In this Episode
The Biden Administration in the U.S. has set a goal of achieving a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, which among other things means that U.S. households, and the appliances and machines that run within them, will need to be powered almost entirely by carbon-free electricity. A practical implication of that goal is that about 1 billion machines in homes across the nation will need to be replaced or converted from fossil-powered to electric within the next 3 decades. It sounds like a lot – but is it?
A recent report from the nonprofit Rewiring America examined how quickly high-efficiency, electric technologies – like heat pumps, EV vehicles and induction stoves – are replacing sales of their fossil-powered counterparts, and compared that to what needs to happen this year, next year, and over the next five years to ensure that American homes are on track to decarbonize. So are we on track? What needs to happen in the near-term to ensure we reach our mid-century decarbonization goals? And what are the most impactful upgrades that people can make to their homes to support the decarbonization movement? Rewiring America’s Director of Research Cora Wyent and Head of Market Transformation Stephen Pantano sat down with Climate Now to break it down.
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James Lawler: [00:00:00] Welcome to Climate Now, the podcast that explores and explains the ideas, technologies, and solutions that we’ll need to address the climate crisis. I’m James Lawler and to sign up for a newsletter, which goes out every Tuesday morning with a link to the latest episode as well as background information, relevant links, you can go to climate now.com and sign up there.
To get in touch with us you can email us at email@example.com. We’d love to hear from our listeners. In fact, today we would like to answer a question that was sent from a listener. We spoke two weeks ago with Steve Wirtel from KORE Infrastructure about a carbon capture technique called biomass pyrolysis and one of our listeners, Tina wrote in wondering why pyrolysis was carbon neutral.
She asked if the trees were not burned but allowed to decompose in the forest, would the carbon have been absorbed into the soil? And is that different from what happens in the process Steve’s describing? Great question. [00:01:00] So when trees and other plants, like say corn or other agricultural plants, which contain organic matter, die and decompose, some carbon is stored in the soil, some is consumed by other organisms, and some is released back into the atmosphere as CO2.
So in slow pyrolysis, which is the process that Kore Infrastructure and other companies are pursuing, organic matter is exposed to high pressure and to heat to break it down into liquid bio-oil as it’s called. Much like what would happen if it were buried deep underground, where fossil fuels form under intense pressure conditions.
That process also releases CO2 but it can be chemically separated from everything else that’s produced, and it can be stored underground to prevent it from entering the atmosphere. So both natural decomposition and slow pyrolysis can be considered carbon neutral because the CO2 that is produced came from the atmosphere rather than from fossil [00:02:00] fuels.
So the answer to Tina’s question is the tree that dies and is allowed to decompose in the forest likely would result in some of the carbon being stored in the soil, but a lot of it being re-released over time into the atmosphere. So there’s probably some net negative impact in terms of carbon from that tree.
If that same biomass was pyrolyzed and the CO2 stream was then piped and stored underground, you likely would have a larger net negative CO2 impact because more of the CO2 could be captured and stored. A lot depends on exactly what the application is of the pyrolysis. A lot depends on how that tree might be buried, let’s say in the forest, or whether it’s sitting in a wetter environment or a dryer environment, et cetera. So there are a lot of factors that could influence how much CO2 is released in the two scenarios.
So both natural decomposition of that tree that falls and decomposes in the forest and the slow pyrolysis process [00:03:00] that Kore Infrastructure and other companies are deploying will likely store some amount of carbon underground, assuming of course, that in this slow pyrolysis you’re capturing the CO2 that comes off of it and doing underground storage with it.
That said there is another factor, which is interesting and also sort of complicates the picture, which is timescale. So in the case of the tree or biomass that is left to sit in the forest and very slowly decompose, that’s gonna release CO2 and methane, depending on the conditions over a period of time. In the case of a tree, you know, over decades, potentially, or more.
In the case of taking that same tree and all of that biomass and carbon and paralyzing it, you are going to release some emissions today as soon as that happens. Though, over the total timescale of decomposition, in both cases, you are probably storing more CO2 in the case of pyrolysis because you are putting it underground permanently. [00:04:00] But Tina, thanks for your question.
