100% clean electricity by 2035. 

We’re well on our way towards the 100% clean electricity goal. In 2019, California’s electricity supply was 63% carbon-free. Each year as we approach the 2035 deadline, our power supply must get cleaner. If we can reach 100% clean electricity much sooner than 2035, all the better. 

Let’s learn about how, by making smart decisions and planning ahead, you get the most out of this clean electricity in your homes.

The Opportunity

The easiest way to cut GHGs emissions from the home is to replace gas-burning appliances with electric ones.

In new homes, gas-burning appliances are the default. This commits the new homeowner to decades of natural gas use. It needs to change and is changing.  In fact, many cities in California and around the U.S. are introducing bans on gas connections in new homes

In existing homes, the challenge is to change to electric appliances powered by clean grids. This is where individual homeowners can make a real difference.

Gas appliances and pollution

Don’t be under any illusions about “natural gas”. No matter what fancy, expensive gas advertisements tell you, it is not “clean natural gas.” It is dirty. In California, most of it comes from fracking, which causes environmental destruction, polluting both water and air. Natural gas leaks frequently from storage facilities and from pipelines. It leaks as the highly potent, planet-warming GHG, methane.  When it’s burned, it emits carbon dioxide, a GHG that remains in our atmosphere for hundreds of years. 

There’s yet another reason to free your home of gas usage. Besides greenhouse gasses, natural gas combustion also causes other types of pollution in and around your home. The pollutants include carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter, and formaldehyde. These are linked to various acute and chronic health effects, including respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. 

Gas appliances vent the pollutants to the outside of the home, with one exception – gas stoves/ovens. These release combustion pollutants directly inside the living areas of the home This is a major reason why the air inside the average home is dirtier than the outside air.

From Effects of Residential Gas Appliances on Indoor and Outdoor Air Quality and Public Health in California, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, April 2020

Appliance Replacement

So how do we go about replacing our gas appliances with efficient electric ones? There are two approaches:

  1. All at once – perhaps as part of a home remodel
  2. As gas appliances need replacing

Most of us will make the switch when our gas appliances need replacing . But it means we have to “go against the grain.” When replacing old appliances homeowners usually replace “like for like.” When shopping for a replacement HVAC system, sales technicians often won’t even offer an electric option unless you specifically request it.  They’ll *more* likely suggest a more efficient gas appliance than the one you’re replacing.

But the goal is not to use gas more efficiently, it’s to eliminate gas. You don’t do that by installing a new high efficiency gas furnace or water heater. You do it by switching to an electric appliance. 

By installing any new gas appliance, you lock into decades more of carbon emissions, so insist on electric!

Best electric options

Each gas appliance we replace with an electric one means that much more clean electric power needs to be produced. And that’s a good thing. But it will be difficult. To reduce the power needed, minimize the resources required to generate it (e.g. heavy metals for solar PV panels) and make it easier to meet our GHG reduction goals, we must ensure that our homes are well-insulated and the electric appliances we install are efficient.

Heating/drying – Heat Pumps

For those homes with gas furnaces and water heaters, these two appliances account for over 85% of the home’s gas use. The modern electric replacements for these use heat-pump technology. 

Heat-pumps work by transferring heat rather than burning fossil fuels to create heat. This makes them more efficient. In fact, a heat pump generates two to four times as much heat from the same amount of electricity as the older-style electric resistance heaters. 

A heat-pump water heater in the author’s garage

A heat-pump HVAC system is an all-in-one system that works as an air conditioner in the summer, and works in reverse to heat the home in the winter. To heat the home, it transfers heat from outside to inside while to cool, it transfers heat from inside your home to outside. 

Heat-pump water heaters and dryers work on the same principle. 

Heat-pumps for space heating and cooling come in two basic forms. Split systems are similar to the standard ducted systems, where the air is delivered through ducts into the different rooms. Then there are ‘minisplits’ which are also becoming popular. These still have the outside unit, but allow homeowners to use several cartridges inside the house. They don’t use ducts. Instead, the cartridges are placed right in the room, so they blow hot or cool air depending on the need, to condition the room. Some people like these because it allows them to heat or cool one room or area at a time.

