Today’s Solutions: May 16, 2022

Despite the alarming reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, experts still think that if we pull together and act quickly to use energy more efficiently, slow deforestation, and make a rapid shift to renewables, we can still cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

Of course, a lot of the strategies that will lead to the wider adaption of greener practices require new laws and regulations and significant funding from governments and big businesses, but something that is in the control of many consumers is the decision to power our homes and devices with clean electricity.

Why go electric?

Approximately one-sixth of total US energy consumption, as of 2020, comes from home energy use. Almost half (47 percent) of this energy is electric, while natural gas (42 percent), oil (8 percent), and renewable energy (7 percent) make up the rest. 

The most effective strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from home energy consumption is to trade oil and natural gas for electricity generated from low- and zero-carbon sources. This shift should be facilitated by the fact that the power sector is going in this direction anyway, as this 2021 report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory demonstrates, power producers have reduced their carbon emissions by half from what energy experts predicted in 2005.

Heat pumps for cold and hot days

The largest portion of home energy consumption goes to heating and cooling, so abandoning an oil-or gas-power furnace and switching to a heat pump is inarguably one of the most effective ways to shrink a home’s carbon footprint.

Heat pumps move heat in and out of buildings instead of burning fossil fuel. Robert Brecha, a University of Dayton sustainability expert explains:

“Extremely cold fluid circulates through coils of tubing in the heat pumps outdoor unit. That fluid absorbs energy in the form of heat from the surrounding air, which is warmer than the fluid. The fluid vaporizes and then circulates into a compressor. Compressing any gas heats it, so this process generates heat. Then the vapor moves through the coils of tubing in the indoor unit of the heat pump, heating the building.”

For cooling, the process simply works in reverse (think of how a refrigerator removes heat from the food storage area and expels it into the air wherever it sits).

Geothermal heat pumps are also a good option (these pumps go through the same process but instead collect warmth from the earth).

Cooking without gas—or heat

Despite the common belief amongst home chefs that gas flames allow for more precise heating, electric burners offer a range of benefits on top of being more eco-friendly.

“Instead of conventional burners, the cooking spots on induction cooktops are called hobs and consist of wire coils embedded in the cooktop’s surface,” writes Binghamton University electrical engineering professor Kenneth McLeod.

The electric charge moves through the wires and creates a magnetic field, which then creates an electric field in the bottom of the cookware. “Because of resistance, the pan will heat up, even though the hob does not,” McLeod adds.

Induction cooktops cut wait times for cooling down and heating up, and are very accurate in terms of temperature control. They’re easier to clean and much safer than electric stoves since the hobs cool down quickly once cookware is removed. 

Electric cars as backup power sources

Electric vehicle sales are on the rise all in the US and elsewhere, and auto manufacturers are beginning to innovate new EV models and designs. One of the emerging technologies embedded within some of these models is the capacity to offer bidirectional charging. This means car batteries can be charged at home, and the power can be moved back into the house, and possibly even into the grid.

This technology is expected to grow as there is immense value in making residents less vulnerable to power outages, something that may become more common as extreme weather events continue to rise. According to Penn State energy expert Seth Blumsack, “Bidirectional charging is… an integral part of a broader vision for a next-generation electric grid in which millions of EVs are constantly taking power from the grid and giving it back—a key element of an electrified future.”

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