Electrify Your Solar Home!

Starting with last month's post on electrical panels, Solar Washington is exploring how improvements to and within the residential building envelope can elevate living standards and contribute to meeting climate goals.  Here, we consider the general concept of home electrification.

Solar power provides a clean alternative to fossil fuels and its scalability allows for a wide range of applications, from small residential setups to large-scale solar farms.  Solar energy plays a pivotal role in the global efforts towards electrification and decarbonization, acting as a cornerstone in the transition to a clean energy future.  As more and more homeowners in Washington are switching to solar panels, it's important to reconsider how we use electricity in our home and look for opportunities to scale down or eliminate fossil fuel-based energy consumption.

Electrification benefits both individuals and the environment by promoting cleaner energy, improving overall well-being, and reducing emissions. According to EnergySage, a net-zero economy in 2050 calls for 300 million personal electric vehicles on the road, up from about 2 million in 2021, and 120 million residences with air source heat pumps, or a jump to 80% of housing stock from approximately 10% in 2021.

Smart controls are revolutionizing the integration of solar power and battery storage systems, significantly enhancing their efficiency and effectiveness in decarbonization efforts. When we talk about smart controls we are talking about electric service panels (see last month’s feature: Going Beyond Solar Panels – The Electrical System is Critical Too - Solar Washington), breakers and appliances. Smart controls are installed on top of these pieces of equipment that are already in every building. These advanced control systems utilize real-time data and sophisticated algorithms to optimize the generation, storage, and distribution of energy. 

By intelligently managing when and how solar energy is stored in batteries and subsequently used, smart controls ensure that renewable energy is maximized, and energy waste is minimized. They can predict energy demand, adapt to changing weather conditions, and even respond to grid demands, thereby stabilizing energy supply and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. This dynamic management of energy resources supports a more resilient and efficient grid, accelerates the adoption of clean energy, and is a critical component in the global strategy to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. While smart panels have an upfront cost of thousands of dollars, their benefits in energy management and customization can make them a valuable investment for homeowners.

Electrifying home appliances is crucial for advancing decarbonization and enhancing energy efficiency in households. Traditional appliances that run on fossil fuels, such as stoves, water heaters, and furnaces, contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. By replacing these with electric alternatives we can substantially reduce the carbon footprint of homes. Gas stoves can be replaced by induction stoves, gas water heaters can be replaced with heat pump water heaters and gas or oil furnaces can be replaced with HVAC heat pumps. This trend is already well underway: 16% of US homes had heat pumps as in 2023 up from 10% in 2021 (Canary Media) .

Electric appliances are generally more energy-efficient and can be integrated with smart home systems, allowing for better energy management and reduced consumption. Moreover, electrifying home appliances supports the broader transition to a clean energy economy by increasing demand for renewable electricity and fostering innovations in energy storage and smart grid technologies. For example, Electricity Journal calculated that, over its lifetime, a new air-source heat pump can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 46 to 54 percent compared to natural gas alternatives. This shift not only helps mitigate climate change but also improves indoor air quality and provides long-term cost savings for consumers, underscoring its importance in creating sustainable and resilient living environments.

Battery storage is crucial in the decarbonization process as it addresses the intermittency of solar power production. Solar energy generation is dependent on sunlight, which varies throughout the day or with the weather. With battery storage systems, excess solar energy generated during peak sunlight hours can be stored and then used when solar production is low, such as during the night or cloudy periods. This capability ensures a stable and reliable power supply, maximizing the utilization of solar energy and reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Furthermore, battery storage enhances grid stability and resilience, allowing for better management of energy supply and demand. EnergySage estimates the cost of the average storage system in Washington to be  $1800/kWh with an average gross storage installation price around $23,400. The 30% federal investment tax credit (ITC) and other state and local storage incentives can lower that price by thousands of dollars. As advancements in battery technology continue to improve efficiency and reduce costs, the synergy between solar energy and battery storage becomes even more potent, driving forward the decarbonization of the energy sector and fostering a more sustainable and resilient energy infrastructure.

Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology enables energy to be pushed back to the power grid from the battery of an electric vehicle (EV). As of 2023, there were 166,800 registered electric vehicles (EVs) in Washington state (Washington Department of Transportation).  Electric vehicles (EVs) with bi-directional charging can be a big part of the electrification and decarbonization transition due to their dual role as both transportation and energy storage solutions and they can serve as an alternative or complement to in-house batteries. Bi-directional charging allows EVs to not only draw power from the grid but also feed stored energy back into it, effectively transforming them into mobile energy resources.

In late 2020, SnoPUD contracted with Mitsubishi Electric, Hitachi ABB, and Doosan GridTech to install two V2G chargers at their Arlington microgrid site.  These chargers allow EVs to charge and also send stored energy back to the grid during power outages.  The Arlington microgrid project is one of the first to truly put a functioning grid-connected V2G system together and aims to examine the effects of this two-way interface between electric vehicles and the grid. Widespread adoption of bi-directional EVs can reduce the need for traditional, fossil fuel-based power plants, further decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. By integrating these vehicles into the energy ecosystem, we can accelerate the transition to a cleaner, more resilient energy grid, highlighting their significance in the broader strategy for electrification and decarbonization.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) significantly boosts government incentives for electrifying homes, extending beyond solar power to encompass a broader range of energy-efficient upgrades. Homeowners can receive financial support for installing electric heat pumps, upgrading to high-efficiency electric appliances, and improving insulation and weatherization, among other measures. Additionally, the legislation supports the development and deployment of smart grid technologies and energy storage systems, which further integrate and optimize renewable energy usage in residential settings. Through these comprehensive incentives, the Inflation Reduction Act plays a pivotal role in accelerating the transition to a sustainable energy future, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and contributing to national and global decarbonization goals.

The State of Washington offers help to qualified low-income households to weatherize their homes and utility companies that sell gas and electric heat also can also provide matching funds for those qualified low-income households. The state has been awarded federal funding that will likely be made available for income-eligible consumers on a range of highly efficient electric equipment and electrification projects. The State Home Electrification and Appliance Rebates Program also channels funding to households and small businesses to purchase and install high-efficiency electric equipment and appliances. The Washington State Department of Commerce (Commerce) anticipates making funds available beginning in February 2024.

Rewiring America and Elephant Energy provide resources for homeowners planning an electrification remodel. Rewiring America offers comprehensive guides, calculators, and tools to help homeowners understand the benefits of transitioning to electric appliances and systems. Their resources cover everything from the financial incentives available through recent legislation, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, to practical steps for upgrading heating, cooling, cooking, and transportation to electric alternatives. 

In the past, going solar was a standalone consideration, but now it's one part of updating homes to be prepared for the future. Electrification is bringing better indoor air quality, lower operational costs, energy resiliency and more, and is why we have to now talk about all of electrification when we talk about solar. Getting massive amounts of solar power to the grid will take many other updates to the grid and to our buildings and the concept is captured in the term electrification. The end result is a decarbonized economy where we can live our lives without further adding to the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.


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