Saul Griffith, Laura and more at Rewiring America, March 2021
So far we’ve modeled not only how many jobs electrification would create (25 million in the near term, and 10 million long term), but how much each household could save per year ($1,000 – $2,500) on energy bills. Now we’ve dug in to just how many machines we’d need to install or replace to accomplish our goal of zero emissions. One billion machines.
Most of those, it turns out, are already right in our homes – in our basements, hallways, garages or just outside – accounting for 42% of energy-related emissions in the United States. We currently have 550 million of these fossil fuel-burning machines: our vehicles, furnaces, water heaters, stoves, dryers, ovens grills and more. In order to meet our climate goals, we need to replace every single one of them with an electric version that provides the same utility and comfort (and that is also better for your health). And as we electrify these machines, we’ll need to install 430 million more – breaker boxes, vehicle chargers, solar roofs and home batteries – to create the new infrastructure that can help supply and distribute all that electricity.
One other thing about these machines: they are appreciating climate assets. As we clean up the grid and get more of our power from renewable sources, these one billion machines will reduce more emissions with each passing year. In fact, we can’t fully transition to renewable energy unless we install and replace them. They are not “nice to haves.” They may very well be the most important component of the plan to win the fight against climate change.
The good news is that these machines already exist: we don’t need new technology or breakthroughs before we can have them. And we have the people power in our communities to manufacture, install, and service them. We just need to invest in this transition. And that is exactly what we are asking Washington to do now.
Are we up for the 1 billion machine challenge? Over the next few weeks, we will lay out our plan in this newsletter to replace fossil fuel-burning machines in our homes, along with the policies that need to be in place to accomplish the switch. We have a window of possibility now that is open. If we push through it, we can save our planet.
Our homes are at the heart of our strategy to fight climate change because our households, including the cars in our garages, create 42 percent of all our energy-related carbon emissions. And home is where nearly all of us, personally, can make a difference. (Yes, it’s more complicated for people who are not homeowners, but we’re working on that.) When we electrify our households, we will not only be contributing to a real climate solution, but improving our own health with cleaner air in our homes. We’ll have smarter, zippier cars and appliances, too. On top of that: lower energy bills.
We need to replace every machine that runs on fossil fuel with an electric one when it is retired. Some people wonder why we can’t just make our fossil fuel-burning cars and furnaces more energy-efficient? Alas, the time for addressing climate change by using less fossil fuel is long past. All of the Energy STAR appliances and other energy-saving measures, such as turning down our thermostats, are as outdated as the cardigan sweater Jimmy Carter wore when he suggested those measures as a solution to the energy crisis in the 1970s. This isn’t the ‘70s any more. We’re at the point where we must electrify everything. In order to meet the challenges of climate change, we have to get our carbon emissions to zero.
And as one of our founders, Saul Griffith, is fond of saying, “You can’t efficiency your way to zero.”
Why is it so important that we get started on installing and replacing these one billion machines today? Two reasons. First, that’s a lot of machines. There are 121 million households in the United States. We are losing the race against climate change, and every year that goes by without significant action makes it harder for us to catch up. If we want to electrify all of our homes by 2035 (the target for a clean grid), we need to be working at a pace of 672 thousand households a month. Needless to say, we are nowhere near that pace today.
Second, these machines last for years. When is the last time you thought about upgrading your water heater to that new model you saw was coming out next year? Never. We tend to replace these machines when they break, or when we’re doing other upgrades (like when we buy a house). And so every time a household replaces a broken furnace with another fossil fuel burning machine, we have lost that opportunity for years, maybe even decades.
Incidentally, the more these fossil fuel machines persist, the longer it will take to make our energy supply fully furnished by clean and renewable sources. You can’t have a clean grid when homes still need gas, oil and propane to heat their air and water and cook their food.
That is why we are so adamant about electrifying everything. And the great news is that we have a window of opportunity to not only address climate change, but create tens of millions of new, good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced, reduce home energy costs and improve the air quality where we live.