Acadia Center’s Building Electrification Program couples regional coalition-building with reliable modeling and analysis to create momentum for innovative policies to make every building a zero-emissions building.
Buildings are the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast. In order to reach our climate goals, 12.7 million housing units and more than 10 billion square feet of commercial real estate must be completely electrified in the next two decades or sooner. The barriers are more logistical than technical: there are millions of individual decision-makers to coordinate, long equipment lifetimes and idiosyncratic building stock to account for, and safety hazards like asbestos to remediate. Acadia Center’s policy analysis and building energy modeling help to sort through these barriers and arrive at innovative policy proposals that will eliminate emissions from buildings.
Energy efficiency has been, and will continue to be, the lowest cost greenhouse gas mitigation strategy for the Northeast—and every other region. Read more about Acadia Center’s history as a leading energy efficiency advocate and its plans for the next generation of energy efficiency here.
About Building Electrification
To eliminate emissions from buildings, all of the equipment that currently burns fossil fuels in our homes and businesses must be replaced with an efficient, electric alternative. Modern electric equipment like heat pumps and induction stoves have the potential to be straightforwardly, verifiably, fully zero-emissions when powered by the sun or the wind. But even with the current electric grid, heat pumps can reduce emissions by about 60% or more compared to the cleanest fossil fuel system.
Heat pumps reduce emissions so substantially because they are super-efficient: rather than generating heat, they move it from one place to another. Taking advantage of the tendency of warm air to move to cold areas, a heat pump uses a refrigerant to gather heat from the outside air or the ground and deposit it within a living space. By contrast, a furnace or boiler works by burning a fossil fuel to heat a medium—water or metal—which is then used to heat the living space. That extra step is costly: while heat pumps have an average annual efficiency of nearly 300%, most boilers and furnaces sold today are 85% to 90% efficient.
Heat pumps might sound like a strange new technology, but most people in the Northeast already own one: central and window air conditioners use the same process, but in reverse. Indeed, many of the cold climate heat pumps which will heat our buildings in the future even look similar to a central air conditioner. Heat pump technology can provide a building with space heating, air conditioning, and water heating—the three end uses that account for the lion’s share of energy use and emissions in most buildings.
Induction cooking appliances round out the clean, all-electric building of the future. While this equipment is super-efficient—it can boil a quart of water in ninety seconds—its most important feature is that it provides a superior cooking experience with none of the dangerous fumes that gas stoves generate. One of these fumes—nitrogen dioxide—has even been linked to the development of asthma in children. Induction stoves are yet another example of the many health benefits of electrification in buildings.
Policy & Coalitions
Heat pumps are commercially available, prevalent in other parts of the world, and a crucial part of achieving state climate goals. Despite that, public awareness of the technology is limited in the Northeast. As a result, meaningful state policies remain sparse. Acadia Center’s clean heating work is focused on working with policymakers, advocates, and the public to spread awareness about the benefits of this technology.
Working for justice. Building electrification is desirable not just for its potential to reduce emissions, but because it means cleaner indoor air, less heat stress illness, and a significant reduction in energy bills for many homes. Specifically, electrification can eliminate some of the negative impacts that fossil fuels have on low-income households, people of color, and English-isolated families. These communities bear the brunt of fossil fuels’ health and safety impacts. Acadia Center’s advocacy focuses on the need to invest materially in the buildings in which these communities live and work, reducing these threats to their well-being.
Spreading awareness. Heat pump equipment can save money, increase comfort, improve health and safety, and reduce emissions. Yet because cold-climate heat pump models are relatively new to the Northeast, the benefits of the technology are not well understood. Acadia Center’s informative reports—like Clean Heating Pathways—use plain language and clear data to demonstrate that clean heating will improve people’s lives in concrete ways.
Energetic advocacy. State policies that offer financial assistance for electrification measures, set statewide electrification targets, ensure that every state resident can benefit from electrification regardless of income, and provide support for the contractor community are critical for expanding the marketplace for clean heating equipment. Acadia Center uses its role on energy efficiency advisory councils and works in coalition with its partners to make the case for ambitious and innovative policy approaches that will lead to widespread adoption of heat pumps across the region.
Policy development. Acadia Center brings deep subject matter expertise about building science and HVAC technology to state climate policy discussions. Working with stakeholder bodies, agency decision-makers, trade associations, and a variety of other industry actors, Acadia Center brings its research to bear in the regulatory arena, ensuring that state policies and regulations reflect sound science and respond effectively to the needs of state residents.
Acadia Center’s advocacy for building electrification spans the Northeast. And because weather, fuel prices, cost of living, and building stock characteristics vary widely from place to place, research and analysis must be closely calibrated to local conditions to provide policymakers with the most relevant possible information.
The PowerHouse home energy model provides this hyper-local analysis. Leveraging trusted data sources, the model generates a detailed assessment of the energy, emissions, and bill impacts of whole-home electrification on an hourly basis. A series of Power House reports is scheduled for release starting in early 2021. These will answer a variety of questions significant to policymakers, including:
- How much money will electrification save for building occupants relative to fossil fuel business-as-usual?
- How much greenhouse gas emissions can electrification reduce?
- Precisely how will the growth of solar and wind on the electric grid impact the emissions impacts of electrification?
- What will the winter peak impacts of building electrification be, and what are the best ways to manage them?
- How much do heat pumps cost to install, and how will capital costs change with supportive policies?
Building electrification represents one of the great steps forward that states in the Northeast must make to meet climate commitments. Armed with analytical, regulatory, legal, and policy expertise, Acadia Center staff are working to transform the built environment for a zero-carbon economy.
Acadia Center’s research and advocacy is helping to advance policies such as:
- Better consumer incentives for home and business owners who choose to electrify
- All-electric building codes that avoid locking in fossil fuel heating in new buildings
- Workforce development programs that support contractors who install heat pump technologies
- Pairing weatherization and electrification measures to maximize health and emissions benefits
- Flexible electric rate designs that allow building occupants to capture bill savings with their heat pump