Now let’s take a look at the focus of today’s podcast where we’re going to be talking about how to reduce household emissions. So in the US there are more than 120 million households, which each emit an average of about nine tons of CO2 every year to heat and to power their homes, and another eight or so tons of CO2 each year by driving cars.
So about 17 tons each year per household. This adds up pretty quickly. So the combined impact of residential energy use and passenger vehicle transportation accounts for about half of the total United States emissions every year. Now, the Biden administration has committed to creating a hundred percent carbon free electrical grid in the coming decade over the next 10 years, but that’ll only help us reach our decarbonization goals if the machines and appliances we use in our households can actually plug into that grid. That is if they’re electrified.
[00:05:00] So what this means is that in the next 30 years, we’ll need to install or replace about 1 billion household machines, which include electric vehicles, which are currently powered by fossil fuels. 1 billion machines is an almost unimaginably enormous number.
But a recent report by electrification nonprofit, Rewiring America, has examined this question, what exactly will it take to get us there? In today’s episode, we speak with two of the researchers behind that report for Rewiring America, who talked to us about how much we’ll need to ramp up sales of the five most important technologies. That is rooftop solar, electric cars, heat pumps, heat pump water heaters and induction stoves over the next one to five years, so in the short term, in order to ensure that by 2050 we have actually met our goal and completely replaced the national stock of machines powering our homes and lives. It’s a very interesting [00:06:00] conversation to give us a sense of exactly where we are along that trajectory and what needs to change.
But first, it’s time for a new segment this week in Climate News. This week I’m joined by the incomparable Dina Capello from RMI, Dina.
Dina Capiello: So nice to be here, James, and to talk climate news. The headlines everywhere this week are talking about how this year, literally the last three days, were some of the hottest ever recorded.
And what I mean by that is not the temperature where you live, but this is global average temperature. So this was literally covered by everyone, and it’s largely a combination of climate change, so warming from heat trapping gases, and the atmosphere largely from the burning of fossil fuels compounded by an El Nino event.
So the last couple of years we were in a La Nina cooler, ocean temps. El Nino brings warmer ocean temps, and so basically everywhere is, is [00:07:00] feeling the heat of climate change. Now these are early numbers and they haven’t been verified by, you know, official weather agencies, but they probably will be. June was already the hottest June on record. So just an increasing trend of hot steamy weather around the globe.
James Lawler: And so we’ve heard sort of this question before, how do we know? And we actually have data sets that go back to around 1940, but we also know a lot about temperature based on ice cores and coral reefs and other things. And looking at that sort of larger extrapolated set of indicators, it’s likely that this is the warmest week in the last a hundred thousand years at least. And this is a quote from Jennifer Francis, who’s a senior scientist at Woodwell Climate Research Center who spoke with CNN about the high temperatures this week.
Dina Capiello: You know, there has been a lot of discussions in the climate community about a catastrophic heat event, [00:08:00] like in India, right? So I think from our perspective here in the US, we’re all in these like cool temps and everything’s regulated, It’s hard for us to kind of fathom that persistent exposure that other people in the world face. And then you have like the issues of hydration, access to clean, potable water, right? I think it’s not just direct heat exhaustion, but it’s also all the corollary effects.
James Lawler: And I think if you’re someone who likes to think about risk, if you’re an investor, if you’re leading a company, if you’re in policy, I think you have to think about what is it like when there’s actually no way to cool down and you have, you know, potentially hundreds of thousands of people or millions of people, even in a, in sort of a worst case scenario, die.
Right. So this sounds like totally extreme and out there and maybe sort of crazy and hopefully that’s what it is, but there’s a good chance that it’s not. And so if you are a serious person, you think about risk and you think about sort of what we should be doing and what’s [00:09:00] appropriate to do now to try to mitigate, you know, against this from happening.