SanDiego350 volunteer, Wendy Mihalic remotely controls a mini-split HVAC system cartridge in her home. Photo by George Jiracek

To appreciate the value of heat pumps, consider the energy savings. The standard electric storage water heater is estimated to use 3,500 kWh per year. By contrast, a similar heat-pump water heater is estimated to use much less power – 1,000 kWh per year.

Since heat-pumps use outside air to heat, whether we’re talking about heat-pump water heaters, or space heaters, they work most efficiently in warmer climates so they are perfect for California.

Heat-pump dryers come with some added bonuses over gas dryers:

  • They don’t require ventilation so are easier to install
  • They dry laundry at low temperatures, so they are gentler on clothes

Cooking – Electric ovens with Induction Stove tops

Even stove technology has changed. Unlike the standard electric burner, gas burners are more responsive to temperature control. But now we have an electric option that surpasses that – induction stove tops.

With induction, the pan is heated directly – rather than the burner first and then the pan. This greatly reduces the risk of burns. It also makes for a faster, more efficient way of cooking than even with gas. And it means your kitchen stays cooler while cooking. Induction compared to gas: more control, better response time, and a healthier, cleaner kitchen

Be aware that, since induction is based on electromagnetism, your pots and pans must be magnetic. If a magnet sticks to it, it’s induction-ready. Bear this in mind next time you’re buying pots and pans.

SD350 volunteer, David Harris, cooking up something delicious on his portable induction stove. Photo by Elaine Dorsey

Weatherize your home

It’s important to review your home’s energy efficiency before purchasing new home heating/cooling systems. If your home is well-sealed and insulated, it will take little energy to heat and cool it.

Is your home leaky? Does it have adequate insulation? Do your HVAC ducts leak, and are they properly insulated? Addressing such issues reduces the amount of heat needed to heat the house. A well air sealed home also leads to better inside air quality.

To cut water heating costs, hot water pipes should be insulated. Insulated pipes result in less loss of heat as water passes through them. This allows the water heater to be set at a lower temperature, saving energy.

Take advantage of ‘Time of Use’ Pricing

California utilities generally charge customers using ‘Time of Use’ (TOU) pricing. Under these pricing plans, electricity is cheaper outside of the late afternoon and evening period – generally the hours of 4pm to 9pm. 

Most modern heat pump systems can be programmed, enabling you to leverage TOU pricing for cost savings. Just program the devices to do the bulk of their work (heating or cooling) during the hours preceding high price periods, then program to turn down during peak pricing hours.

Heat-pump water heaters can also be programmed to take advantage of TOU pricing – i.e. to heat water when electricity is abundant and cheap. This is like having a battery for your water heating – in that you can store the energy. It also constitutes a big advantage over ‘on-demand’ water heaters. Because those systems don’t have a storage tank, when you need to use hot water is when you must heat the water.

 Screenshot of App showing water heating schedule for  the pictured water heater

Wiring considerations – plan now

The electric versions of the four common household gas appliances – HVAC, water heater, stove, dryer – typically require 240 volt power sources. If you make the switch, you’ll be using less energy overall, but more electricity. So ensure your circuit-breaker box has adequate capacity and that you have 240 volt outlets where you’ll need them. Ideally upgrade the circuit-breaker box all at once – to save money. And if your pocket-book allows, this would be the perfect time for you to install solar PV panels too! 

Don’t be caught unprepared when you need to replace your gas appliance. If the wiring is in place, it may take a couple of hours to replace a gas furnace with an electric furnace. If it isn’t, too often, it can take several days to get someone to install the wiring. Many families won’t go without hot water for a few days, so they end up replacing gas with gas – committing to another decade plus of gas use.

Ending the Natural Gas Age

It has been said “The Stone Age didn’t end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.”

So too must the age of natural gas come to an end. Our ever-cleaner power supply provides us with the means to this end. We must take full advantage of it to squeeze out as much GHG usage as we possibly can. Only when we switch to it for our appliances and our transportation will we make the deep GHG cuts that are necessary. 

