Case grows stronger for all-electric homes

A report developed by Renew has analysed the optimum fuel and technology choices for households in Western Australia – and found that the ecological argument for all-electric homes also stacks up economically.

The objective of the project was to understand the most cost-effective choices for residential consumers to access stationary energy in the South West Interconnected System (SWIS) in 2020/21. The SWIS grid covers the southwestern part of WA, from the coast in the south and west, to Kalbarri in the north and Kalgoorlie in the east. The analysis took into account different fuel types (mains electricity and mains gas), different household appliances, and the potential of onsite generation from solar PV.

The report also sought to improve WA energy consumers’ understanding of the latest trends in cost-effective energy management strategies and changing technology for households.

“On the demand side, the cost and efficiency of major residential heating and hot water appliances continues to improve; whilst solar PV has become even cheaper and more efficient,” reads the report.

“On the supply side, retail fixed daily charges for residential consumers to be connected to both mains gas and mains electricity networks in WA are approaching $500 per year.”

This means that although upfront costs for appliances are obvious, it is much harder for householders to gauge long-term ownership costs.

Report findings

The report found that in most cases, when a gas appliance requires replacing, it’s economic to install an efficient electric appliance instead. This implies that over time, as appliances reach the end of life, most homes would migrate to become all-electric and disconnect from gas if acting on an economic basis.

For new homes, the report found that regardless of location or tariff, it’s economical for new homes to avoid a gas connection and install efficient electric appliances instead.

“With efficient electric appliances, running costs are lower,” says the report, “and costs are avoided to install gas plumbing pipes and pay ongoing gas supply charges.”

One of the six recommendations of the study is to educate the building and energy industries, along with new home buyers, of the substantial value of all-electric homes.

“A key finding of this work is that by choosing an all-electric home with solar PV, a new home buyer will be in the order of $7,500 to $10,500 better off over 10 years, as compared with establishing that home as dual fuel (i.e., electricity and gas), without solar”, reads the report.

Other recommendations included review government policy and programs that subsidise or support the expansion of gas networks, and ensuring stronger oversight of the marketing of gas as cheaper and more efficient than electricity.

California dreaming

Meanwhile, in the US, the California Energy Commission has released a new building code that will promote more all-electric construction and set more stringent rules on how natural gas can be used for heating and cooking in new homes and apartments.

It has stopped short, however, of banning the use of natural gas in new buildings – a decision that has angered some commentators, who question whether this will jeopardise the Biden Administration’s commitment to halve national emissions by 2030, and California’s goal of moving to 100 per cent carbon-free energy by 2045.

According to research from the Rocky Mountain Institute, as much as US$1 billion could be invested in gas infrastructure expansion under the new code – which would be money wasted if the pipelines are later abandoned.

A new Harvard study has also raised concerns about the health impacts of gas appliances. Researchers found that pollution from natural gas is now responsible for more deaths and greater health costs than coal in parts of the US.

“Swapping out one combustion fuel for another is not a pathway that’s going to get us to a healthy energy system,” says the lead author, Jonathan Buonocore, an environmental health researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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