Summary: Updated May 5, 2017
- Replace your car with a fully electric car or a plug-in hybrid.
- Transition your home to greater electric efficiency by selecting projects from our Home section.
- Convert your home energy usage to 100% electric.
- Finally, before taking action, look at our list of Stuff to Skip so you don’t take a misstep along the way.
A note from… ButItJustMightWork.com :
Our goal is to make things simple. We give you the main point in the first few sentences of a page or post so you don’t have to sift through paragraphs of rambling if you just wanted the summary. After that, we elaborate. Don’t have time for all the whys and what fors? Don’t care to read through the supporting research? That’s not a problem. Just stick to the summary. On the other hand, For those of you who are curious and have the time, keep reading.
All the Facts:
In the intermediate level on the path to going fully renewable, we’ll address everything up to the point of installing your own energy generation systems. Intermediate projects focus on either energy efficiency, conversion to electricity for your energy supply, or both. Energy efficiency allows you to use less energy, lowering fossil fuel consumption. Converting to 100% electrical usage is about possibilities. Electricity is not a fossil fuel, nor is fossil fuel required to generate it. Until your energy consumption is 100% electric, it is not possible for you to eliminate all of your fossil fuel emissions. With that in mind, let’s start with transportation.
Electric cars are fun. They have instant torque and far quicker acceleration than their internal combustion engine counterparts. They fuel up nightly in your garage while you sleep. They are quieter inside and out. Don’t like quiet explosion? Not to worry, the list other reasons to switch is pretty long. Here are just some of the highlights:
Transitioning to an electric car strengthens national security, wipes out hundreds of thousands of occurrences of childhood asthma, and reduces your carbon footprint more than any other method. And did I mention they are fun? They. Are. A. Blast.
By way of introduction, here’s a short summary on the state of renewable energy today. The world installs renewable energy for less money than the fossil fuel alternatives. India’s energy minister declared solar cheaper than coal. Wind power is so cheap, Texas is giving it away while continuing to ramp up capacity. Ohio’s public utilities commission was just caught trying to subsidize coal and nuclear power because those energy sources are no longer competitive.
All of this is happening during a downturn in fossil fuel pricing so extreme that 130 oil and natural gas companies declared bankruptcy between January 2015 and May 2016. Even when fossil fuels are cheap, they aren’t cheap enough to beat renewables on pricing. Whatever amount of energy you are using now will be cheaper with renewables because renewables are cheaper already. The chart below shows Lazard’s analysis for levelized cost of energy (LCOE) based on generation type. The unsubsidized costs for solar sneak in just below gas combined cycle, with wind energy less expensive still.
Not only do solar and wind beat out fossil fuels in cost, they are still getting cheaper. Solar costs are falling by 10% annually. Battery costs are falling by 14% annually. Wind energy prices fell 66% from 2009 to 2014, from 7 cents to 2.35 cents.
Renewable energy is technology based. Technology gets cheaper over time. Remember how expensive your first computer was? Now consider that the phone in your pocket likely costs only a fraction of the first computer but it has a million times the processing power. The same is true of solar and wind power. Take a look at the price of silicon PV cells since 1977.
There is overwhelming evidence that renewables are winning market share and that the pace will only accelerate as costs continue falling.
There is one main rule with energy efficiency that I want to burn into your brain. You should only do the cheap and easy stuff! Energy efficiency falls victim to the rule of diminishing returns. Once you have completed the cheap and easy stuff, you very quickly hit the point where your investment will not pay for itself. From that point, you will save more money and reduce more emmissions by installing solar or wind power instead of executing expensive energy efficiency retrofits.
The same rule applies to your daily habits, but in a much more extreme way. There is no reason why you need to change your energy consumption habits in ways that make you less comfortable. Unless you are in the small minority of people who can diet effectively, you will fail. You may fail anyway. Humans aren’t great at self control. Fortunately, we’re unbelievable at technological development, as the price trends for renewable energy reinforce. So, only use energy efficiency strategies that are fun, cheap, easy and make life more convenient. After implementing those strategies, you are done with energy efficiency! Congratulations. You are ready to convert 100% of your energy consumption to electricity.
Why Convert to Electricity?
The only way to adopt a zero emissions lifestyle is to eliminate usage of all sources of energy that depend upon fossil fuels. That means moving to 100% electricity usage. Much like buying an electric car, your carbon footprint will then decrease daily as the grid uses less and less emissions-creating fuel.
Many homes use a fossil fuel of one type or another. The majority of homes use a fossil fuel for heating, either through natural gas or heating oil. Most people heat their water with natural gas. Many people use gas for their stove/oven in addition to drying their clothing. The U.S. Department of Energy breaks down home energy usage in the following way:
Since people primarily use fossil fuels for space and water heating, 63% of the average home is powered by fossil fuels. By converting to electricity, that drops immediately. In 2015 coal, natural gas, petroleum, and biomass fuel accounted for 69% of grid generation according to the EIA. The other sources are emission free.
- Coal = 33%
- Natural gas = 33%
- Nuclear = 20%
- Hydropower = 6%
- Other renewables = 7%
- Biomass = 1.6%
- Geothermal = 0.4%
- Solar = 0.6%
- Wind = 4.7%
- Petroleum = 1%
- Other gases = <1%
This means that the grid is currently 31% emissions free, and getting cleaner every year.
Making the Switch:
Switching to electricity is easy to do, but oftentimes it takes rewiring which increases the cost of switching. For that reason, many people choose to make the switch when they are planning on replacing a major appliance anyway. I would recommend making the conversion through a master plan to switch your whole house to electric energy sources.
- Make a list of elements of the home that currently run on fossil fuels
- Estimate when each element will need replacing
- Decide the point in time that makes the most sense for switching to electrical appliances
- Get at least 3 quotes from different electricians for installing all the electrical upgrades
- Have all the wiring upgrades completed at one time, even if you may keep a couple of natural gas appliances for a year or two more
If you get all the upgrades completed at once, then you will have a single trip cost for your electrical work from the electrician. Plus, you will only have to patch electrician-created holes once. Finally, you will be able to stop paying the monthly service fee that is part of your gas bill. In most parts of the country, this is hundreds of dollars. Since the service fee is a decent chunk of the overall bill, it might make sense to replace the last couple of appliances at the same time instead of continuing to pay the service fee just for one appliance.
Things to remember to include in the conversion.
- Electric car charge point (even if you are not immediately getting an EV)
- Hybrid hot water heater
- Heat pump (space heating/air conditioner)
- Clothes dryer
More Tips On How To Go Fully Electric
Taking the plunge and transitioning to a fully electric home is important. It’s just as important to make the switch in the smartest way possible. That means knowing what to do and what to avoid. We cover both of those topics in our Home section. It also includes all of the major appliances and how to pick the right one for you.
Stuff to Skip: This section lists the top mistakes in energy efficiency home renovation. Don’t waste money on the unimportant stuff. This includes items that have better alternatives such as skipping CFLs and moving directly to LEDs. But it also points out items that should be skipped entirely such as triple pane windows (since the money would be more effectively spent on solar panels… or nearly any other energy efficiency upgrade). Don’t worry, we include all the data that points to this conclusion so that you don’t have to simply take our word for it.
The Next Step:
Have you finished your energy efficiency upgrades and converted your home to 100% electricity? That means you’re ready for the final step on the path toward a zero emissions lifestyle. Check out our Total Commitment section for tips on installing a home solar array. We cover typical costs, payback times, great online tools, and more. If you live in an apartment, Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) are likely your best option for decreasing your fossil fuel usage. We explain here how you can get up to 50% of your energy use from RECs for free.