There are many difficult tasks ahead in eliminating GHG’s. Replacing our gas appliances isn’t one of them. That’s the easy part. The “no brainer”, “low hanging fruit” part. We’ll still be using the same basic equipment. Your hot water will still reach the shower at the same temperature, your HVAC will still send heat through those same ducts to heat your home in winter. The difference is you’ll now be using modern technology to produce clean heat, rather than burning fossil fuels, and helping our planet in the process.

Food Vision 2030

What’s your food vision for San Diego County? What food issues do you care about? Share your thoughts on the FV2030 community engagement platform!

By: David Pearl, SD350 Food & Soil Committee Member

Our friends at the San Diego Food System Alliance are hard at work on Food Vision 2030, a plan for transforming San Diego County’s food system over the next ten years. In their own words, “The goal of Food Vision 2030 is to inform planning, policy, program, and investment opportunities that improve the food system in San Diego County.”

SDFV2030 is now in the community engagement phase, and they want to hear from you! Visit the community engagement platform to provide feedback on the region’s food system and what you would like to see reflected in the ultimate vision.

If you want to focus on the intersection between climate and food, there is a section specifically for that.

We hope you’ll take the time to make your voice heard.

It’s Time For a Better Deal

By: Amanda Ruetten, Public Policy Organizer

San Diegans pay higher utility prices than most Californians. The high prices and San Diego’s dangerous air pollution rates are especially hard on vulnerable low-income communities, where family budgets are tight and asthma rates are growing. The utility company rakes in profits while we provide the public land necessary for its business. That’s the way it’s been for 100 years. This year, for the first time in 50 years, we finally have a chance to change our city’s outdated, one-sided deal with San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E). 

SDG&E’s 50-year franchise agreement with the City of San Diego to distribute gas and electricity on the City’s public right of way expires in January 2021. The City is required by its Charter to select the next energy franchisee through a “free and open competition”.  

SanDiego350 and its allies are campaigning for a better deal. We are in a climate crisis and the City of San Diego has one of the most progressive Climate Action Plans in the nation, with a goal of getting to 100% clean electricity by 2035.  To ensure we meet that goal, the City must award the next franchise agreement to a company that supports our clean energy goals. There must be guarantees that the utility — unlike the existing situation — will not undermine these goals by lobbying against clean energy programs at the state level, or imposing higher fees for solar home owners and low income community members. A shorter term and required penalties for violating any agreement provisions would provide increased accountability, and the franchise fees should be paid for by corporate shareholders rather than the customers.  

The franchise agreement is determined in an open bidding process and then it must be adopted by a two-thirds majority vote of the city council. That vote is expected later this year. There is an opportunity for us to have a voice in what happens. 

Join us to learn more about this campaign and how you can get involved. We’ll have an in-depth workshop on Sunday, June 7th. Or email me.

California Should Not Risk Its Clean Energy Future on Extreme Strategies

California will soon decide whether to combine its electric grid management with western states dependent on coal mining and coal-based electricity. This massive change has been proposed in the form of Assembly Bill 813 and before that in Assembly Bill 726. If passed, either of those bills would provide an avenue for coal-fired electricity to gain access to the California market. This would make the transition to renewable energy even harder.

Unifying California’s grid operations with other western states would be a huge risk. Thankfully better options are available.

[Read more…]

You Can’t Get Clean Energy From Natural Gas!

Pretty… toxic Picture Credit: Pexels

Originally published by the San Diego Free Press on January 26th 2018
By Edward Bergan / SanDiego350

In retrospect, branding the toxic gas that emerges from underground deposits as “natural gas” was a stroke of marketing genius. It sounds so, well, natural. But natural gas is much more like “organic tobacco” – harmful in any form.

The more experts study natural gas, the more evidence they find that this fossil fuel is inflicting great damage on our environment. It is damaging when it’s burned and damaging when it’s extracted from the ground. In fact, the extraction and burning of natural gas to produce electricity is a dirty process. This dirty process impacts the clean water and air we need to live. [Read more…]

Tom Steyer draws large crowd for climate change lecture

by Celeste Oram

Over 400 San Diegans arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Hillcrest Thursday evening to hear a decisive, energetic message on clean energy and climate action from climate advocate and philanthropist Tom Steyer. The public talk, organized by grassroots climate action organization SanDiego350, was co-sponsored by over 20 San Diego community groups. In a week of devastating natural disasters and controversial political announcements, the clarity of Steyer’s clean energy message was warmly received by a fired-up audience.