Dina Capiello: So talking about things that kind of don’t make sense in a week of unprecedented heat and really the worst heat we’ve seen on planet Earth in ever. There was a paper that came out from the Penn Center for Science Sustainability and the Media by Joseph Romm, who is a PhD looking at voluntary carbon offsets.
So carbon offsets are, basically, an example would be you plant a forest or preserve a forest in one part of the world, and the carbon dioxide that’s absorbed by those trees can offset or make up for the emissions of an industrial facility in another part of the world. And so, the thought when these first came to be, which was under the Clean Development Mechanism under the UN, was that they would be an alternative way of reducing emissions for greenhouse gas polluters or emitters. [00:10:00]
And the title of the paper is Our Carbon Offsets, Unscalable, Unjust, and Unfixable, and a Threat to the Paris Agreement? He poses it as a question, but the conclusions of the paper are a resounding yes. That many offsets, uh, don’t deliver on what they promised. So in large part, they’re not reducing emissions.
The new wrinkle is that there are enough phantom credits that they’re really jeopardizing the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement. And advertisers should be on alert. Firms relying on these offsets should be alert. And again, this is the voluntary market, which is largely unregulated. There are mandatory markets across this country and also globally where there’s oversight and they are checked and they are verified, but really that the firms relying on this voluntary market risk significant greenwashing and the law [00:11:00] might be coming for them, right, as false advertising. So if you’re a company that says you’re net zero, and then these carbon offsets that you purchased didn’t actually reduce emissions, you could be in violation. So that’s kind of the gist.
James Lawler: As you mentioned, Dina basically, these offsets were innovations from the early 2000s around the time when the UN launched this Clean Development Mechanism or CDM, and essentially what that allowed was for countries and organizations essentially to purchase these certified emission reductions or CERs.
Each CER is one ton of CO2 equivalent, and they could be sort of used to officially reduce net emissions. By, let’s say, buying a stake in a power plant or in a renewable energy development, let’s say, that was going to avoid a certain amount of emissions that would’ve occurred if it wasn’t, let’s say, a solar plant, but [00:12:00] rather was a coal plant that had been built.
And so if you’re investing in that, you could claim that you’ve reduced emissions because of what would’ve happened otherwise. And so essentially like you have all of this sort of wishy-washy accounting happening. And my question and the comment I guess here is the offset market could supply a much needed source of capital to fund important emission reducing strategies or carbon capture projects, you know, that do need funding in order to happen.
And if there’s a market mechanism that makes that happen, that’s great, but, so, to what degree is this just an accounting challenge? Do we need a better way of pricing these offsets and of, you know, accounting for the benefits that they confer? Because ultimately there is value there in these things, right? But the problem is we just have to [00:13:00] describe that value more clearly and more accurately, and that’s what’s not happened so far. And that’s why so many of these offsets are kind of worthless.
Dina Capiello: And the other thing that I think the paper points out, which I think was really interesting, is do they shift behavior?
And the example that he points out that I just found so interesting is that since the claim developed mechanism came to be in 2006, over half of the offsets from that program came from China, and nearly 76% from China and India. It was found that the vast majority of those credits were not real. They weren’t genuine, they would’ve happened anyway, the projects, or they credited far more reductions than they actually, than actually occurred. Meanwhile, since 2006, China built so many coal plants, its yearly carbon dioxide emissions increased by nearly as much as the US emits today. And India’s emissions have doubled. So not only was there actually no shift to clean [00:14:00] development, but the offsets were sold, developed countries letting them generate as much as 6 billion tons of CO2. So in short, it’s like a double whammy.
James Lawler Right
Dina Capiello: Right. It’s what he’s talking about, and I just found that really fascinating.
James Lawler: Mm-hmm. We also know that the Woodwell Climate Center, which is one of the major climate research centers in the United States, is also working out a protocol for valuing carbon offsets and for sort of trying to fix this market.
So there are a lot of smart people who are focused on this problem because there is broad recognition that this money is a really good thing. Now for our interviews today, we’re speaking with Cora Wyent and Stephen Pantano of Rewiring America. Cora and Stephen helped develop a report released in June called The Pace of Progress.
