Challenge: Space Heating in an All Electric Grid

December 1, 2021

Without regard to the means we choose to decarbonize, electrification is a massive challenge.

Joule:

-53% of U.S. space heating energy can be electric without exceeding current peak loads•

-Electrification increases aggregated peak loads by 70%, more than double in 23 states•

-Targeted heat pump advances mitigate load issues, but challenging regions remain•

-Some fossil fuel backup supports 97% heating electrification without new peak loads

Abstract:

Building heating decarbonization is essential, but the prominent “all-electric” proposal—replace all fossil fuel heating with electric heat pumps and expanded renewable electricity supply—could require massive buildouts of underutilized electricity infrastructure according to the analysis presented in this paper. Future heat pump advances could mitigate these issues, but some regions could still require more than double the current delivery capacity. Because it is imperative to start rapidly reducing emissions now, this paper evaluates a viable transitional approach: dual source systems that maintain existing fossil fuel equipment with new heat pumps. Because the highest heating needs are infrequent, using fossil fuels for only 3% of total U.S. heating energy could avoid any increase in local peak electricity demands. Such an approach would further allow the flexibility to adapt to future developments, such as viable alternative fuels or unanticipated major heating technology advances.

2 Responses to “Challenge: Space Heating in an All Electric Grid”

  1. ecoquant Says:

    It’s clear to me that you cannot do this electrification of heating/cooling via heat pumps without at the same time combing that with local, distributed solar PV for the same homes, and possibly adding in local battery storage, e.g., Tesla Powerwall.

    I cannot know in general how this scales, but in our case, we led with air source heat pumps (and, indeed, get all our heating and cooling from them now), and then added solar PV, and will be adding more solar PV and a Tesla Powerwall, not only to cover the heat pumps but also to cover recharging of two EVs in the house, now that we no longer have any ICE vehicles, or lawn mower, or water heater.

    The problem with the analysis is that it is one narrow slice through needs. And needs are correlated.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I live in air-conditioning land where the local utilities have had to deal with very high peak electricity demands during heat waves (aka August in Austin) all along.

      In the winter here, of course, if it gets too cold they cut the power.
      😉


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