Welcoming remarks by the cathedral’s Dean, Penny Bridges, soberly reflected the urgency of the evening’s discussion, and a moment’s silence was held for victims of recent natural disasters: Hurricanes Harvey and Irma; wildfires on the West Coast; flooding in Pakistan and Bangladesh; landslides in Sierra Leone.

[Read more…]

Lonely? Try Talking about Cow Flatulence

By Bellamy Dryden

This past Saturday, April 29, I celebrated an important milestone with 5,000 strangers at the Peoples Climate March in downtown San Diego. After that same march in 2014 I adopted a vegan diet, cold turkey, so to speak. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Three years later, I’m healthier and happier.

2017 People's Climate March

2017 People’s Climate March. Photo courtesy of SanDiego350.

What better way to celebrate than with a perfect stranger holding a sign that says “Cow Farts are Destroying the Planet”?

I changed my diet for two reasons. One: it’s an easy and useful way for me to help combat climate change. Two:  it meant that I would never, ever, EVER have to eat a cricket burger with a side of mealworm “fries.”

Why not celebrate such an important day with friends and family? Well, I’m the only environmental vegan in my circle. Besides, my family and friends are far flung, so we use Facebook to keep in touch. The friends and neighbors I see in real life like me just fine, but online, it’s really lonely being the dietary outlier, the green sheep, the tree-hugging vegan. [Read more…]

TransNet Tax Increase – SANDAG Course-correct Opportunity

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press on February 25th, 2016

A region doesn’t become environmentally friendly by accident; it does so through careful, ambitious planning with the good of future generations in mind. In this regard, the San Diego region now finds itself at a crossroads.

Through the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), the region’s planning agency, we now have the opportunity to begin realizing an environmentally friendly future in the San Diego region for many years to come. SANDAG recently announced that it will consider putting forth a ballot measure that will increase the TransNet sales tax by half a cent. Pending voter approval, such an increase would mean billions of additional dollars for transportation projects in coming decades. Although SANDAG may do the opposite, this money should be spent on projects that will mitigate climate change and protect San Diego’s most vulnerable populations. [Read more…]

A Simple Guide to Improving Your Home Energy Efficiency

I’m a techie and tinkerer by nature, and as a Sierra Club Life Member, I’m always looking into ways to reduce my carbon footprint. Some of these ideas I came up with on my own, and some of them I learned about in this excellent series written by Daily Kos founder Markos “kos” Moulitsas:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/22/1348847/-The-Kos-guide-to-a-carbon-neutral-household-Intro

I’ll talk about them in order of increasing cost.

Live Energy Use Monitoring
One of the first questions you might wonder is “Exactly how much energy is my household using right now?” There is a way to find out your instantaneous energy usage. In order to do this you need to have a smart energy meter installed at your house, and check with your electric utility company to find out which devices it supports. Here is the info for SDG&E:

https://www.sdge.com/residential/about-smart-meters/home-and-business-area-network

I chose the Rainforest Eagle recommended in the kos article. It can be purchased at Amazon.com for about $100.

tn_rainforest_eagle

Once you get the device, you have to go online to register it with SDG&E. They notify you when it has been approved, and then you can install it on your home network. Using either a web browser or smart phone (I use EnergyVue on my Samsung Galaxy S4) you can get an instant “meter” reading for the electric consumption in your house.

energy_vue_app

You can then experiment with turning household appliances on/off to discover which ones are the biggest power draws.

Proximity Sensors for Utility Room Lights
How many times have you gone into your laundry room, turned on the light, and then left it on all day accidentally? I do this a lot. At one of my weekly forays into Home Depot, I was thinking about this and looked in the lighting section to see what kind of automation was available. That’s where I found this:

tn_proximity_light_sensor_1

It automatically turns on the light when I open the laundry room door. Five minutes after I leave, it automatically shuts off. You can also turn it on and off manually. It costs around $20 for one. Also useful in kids’ play rooms or any other room that is infrequently occupied.