The report examines the state of electrification in the United States and what it will take to reach exponential growth in the sales of clean energy home appliances and machines. [00:15:00] Our first guest is Cora. So Cora, welcome to Climate Now it’s great to have you on.
Cora Wyent: Yeah, it’s great to be here.
James Lawler: So Cora, tell us about who you are and the organization that you work with.
Cora Wyent: Sure. So I’m Cora Wyent. I’m the Director of Research at Rewiring America, and we’re an organization that’s focused on electrifying everything in our economy. So that’s the vehicles we drive, the way we heat our homes, the way we heat our water, and then where we sort of work and play. So we’re really focused on household electrification, which is the process of taking all the fossil fueled machines in our life and swapping them out with clean electric alternatives that can run on renewable energy and prepare us for a cleaner and climate friendly future.
James Lawler: Great. And so Rewiring America released Pace of Progress, a report about sort of the state of electrification of the machines that are in our lives, and the rate at which this progress is taking place, and the rate at which it really needs to take place in order to meet our climate and emissions electrification [00:16:00] goals. Can you give us an overview? What is this report? Um, and then let’s jump through some of the key findings if we could.
Cora Wyent: Sure. Yeah, I’d be happy to. So we initially started to create this Pace of Progress report because we see that we have these economy-wide decarbonization targets. So for example, President Biden has a goal of, um, reaching full decarbonization by 2050 and in order to reach those targets, we wanted to really be able to break that down into what needs to happen in the next few years rather than over the next decades, because it’s much easier to have these achievable short-term targets than it is to have these really long range and overwhelming targets.
So historically, in our economy and our marketplace, when a new technology comes into play, that’s better than the incumbent technology. So think about like color TVs and smartphones; the adoption of that technology sort of follows this S-shaped curve where it starts with early adopters and then [00:17:00] really adoption starts to take off in the marketplace.
James Lawler: This S-shaped curve that Cora is describing is the percentage of people who have adopted a technology. So a new technology might be adopted slowly at first, so sort of the beginning of the S shape. But as more people become aware of its value, it suddenly experiences exponential growth going from maybe five or 10% of a market to the majority of a market in just a few years. So that’s sort of the vertical swing up in the S shape. So the shape of its growth in the market follows sort of this S shape, and then after rapid adoption growth sort of tapers out, which is the curve back to a slower rate of growth.
Cora Wyent: So what we did in this report is that we defined what these S-shaped curves look like for common electric technologies like heat pumps, induction stoves, electric vehicles, and a few others, so that we could really figure out, okay, to get us on this path towards market acceleration, what does our progress need to look like in the near term over the next [00:18:00] one, three and five years to get us on the right path towards full economy-wide electrification?
James Lawler: So I, I understand from the report that you’re looking at this massive number of households right, across the United States of over a hundred million households, and you’re looking at over a billion machines, right? Different kinds of machines. What are the most important machines that we do need to electrify, and what are the, what are the curves looking like today for the transition on these machine types?
Cora Wyent: So the important machines that we need to electrify, um, we cover five in this report. So I’ll start with heat pumps for space heating. These are machines that can both heat and cool to your home. They do it much more efficiently than a typical gas furnace.
James Lawler: And we’re talking about air source heat pumps or geothermal heat pumps?
Cora Wyent: It could be both. We mostly focus on air source heat pumps, but really, really any type of heat pump is a great technology.
So that’s the first of these. And [00:19:00] we’ve shown that in order to replace all the heat pumps in our economy and American households, that looks like Americans purchasing about 240,000 heat pumps this year. So that billion machines number can seem really, really overwhelming. But when you actually look at what that means this year, it’s only 240,000 heat pumps, which is, it’s a manageable chunk of this overall piece. You know, that’s less than 1% of American households purchasing a heat pump this year.
James Lawler: And what’s been the rate, what is the current rate of, you know, heat pump installation today in America? And maybe, I just want to make sure I’m understanding it; 240,000 in installed or replaced? Because I imagine there’s a difference there, right?
