Since around 2010, a movement to electrify heating and cooking in homes has grown exponentially, first driven by environmental incentives, then by the improved economics and performance of electric appliances and the dramatic increase in the cost of gas.
More recently the movement has gained new momentum with the evidence mounting about health risks from using gas in the home.
Governments and regulators are questioning the future of the gas networks, and ‘electrification’ is gaining wider appeal.
At the same time, electric vehicles have gone from being the domain of techno-enthusiasts to most motorist’s dream car.
With some of the conventional wisdom turned on it’s head, a few new myths and half-truths have emerged, so let’s look at some of these claims.
Myth 1: “Electric appliances are less efficient than their gas counterparts”
False. Electric appliances have the potential for high efficiency. They use less energy than gas appliances to do the same job which makes them cheaper to run. Gas space and water heaters are up to only 80% efficient - 20% of gas energy is lost to the atmosphere as waste heat. Efficient electric space and water heaters do the opposite - they transfer heat from the atmosphere and are 300-500% efficient, which means they produce 5 times more energy than what they use.
Myth 2: “Electrification will increase the price of electricity”
False. In fact electrification will probably lower electricity prices for everyone. While more investment will be needed in some parts of the electricity grid to meet higher peak demand, the increased demand means the cost of the existing grid will be recovered from a larger base, driving down the price of electricity. As the energy system evolves with more renewable energy, storage and smart operating, it can accommodate increased demand more efficiently. This will offset the need for new investment.
Myth 3: “Electrifying all appliances will overload the grid”
False. The fear that the widespread adoption of electric appliances will overwhelm the grid and lead to widespread power outages is unfounded. Electric grids can be upgraded and modernised to handle the increased load, and smart grid technologies can optimise energy distribution.
Myth 4: “Electric appliances are less powerful or reliable”
Mostly false. Technological advancements have significantly improved the performance of electric appliances, making them just as capable, and in many cases, superior. Electric appliances have proven to be highly reliable and often require less maintenance, leading to increased overall efficiency and convenience.
Myth 5: “Electrification requires costly and extensive home rewiring”
Partly true. Often a new circuit needs to be installed for new electric appliances, and more extensive wiring upgrades may be required for older homes or appliances with high power needs, like induction stoves or fast electric vehicle chargers. For some homes, the rewiring will be prohibitive in cost, but many homes are already equipped to handle the increased use of electric appliances without major modifications, with a wiring cost in the hundreds of dollars. Additional costs for electrical works are usually minor when the trigger for electrification is a renovation.
Myth 6: “Electric appliances are too noisy”
Mostly false. Whilst some older heat pumps and air-conditioners were noisy and disruptive, modern quality electric appliances can operate quietly, offering a comfortable and peaceful environment. The external unit for a split system air conditioner is no noisier than one for a ducted gas heater, but some homes - particularly apartments - have limited options to install these out of audible range. When it comes to cars though, there is no comparison between the noise generated by any car with an internal combustion engine and the noise NOT generated by an electric vehicle!
Myth 7: “Electrification will lead to a decrease in appliance choice and variety”
False. The market for different electric appliances is well established and continuing to expand rapidly as demand grows, with continued innovation providing an increasing range of options for consumers and keeping costs down. At the same time, gas appliance and combustion vehicle manufacturers face the ‘Kodak moment’ of dropping demand for their products. This will limit innovation and potentially increasing the cost of appliances and spare parts.
Myth 8: “Electric appliances are more expensive”
Partly true. Whilst most efficient electric appliances are more expensive to buy, they are much less expensive to run than their fossil fuel equivalents, with the cost savings far outweighing the higher up front cost over the lifetime of the appliance. Advancements in energy-efficient technologies and declining renewable energy costs continue to make electric appliances more cost-effective.
Myth 9: "Electric appliances are more dangerous"
False. This myth suggests that electric appliances pose a greater risk of accidents, such as electrical shocks or fires. However, electric appliances undergo rigorous safety standards and regulations to ensure their reliability and safety. Furthermore, the widespread use of gas in homes has now been shown to have substantial negative health impacts including the respiratory effects of nitrogen dioxide and the toxicity as a result of acute or chronic exposure to carbon monoxide.
Myth 10: “Gas appliances aren’t affected by power outages like electric appliances, and two fuel options are better than one”
Mostly false: Houses connected to the power grid are subject to occasional power outages. Backup home battery storage systems and generators can provide electricity during power interruptions, but these aren’t cheap or widely used in metropolitan areas. Most gas heaters won’t work in a blackout as they rely on electric fans, but gas stoves and hot water systems can continue to work in a blackout. This has obvious appeal. However, a typical urban home experiences an hour or two of blackouts in an average year, so you have to ask, is it worth spending hundreds of dollars more each year to run gas appliances just to avoid a couple of hours without hot water or a stovetop?
Myth 11: “Electric vehicles have limited range and take too long to charge”
Mostly false. While most EV’s don’t go as far on a full charge as a full tank of fossil fuel, they provide ample range for commuting and other day-to-day transport needs. Fast-charging infrastructure is also rapidly expanding, making charging more convenient. Charging EVs from a normal power point is a slow process, but a good option for people who can leave their vehicle to charge overnight.
Myth 12: “Electrification will result in massive job losses”
False. As the energy sector evolves and transitions, there will be a need for a massive number of workers in renewable energy industries, electrical trades, engineering, electric vehicle and appliance manufacturing, charging infrastructure and appliance installation, and more. And while widespread electrification is underway, there will be higher demand than ever for plumbers and gas fitters to remove old gas appliances, meters, and pipes and connect new heat pumps..
Myth 13: “Electrification will harm the economy”
False. Electrification is a boon for the economy. Investments in renewable energy and electrification can stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels and global supply chains, leading to greater energy independence and improved national security.
Myth 14: “Green hydrogen is a more efficient alternative to electrification”
False. The production, storage, transport and use of hydrogen involves multiple energy conversion processes, making it extremely inefficient for use in the home and requiring up to ten times the renewable capacity of heating with efficient electric appliances. Hydrogen is chemically unlike the gas used today - it leaks easily and burns differently - so even if it was cost competitive, todays gas appliances (and many pipelines) will still need to be replaced to use it in the home. Bottled hydrogen could play a role for the most expensive-to-electrify applications, but no matter how much the cost of producing hydrogen decreases with technological advancements and economies of scale, electrification will always be more cost effective option than bringing hydrogen into homes.
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