Residential and commercial buildings are responsible for almost 40% of total carbon emissions in the United States. Policymakers with a focus on climate action are taking notice; they are advancing both policies that reduce emissions from the built environment and that favor electric technologies.
Momentum to “electrify everything” has taken hold as states and cities like California and Seattle introduce policies to enable beneficial electrification by fuel switching (see chart below). Electrification can help reduce emissions from buildings as we “green” the grid. American member states and jurisdictions of the International Code Council have signaled support for this movement nationally with their votes to adopt three of the first-ever electrification proposals in the 2021 update to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). However, some state lawmakers have pushed to block municipal electrification mandates, and the new update to the IECC is currently under an appeals process.
With the limited availability of some electric alternatives to gas end uses, programs are underway to increase visibility and market share of fossil-fuel-free options for cooking, water heating, and space heating. Heat pumps that deliver 2–3 times as much heat per unit of energy than gas options are being put forward as alternatives to gas furnaces, rooftop units, and boilers. Heat pump water heaters represent less than 2% market share currently, but new programs are working to increase availability and installation of these products. Utility incentive offerings, for example, could defray higher upfront cost barriers.
It is likely that building electrification trends will continue to grow as cities and states work to reach their 2030 commitments to achieve carbon emission reductions. Electrification in new construction may rapidly become the norm in locations with progressive climate policies. Those states will still face challenges, however, including regional priorities, cost-tests of electrification, and the sheer number of existing buildings that require electrification retrofits.
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