Cora Wyent: Yeah. So we actually include both installation and replacement sort of together. So any purchase of a new heat pump, and that 240,000 number is sales over business as usual. So that’s looking at the [00:20:00] current growth of the market and then what we need to grow the market to get on these S-curves. And it’s looking at that difference there between the pace of progress curves and business as usual.
James Lawler: And so what is business as usual when it comes to heat pump installation and like how dramatic is that jump above business as usual? You know, just to give us a sense of kind of how likely is it that we can do this?
Cora Wyent: That’s a great question. So we think that the, um, number of sales in the market is about 1.5 or 1.6 million machines.
James Lawler: Okay.
Cora Wyent: So that 240,000 is. Is it, it’s, it’s growth over normal, but it’s not anything like a doubling or tripling in a current year.
James Lawler: So it’s six- it’s about, it’s about 16% – 17% above sort of current rate we have to increase the market in this year.
Cora Wyent: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah.
James Lawler: Yeah. So that’s, it’s significant. I mean, any, like an industry that grows 16% in a year is a pretty significant growth [00:21:00] trajectory for any, for a company or, or an industry, yeah?
Cora Wyent: So I think one thing to keep in mind is that when I’m, when I’m giving you these numbers for the current market size, that doesn’t account for the fact that these markets are already growing on their own. Like this transition is already starting to happen. So you know, some of that step up in sales over business as usual is going to be taken care of by the market, just growing on its own.
James Lawler: That makes sense. I wonder for the, I think this is right, the more relevant comparison would be what is the existing growth, right? Because like I think what you’re saying is yes, we’re talking about a 17% jump in terms of sales of heat pumps, and that seems like a lot, but the market has been growing at X percent, so the really the relevant question I should have asked you is, what is X? Right? As opposed to what were the sales last year?
Cora Wyent: Yeah.
James Lawler: Is that something you could speak to?
Cora Wyent: Yeah, that’s sort of basically we’re seeing business as usual as this linear growth trend. And then we’ve got this S curve growth [00:22:00] trend that we’re seeing.
This is what we need to reach our climate targets. So for example, in 2023, we see that the business as usual projected change is about 120,000 sales. So that’s how many new heat pump sales we’re expected to achieve this year. What we need is a change in sales of about 350,000.
James Lawler: Okay. So like if your uncle’s thinking about buying one, then your grandmother, your mom and your sister also need to be thinking about buying one.
Cora Wyent: Yeah.
James Lawler: As well as your uncle. That’s how to think about this. So, all right, so that was heat pumps, right?
Cora Wyent: Yeah, yeah, that was heat.
James Lawler: That was heat pumps. Okay. So let’s just quickly do it if we could for the four or five other important household machines, if you will, that Rewiring America looked at for this report?
Cora Wyent: Absolutely. So we started with heat pumps, let’s go to heat pump water heaters next. So the heat pump water heater market appears to be growing at a linear rate of about 20,000 new sales each year.
James Lawler: And [00:23:00] just for those who don’t know what a heat pump water heater is, can you say like, what is that and how does it differ from what most people have in their homes?
Cora Wyent: Right so most people heat their water in their homes by either burning fossil fuels or electric resistance. Burning fossil fuels you’re basically just generating heat to heat your water from that combustion. And then with electric resistance, you can think of it as your water heater functioning like a gigantic toaster.
Um, you’ve got this coil, it’s getting hot, it’s heating up the water. The cool thing about a heat pump is that rather than generating heat, it actually moves heat from one place to another. So it’s the same technology as an air source heat pump for heating your home, but rather than transferring heat from outside to inside, it’s basically transferring heat from outside the water heater to inside the water heater, and that means that it can actually be 300%- 400% efficient. So that’s, you know, basically putting out three times the amount of energy that it uses to power it because it’s moving rather than generating the heat.
James Lawler: What does a heat pump [00:24:00] water heater typically run in terms of cost for sort of an average home?
