Electrify, a powerful new book by Saul Griffith, makes the case for a clean energy future.
BY ERIC SCHWARTZ
CLIMATE CHANGE HAS REACHED GLOBAL PROPORTIONS. We have to do something now, and in the performance home space which is endeavoring to bring net-zero energy methodologies and sustainable practices to the build-out of new homes and major remodels, our time has come to consider the power source of the future in order to make a significant impact on making our homes and buildings a part of the solution.
In a required reading, impactful new book by Saul Griffith, Electrify makes the case for a clean energy future. Presenting two urgent issues, Griffith states his case on how to transform our energy supply to clean renewables and just as importantly, how to pay for that work.
Saul Griffith is an engineer, inventor and entrepreneur and the founder of Rewiring America, a nonprofit focused on decarbonizing America. He is also Founder and Chief Scientist at Otherlab. He received a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” in 2007.
“At the highest level, any realistic plan for total decarbonization is simple: electrify everything. We have the technology we need, today, to solve climate change. And when we electrify everything, we will cut our energy need in half,” states Griffith. He builds his case by looking at energy production efficiencies.
“We can eliminate almost a quarter of the energy we think we need if we stop burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. In a power plant today, fossil fuels are burned to generate heat, which is used to make steam, which is used to spin a turbine, which is used to create electricity. Physics tells us that using heat to generate electricity is subject to inescapable limits on efficiency. Under most real-world circumstances, fossil fuel-burning machines are 20-60 percent efficient.
“Carbon-free, non-thermal sources like solar and wind – while also subject to the laws of physics – don’t involve as many conversions from one type of energy to another. Because of this, generating electricity with renewables would eliminate approximately 15 percent of the primary fossil energy we currently think we need to run the economy.”
Griffith goes on to make his case for electrifying our homes and buildings – in a move away from natural gas — and this is where our architects and builders can play a significant role in changing the dynamics and mind-sets of homeowners embarking on new builds and major remodels. Because changes in how we build homes shouldn’t come from government regulation, it should be organic in nature and led by the very industries that are engaging in the commerce of home building.
“Carbon-free, non-thermal sources like solar and wind – while also subject to the laws of physics – don’t involve as many conversions from one type of energy to another.”Saul Griffith
“Electrifying the heat used in homes and offices offers another huge opportunity for savings in the new energy economy. For low-temperature heat (e.g. thermal energy that is hotter than human skin but cooler than boiling water), we have an astounding and well-developed technology called heat pumps that significantly outperform the old ways of doing things.
Today, space heat and hot water for homes and offices is usually created by burning natural gas or fuel oil, or by running electricity through a resistive heat element. Heat pumps work on a different principle, concentrating thermal energy from abundant sources, such as the air outside or earth underneath your house, into household appliances and HVAC equipment. This difference allows them to operate more efficiently, supplying more than three times as much heating and cooling per unit of energy input as conventional approaches. If deployed at scale in the U.S., these devices would cut another 5-7 percent of the total energy the country requires.”
Finally, Electrify states the obvious on the latest lighting technology that our industry has and continues to embrace. “LED lighting wins us another 1-2 percent. Like electric cars, LED technology has matured greatly in quality, performance and availability in the past few years. Lumen for lumen, LEDs use one-fifth the energy of traditional lighting technologies. What’s more, they last for tens of thousands of hours and require much less frequent bulb replacement. Integrated controls and occupancy sensors for switching off lights when they aren’t needed can extend these savings further. A wholesale commitment to these technologies can save us another 1-2 percent.
I state the obvious when I say that our time to make wholesale changes in how we approach performance home strategies is upon us. Climate change might just be the number one issue of our times and certainly in 10 years it will dominate our thinking. We have the ability to be at the forefront of the movement to electrify our homes and play a major role in the creation of new power grids and energy delivery. TD is certainly committed to educating and reporting on the latest trends in solar capture, battery storage and new ideas on how we get to the end game of net-zero energy. Look for continued coverage and more advocacy for our global well-being.