The wiring isn’t that hard… (Author’s note: I have Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Electrical Engineering so your definition of “hard” may vary from mine.) Here it is installed in my laundry room.

tn_proximity_light_sensor_2

Switch to LED Lighting
LED lighting prices have come down a lot. They are more expensive up-front than traditional incandescent bulbs, but their electricity consumption is a lot lower, so they pay for themselves over time. You can now get dimmable and 3-way LEDs easily at Home Depot. I also have a lot of chandelier lighting in my house; some of those bulbs I had to order online. The new track lighting I recently installed also could use LED bulbs.

tn_led_floods_4

tn_led_floods_2

tn_led_lights_4

tn_led_lights_3

You have to be careful, though, because LED lights tend to be a little larger than their incandescent counterparts. Bring the old bulb with you to the store and compare its size to the larger LED bulb, keeping in mind the space requirements of the fixture. You may need to take some measurements of the fixture to make sure the new LED bulb fits. I have had to return a few LED bulbs because they were too big to fit in the enclosure.

Get a Smart Thermostat
I got a Nest learning Thermostat last year. They are not cheap at $249. I got mine simply because I hated the controls of my old thermostat. It’s like having an iPod interface for your thermostat.

tn_nest_thermostat_1

Where this can help you conserve energy is that it can be set to “Home” and “Away” modes. In “Away” mode, the house heating or cooling threshold is set for maximum energy conservation. For the first few weeks you manually set “Home” and “Away” when you enter/leave your house. Eventually it learns your patterns and does this automatically.

It also learns how long it takes for your heater or A/C to move the temperature from the “Away” point to the “Home” point and will kick in your heating or cooling system early so your house is at your comfort point by the time you get home. It can also be controlled manually from your smart phone.

nest_app

Have Solar Panels Installed
This is potentially the most expensive endeavor, depending on how you choose your arrangement with the solar installer. Most installers provide both Buy and Lease options. With a Lease Option they lease you the system, but your reduced energy bill plus lease fee will be lower than your existing monthly energy bill.

I went with Stellar Solar and chose to buy the system outright. It was around $21000 installed, but I was able to claim 30% of my installation cost as Federal Tax Credit in 2013. The credit is available through the end of 2016. You can find the details on this and other Federal energy credits here: http://energy.gov/savings/residential-renewable-energy-tax-credit

Energy usage report provided by Stellar Solar to size my solar system:

tn_stellar_solar_usage_report

SDG&E Smart Meter

tn_sdge_smart_meter

Solar inverter install and wiring

tn_solar_install

You can barely see the solar panels on the roof

tn_panels_barely

You can see my Yelp review of Stellar Solar here:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/stellar-solar-san-diego?hrid=PaaMERKlsc9EV09EIyZQVA

The whole process takes several months. There are some permits needed by SDG&E, your electric meter may need to be upgraded, and of course there is the solar panel installation, power inverter, all the wiring, and installing new breakers in your breaker panel. They handled all of this, and I just had to be at the house a few times to give them or the SDG&E inspectors access.

One thing to consider before installing solar panels is the state of your roof. If you have an older house and it is nearing its typical lifespan, you’ll probably want to get it redone before you have solar panels installed. I had an inspection done and decided it was the smart thing to do.

Other Things You Can Do
Now you have an idea of ways to improve your home energy efficiency, ranging from simple to grandiose. There are many areas I haven’t touched upon that you can do. Here a just a few of them:

  1. Replacing a home appliance? Check Consumer Reports reviews for newer energy efficient models that have met Energy Star compliance testing by the EPA. See http://www.energystar.gov/
  2. Getting a bigger TV? LCD, OLED and plasma TV display technologies all have different energy consumptions rates. See http://www.cnet.com/news/what-you-need-to-know-about-tv-power-consumption/
  3. Live in an older house? Have a home energy audit done to see where all your heat is escaping. See https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_improvement.hm_improvement_audits

The bottom line: Any time you are considering a home improvement project, whether it’s a DIY or you are hiring a professional, add energy efficiency improvement to your list of criteria when making a decision. With a little extra effort, you can save money and help Mother Earth.