Cora Wyent: We’ve, we’ve done a little bit of analysis on this and without the wiring costs, we’ve found that it’s in the 4,000 to $5,000 range. So it is more expensive than a typical water heater, but you also get these pretty significant energy bill savings relative to a typical water heater.
James Lawler: Right? And that’s the key with electrification, isn’t it?
Like you have to really compare how much are you spending in electricity and in heating oil per year, and then look at that as compared to, you know, the cost of ownership and installation and ownership for the new technology. And so what you find with heat pumps and, and you know, even geothermal system and solar photovoltaics and other things, is installing these, you know, there is some upfront cost and, and usually there’s financing that brings that down.
And then over time you’re, you know, you’re de-risking the cost, you know, of what that could be because utilities increase costs of, you know, of electricity or [00:25:00] oil and gas companies, you know, you, you can’t control what that’s gonna be every year and it’s only going in one direction. And that’s really the economic, this is not just for people who like the idea of decarbonizing, these are really, you know, good economic decisions for, at least in most cases, to be making. So I just wanna make sure that we put that out there.
Cora Wyent: Yeah, that’s a great point. That’s absolutely true. And I think you also have to consider that you would’ve otherwise been replacing it with a fossil fuel appliance.
So you’ve, and especially in the case of a heat pump, rather than just looking at like, oh wow, this heat pump is more expensive. You have to compare that to, otherwise you would be replacing your AC and your furnace whereas a heat pump is a machine that can do both.
James Lawler: Okay.
Cora Wyent: And they’re great incentives and tax credits and rebates available through the Inflation Reduction Act and through local state government.
So there’s a lot, there’s a lot that people can do to bring that upfront cost down. We think it’s around 150,000 to 180,000 sales of heat pump water heaters a year. So each year about 20,000 [00:26:00] new people are buying heat pump water heaters. What we see is that to stay on our pace of progress in this current year, we need 30,000 more people to buy heat pump water heaters than did last year. So that’s, you know, if business as usual is 17,000, we need that to be 30,000, um, of sort of a growth rate instead.
James Lawler: Great. Okay. And what’s the next, what’s next on our list?
Cora Wyent: Great. So going down the list, the next thing on here is our cooking. So that’s switching from gas stoves to induction stoves. Um, induction stoves are a fantastic technology. They’re fast, they’re responsive. If you’ve never cooked with an induction stove before, I highly encourage you to just get an induction hot plate on Amazon to try it. My wife got me one for Christmas last year and it’s amazing.
James Lawler: It’s sort of magical. It’s, it is sort of magical. Yeah, I totally agree with you.
Cora Wyent: Induction. Induction is great. And in terms of our pace of progress, currently the induction stove market is [00:27:00] growing at a rate of about 30,000 new induction stoves a year. That one, we actually need to jump up to about 190,000 new induction stoves per year, but keep in mind that this is one where this transition is already really happening.
James Lawler: Mm-hmm. And so is that more than linear, that growth rate?
Cora Wyent: Well, I think it’s, I think it’s still early days for all of these technologies, and if you look at the bottom of an S-shaped curve, it kind of looks linear at first.
James Lawler: Yep, yep.
Cora Wyent: So it’s hard to say really where we are. I’d say, um, one thing that we wanna do in the future with this work is really start tracking year after year our progress against these S-shaped curves.
So, this initial report aimed at sort of setting the benchmarks that we could then use for tracking progress later. But I do think for many of these technologies, there’s some evidence that we’re already starting to kind of kick up in that S-shaped curve.
James Lawler: Okay, that’s, that’s helpful. So we’ve covered now heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, and induction stove tops. What are the remaining technologies and what do we have to do there? [00:28:00]
Cora Wyent: So the remaining ones are electric vehicles and rooftop solar. So in the case of electric vehicles, what we’re seeing is a current growth rate of about a hundred thousand new sales each year. So that’s a hundred thousand new people buying electric vehicles each year.
