by JP Bruner, Climate Change Lead
When we talk about addressing climate change, we often think about electric cars and solar panels. However, the way we heat our buildings, water and cook our food should be a larger part of that conversation as well.
Our local Climate Action Plans (a city’s plan to address climate change) consistently show us similar results: transportation and energy are the two biggest contributors of greenhouse gasses in our region. The third? Natural Gas.
The now iconic Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment states that we must fully decarbonize our economy by midcentury. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the average building lifetime is 70 years. How can we expect to live in a world powered by clean energy in just 30 years when we are knowingly building fossil fuel infrastructure that will last until the end of the century?
It’s time to electrify our building stock and ban natural gas hookups in new building construction.
The numbers don’t lie, burning and extracting natural gas has a huge impact on the climate. In California, a whopping 12% of our total greenhouse gas emissions come from burning gas in buildings. When gas is extracted from the ground, it also releases methane, which is 84 times more effective at heating the planet than carbon dioxide.
On top of that, burning gas inside our homes and buildings has a significant impact on our health. Although we burn roughly the same amount of gas in our power plants as we do in our buildings, nitrous oxide pollution from buildings is seven times greater than the pollution coming from power plants. This is because power plant emissions are strictly regulated, but those regulations do not cover the pollution from cooking eggs on your stovetop.
The consequences of this are huge. Peaking in winter when most of us have our windows closed (or are quarantined), an estimated 12 million Californians breath air inside their homes that would not meet the EPA’s outdoor air quality standards. One must also be sensitive to the fact that this impacts lower income individuals far greater than those who can afford to live in larger, more open homes.
But what will this transition cost us?
In short, potentially nothing at all. It is a common misconception that an electrified building is a more expensive one, both in construction and operational costs. The truth is that gas-free homes can be built and maintained cheaper than a traditional house. It's estimated that foregoing natural gas saves - on average - $6000 in construction costs and $10,000 in utility bill savings over the life of the home.
The good news is that we already have the solutions, and cities across the state are taking action. The technology exists to make all of our homes and buildings gas free. Couple that with our increasingly clean electricity grid in California and voilà, you’ve got a pretty climate-friendly building or home (or skip the wait and just get solar panels yourself!). Over 50 cities across California - including Carlsbad - have restricted natural gas hookups for new construction and remodels in some way, shape or form.
To protect our ocean and coasts from the worst impacts of climate change, we need to decarbonize everything, something that buildings and homes with gas lines will never be able to do. The momentum throughout the state is in our favor, and together we have the (electric) power to make sweeping changes to our building stock in San Diego county.