By Kai Palmer-Dunning | Thu, March 25, 21
States and local jurisdictions have many strategies in their playbooks to meet overall decarbonization goals. One such strategy that is essential to the building sector is strategic electrification or beneficial electrification. Strategic electrification refers to the replacement of building equipment and appliances that would typically run on fossil fuels (such as gas heaters, ovens, boilers, and gas dryers) with energy-efficient equipment that is powered by electricity. While energy grids in many states are still largely run on fossil fuels, eliminating the use of fossil fuel on-site can ensure that buildings use less carbon as the grid becomes cleaner over time. Electrified systems can also be powered on-site by renewables to further lower their reliance on fossil fuels and even reach zero energy for building operations. Strategic electrification is a great way for buildings to lower energy use and decarbonize overall.
For states that aim to implement strategic electrification provisions in their local building energy codes, federal appliance standard preemption is an important consideration that could limit certain potential electrification requirements. Federal appliance standards set a minimum efficiency for household appliances and building equipment that improve over time. These standards ensure that consumers have access to energy-efficient appliances that save them money and energy. However, appliance standards also preempt state building codes from requiring appliances and equipment that surpass existing appliance standard energy efficiency. For more information about strategic electrification and federal appliance standard preemption, feel free to check out NEEP’s brief Strategic Electrification and Codes.
In addition to the energy benefits of strategic electrification, there are also important non-energy benefits (NEBs). Burning fossil fuels in poorly ventilated buildings and homes can have serious health consequences due to the release of harmful gases like nitrogen oxides and other particulates. For vulnerable populations that live in inefficient homes, older homes, and multifamily buildings, there is an increased risk. Phasing out the use of appliances and equipment that burn natural gas and solid fuels and replacing them with electrified systems is a great way to improve indoor air quality and help communities that are at higher risk for respiratory diseases.
While it is important to focus on the benefits of strategic electrification due to the potential energy and cost-saving for building owners and homeowners, a more holistic approach is needed to ensure that equitable solutions are prioritized. The NEBs of strategic electrification, especially when paired with an improved building envelope, can ensure that states support a just transition for environmental justice communities as they continue to implement decarbonization strategies.