That’s the market growing by a hundred thousand sales each year. What we need to see is about 750,000 new sales this year. So we’ve really gotta sort of accelerate that market growth curve for, for EVs.
James Lawler: Mm-hmm. Okay. And how about residential solar installation?
Cora Wyent: So, residential solar, we actually modeled this one a little bit differently because. It’s not quite the same type of thing as an appliance where you’re replacing appliances year after year. So we looked at the rate of change of installations as an S-curve instead of of sales as an S-curve, if that makes sense.
James Lawler: Mm-hmm.
Cora Wyent: So currently solar installations are growing by about 900,000 new installations each year, and that needs to be ramped up to about [00:29:00] 1.3 million new installations each year.
James Lawler: Wow. Now, Cora was the order in which we just discussed those technologies, the order in which homeowners should prioritize the purchase or the, the acquisition of these different technologies.
Cora Wyent: It, it wasn’t necessarily, it was sort of the order that we focus on things here at Rewiring America because we are more focused on household electrification.
James Lawler: Yeah.
Cora Wyent: The, the heaviest hitters from a emissions per year perspective are going to be rooftop solar, EVs and heat pumps. I would say all three of those are same order of magnitude of emissions impacts. You know, on the order of tons per year of carbon dioxide that you’re keeping out of the atmosphere. And then with all of those, they’re pretty, they’ve got pretty significant upfront costs.
They’re all going to lead to pretty significant bill savings too. And then with heat pumps and solar, I think the thing to keep in mind too is that those are investments that if you’re a homeowner, will raise the value of your home. [00:30:00] Pretty significantly. So you can think of it as an investment that when you sell your home, you’ll basically get that money back.
James Lawler: So Cora, how would you summarize what Rewiring America is putting out into the world in this report and what impacts, specifically, do you- would you hope for this report to have in the world?
Cora Wyent: So we’d hope for this report to be used by, say, a local government that’s trying to set climate targets to set near term and more achievable targets.
Because when you set a target like net zero by 2050, it’s hard to know what does that actually look like in 20 23, 20 24, and 2025? So we hope that by modeling out these S-curves and giving people a trajectory to follow, that we can get people setting some more actionable near-term goals that really feels like, okay, this is manageable. This is something that we can do and start tackling today.
James Lawler: Cora’s parting thoughts led us to one more question about what actionable steps can be taken to reach these goals. [00:31:00] Cora introduced us to her colleague Stephen Pantano, who is Head of Market Transformation for Rewiring America. We asked Steve if he could share the solutions that Rewiring America has identified to close the gap between business as usual and the S-shaped adoption curves of the Pace of Progress Report. Here’s Stephen.
Stephen Pantano: I see this as a all hands on deck kind of moment for the country, which means, you know, we need everyone from individual purchasers of equipment to policymakers, to manufacturers, to community leaders to step up and do their part. And what that means is a little different for everyone. I think for individuals, people who own homes or who are renting homes, the first best thing that they can do is make a plan to identify the products in their home that use fossil fuels, whether it’s a furnace or a gas [00:32:00] cooktop, or a gas water heater, or even those that use electricity inefficiently, like electric resistance heaters or an electric resistance water heater, and have a plan in place to replace those products with more efficient electric devices at the end of those products lives.
Right? So if you’re a homeowner and you have a 15-year-old water heater and your HVAC equipment is only two or three years old, maybe you should focus on your water heater first and do the planning work necessary to have your contractors lined up. You know, if you have a gas water heater today, you will need an electrical service brought to the location of the water heater in your home so that when your gas water heater needs to be replaced, you can easily swap in a heat pump water heater with relatively little effort, right? You don’t need to have the electrician come on short notice, for example, and run that circuitry, you’ve done that planning in advance.
For policymakers the story is very different. So for example, state energy [00:33:00] offices are about to receive hundreds of million dollars in some cases from the federal government to run electrification and efficiency rebate programs. Those energy offices need to be planning today to make sure that they have the right tools in place to deploy those resources, those rebate programs, efficiently and effectively to make sure that consumers can access those rebates at the point of sale, and that contractors who are installing equipment aren’t necessarily overly burdened by the requirements of doing income verification and making sure that this is just a generally streamlined and customer friendly process so that people aren’t put off by, by the hurdles that may occur if they are trying to access the rebates that are available to them.
