Natural Gas is an affordable way to get your BTU’s and it is a “relatively” clean burning fuel. That’s why so many people use it for heating, cooking, water heating and clothes drying.
For all it’s benefits, I don’t think that gas is going to be the next big thing. Even though we are fracking away, which is a problem in and of itself, I think that gas is a gonner.
Today, 75% of the energy to fuel homes is created by burning fossil fuels. It’s delivered to our homes in the form of electricity and natural gas or oil. Burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change and is not a long term sustainable solution. So where does that leave us? Nuclear and renewables. Nuclear has issues, see fukushima. Renewables are the only thing left that makes any sense.
The good news is that renewables are part of the no-brainer solution to climate change and adding renewable energy to homes is happening now at a rate faster than most predicted.
If we all had power generation stations on our homes electricity would be the clean solution for our climate. Curiously, it is currently one of the dirtiest solutions because most electricity is created using coal, but if we added Photovoltaic or wind power generation to our homes the mix of power would change and electricity would become a good option.
Here’s my prediction: Homes of the future will be all electric.
It’s going to be the law of the land that homes will have to be more energy efficient. Remember when we didn’t have air bags in cars, that’s kind of where we are now with homes. We have the technology to build a lot better today, but no one says we need to, so it is business as usual.
The 2012 International Energy Code has started to ramp up the required efficiency of buildings, by increasing the airtightness and insulation requirements for homes. Each successive version of the code will increase the energy efficiency of buildings.
Tight, Well Insulated Houses
As houses get tighter and more comfortable, it will take significantly less energy to heat a space and keep it comfortable. It certainly will take some energy, but only a sip instead of a gulp. Gas and Oil have been the go to sources for heat because it is more affordable. With lower demand, the financial incentives for adding gas and/or oil to our homes won’t be as large.
In a tight house, combustion appliances that burn fuel can add pollutants like carbon monoxide to the air. The reason it’s a problem in a tight house is because the pressures inside the house are less likely to be diffused through leaks. In a leaky house, a bathroom vent isn’t a big deal. In a tight house, it can cause negative pressure and hinder the natural draft from a combustion appliance. This leads to something called backdrafting and can dump or spill bad things like carbon monoxide into your home. Since Carbon monoxide can kill you, this really isn’t a good thing.
It is possible to design a tight home with sealed combustion appliances, but because there is no guarantee that appliances will always operate flawlessly and safely, architects and designers will be thinking twice about including them in a home.
Cooking is probably the biggest reason people love gas. Gas is much more responsive than a traditional electric stove. Guess what, there is induction cooking that is the darling of chefs because it cooks quickly and is very responsive. Induction stoves are expensive, but the flip side is that they are very inexpensive to operate. The only catch is that you must use steel or stainless steel pans, if you can stick a magnet to it you can use it.
There are electric dryers, gas dryers, condensing dryers and clothes lines. The alternatives to a gas dryer are electric and condensing dryers. Condensing dryers make the most sense in a high performance home, because they are ventless and don’t have a handy path to the outdoors that heat and cold can travel through. They get a bad rap from some because clothes can come out wrinkly. An electric dryer that isn’t located in the building envelope and supplemented with a clothes line is another alternative.
The power of the sun can be harnessed to heat water directly or to create electricity to run an efficient water heater like a heat pump water heater.
Keeping It Simple
Gas needs pipes and electricity needs wires. One system is simpler than two and since electricity can do it all, there is no need for two systems. Simplifying to one system means paying one bill instead of two bills every month.
When energy demands decrease it makes sense to think about renewable energy. Renewables are becoming increasingly affordable, but they are still a large expense. It’s a lot less expensive to add 2kW to your home than 10kW.
An all electric house can be a net-zero energy house, one that makes as much (or more) energy as it uses over the course of the year. Theoretically, you could still have gas and be net-zero energy by making enough electricity to compensate for the gas use. It wouldn’t benefit you financially though, so where’s the incentive? Admit it, we are much more likely to go net-zero if we see the financial sense in it.
Electric cars are not yet our go to vehicles, but I think they will be. One idea of the future “smart” grid is that we will use our electric cars as battery storage for the grid, modulating the highs and lows and providing a more stable energy flow. An electric house with PV on the roof and an electric car in the garage is a nice loop. Charge the car at night with excess cheap energy from the grid, plug the car in during the day when at work and add a little to the grid when needed and use a little when not needed.
Electric houses were predicted to be the wave of the future in the 30’s for very different reasons. Then, it had to do with all the new inventions that were headed our way. We were all going to be living like the Jetsons. Now, more than ever we want to simplify and maybe live more like people did in the 30’s.
We have all this great technology that enables us to build comfortable homes that make as much energy as we use and we can do it all with electricity. No need for dual systems, no need for the complications. It’s going to be easier, smarter and cleaner to just make it electric.