What would it be like to live in a home that uses all electric appliances?
A panel of experts who spoke Thursday at an event hosted by the SLO Climate Coalition at the SLO library touched on questions around cost, safety and the ability of the grid to handle a transition from gas to electrically-powered homes.
The discussion comes in advance of a planned SLO City Council meeting Sept. 3 when a new policy around energy requirements for constructing new homes will be considered.
The proposed changes to building codes would incentivize electrification by allowing construction with all-electric appliances to meet minimum state standards.
If the new policy is approved, those who choose to construct gas-powered systems would have to retrofit existing buildings to electric appliance systems or pay an in-lieu fee that will be used for the same purpose, according to city officials.
It makes good sense, they said, to start planning for a future in which communities will be faced with finding ways to reduce as much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as possible — a significant portion of those emissions now coming from use of gas appliances in homes.
“We support local governments taking action to promote all electric, new construction when it’s cost effective,” said Hannah Kaye, an expert product manager with PG&E. “We’re excited to partner with cities like SLO to make it happen, to achieve its policy goals.”
Kaye said PG&E supplies San Luis Obispo area customers with electric power, but not gas, though it offers gas services elsewhere in California. She said the statewide grid can handle electric-powered homes.
“We see the economics and think it’s good for customers,” Kaye said. “It’s not going to crash the grid.”
While the cost to retrofit a home by converting gas to electric can be expensive, building new homes with that infrastructure already in place helps meet climate action goals and reduce home utility costs, speakers said.
Nick Young, of the Association for Energy Affordability, said electric heat pumps are an effective way to supply energy for water heaters, for example, and high efficiency models can save people on costs because they require much less energy to operate.
Additionally, they are generally safer because flammable materials aren’t running through the home, risking a potential explosion.
“In 10 or 15 years, people will say, ‘Gosh, they used to pipe gas through their buildings,’” Young said. “That’s crazy.”
Statewide standards will require all newly constructed homes to have solar panels starting in 2020, which also will help reduce energy costs and make electricity use more efficient, panelists said.
Bronwyn Barry, the board chair of the North American Passive House Network, said electric-powered homes she has showcased have included easy-to-use devices such as induction cooktops with convenient temperature controls, quiet compressors using an electric motor to convert power into potential energy stored in pressurized air and LED light fixtures, among other features.
Questions from the audience included potential resistance to policy changes from labor unions and opposition from SoCal Gas.
Chris Read, the city’s sustainability manager, acknowledged that SoCal Gas has sent the city a letter opposed its proposed building code changes.
Read told The Tribune on Friday that the city is preparing for a future that will make it easier to transition to electric-powered energy in the face of climate change and California’s energy policies.
But Read emphasized that the city’s proposal will maintain choice for builders to use gas or electric.
“There’s also tremendous opportunity here,” Read said. “There’s additional work for electricians. The state’s mandate to include solar is beneficial to local solar contractors.”
Pierre Delforge, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said workers in the gas industry will have the opportunity to transition to new career paths as gas starts to phase out in coming decades, and the phasing out of gas will be “gradual.”