Policymakers also need to be thinking about workforce development. So we know, for example, that. We don’t have enough electricians and we don’t have enough highly trained, uh, HVAC installers in this country to do the amount of work that we’re saying needs to be done over the next 20 years so we need to [00:34:00] scale the skilled workforce to have enough people available in the market so that, you know, when I, as a homeowner make a call and say, Hey, I need a new heat pump installed in my home, or I have a furnace, and I, I wanna replace that with, with a heat pump system in the future, that I know how to find a skilled contractor who can do that work, who’s familiar with the technology and who’s going to give me a good price and a good set of recommendations for what else needs to happen when I, when I make that transition to my home.
James Lawler: Okay. So you’ve got individual solutions at the homeowner scale on one side and regional scale policy approaches on the other. What part can community leaders play in driving electrification and these changes?
Stephen Pantano: So if you are a council person or mayor or an advocate in a town, anywhere in the country, you have a job to do in helping to look at your community and understand where the electrification upgrades can benefit people the most.
And then directing communications [00:35:00] campaigns and outreach and community led efforts in those neighborhoods where perhaps people are the most energy burdened or have the most dependency on really expensive oil heat or really expensive electric resistance heat so that you know those are the people with the best payback periods and who are likely to have the best experience from some of these new technologies and save the most money. They should be the ones we speak to first and help to make the transition first.
James Lawler: And what about utility providers? Can they help speed the transition as well?
Stephen Pantano: That’s a great question. Part of this is a job for utility regulators to do in unlocking gas investment dollars and making those available for what they call non-pipes alternatives.
You know, these pipes that are being installed in cities around the country this very day have 50 or 75 or 100 lifetimes. I would argue we shouldn’t be making those [00:36:00] wholesale investments in infrastructure that’s probably going to be obsolete in the next 25 years if we hit this pace of progress target. Those are stranded assets.
I think the utilities also, you know, there are still plenty of places where you can get incentives for a more efficient gas furnace. Maybe those same incentives should be used to encourage people to move towards electrification and move towards heat pumps. In that same sense, there are utilities and, and programs that offer rebates on central ACs. I would argue there’s a really good call to action here to move all of those central AC rebates to central heat pump rebates so that we’re encouraging more people when their air conditioner fails to at least make that transition to a heat pump so they can start getting some of their heat through efficient electric instead of only through fossil.
James Lawler: And those incentives could go a long way in helping with the upfront cost for these kinds of replacements, right? Which, which still seemed to be one of the biggest barriers to adoption.
Stephen Pantano: [00:37:00] Yeah, I mean, uh, so the electrification rebates in the Inflation Reduction Act have income limits on them, right? If you make less than 150% of the area median, you can qualify for up to $14,000, which can be used on the equipment and the electrical work and some of the labor costs that get rolled up into these projects. And then the tax credits are also available for these projects for people who have an income tax liability, and that’s an annual renewable amount.
Now, that’s probably going to be enough for some people, but not enough altogether for a lot of people. So, you know, there’s certainly a need for more. There’s plenty of money being spent today on rebates on products for energy efficiency, for gas, or for one way air conditioners, which could potentially be redirected towards also supporting the electrification transition. And then, you know, you start to stack these incentives up and hopefully make a [00:38:00] compelling case along with the energy savings that people will receive over the lifetime of the equipment, that this is indeed a cost-effective change to make at this particular time.
James Lawler: That was Cora Wyatt and Steve Pantano of Rewiring America speaking about the newly released Pace of Progress Report, which we linked too with this episode on our website, climate now.com for those of you who would like to read it. Thanks so much, Steve and Cora, and that’s it for today’s episode. If you’d like to get in touch, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @WeAreClimateNow. We hope you’ll join us for our next conversation!