Scientist urges caution in race to electrification
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Max Sherman, Ph.D. is sounding the alarm.
Sherman, a retired senior staff scientist at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and an ASHRAE distinguished fellow, wrote an op-ed for HPAC Engineering expressing his concerns about the electrify-everything movement.
In “Electrification Fever? Too Fast, Too Furious,” he argues that the grid is already teetering “on the edge of collapse in many places” and that the mass adoption of electric appliances is unsustainable.
“So, as it is, the grid is going to be less stable over the next several years and we should be looking for ways to reduce electric loads, not increase them,” Sherman writes. “Even if the existing grid had enough capacity to handle significantly increased loads, it is not clear that there would be a substantive impact on decarbonization through just any building electrification; a lot of electricity is generated from fossil fuels. Even in more progressive places, the fraction of renewable energy on the grid is usually low. Over 60% of electricity generation comes from fossil fuels. Electrification may reduce on-site carbon emissions, but will increase them at some power plant somewhere on the grid, giving the end user a false impression of success.”
Sherman also takes aim at the heat pump, saying that the appliance further loads an unstable grid and may not always deliver the performance the user desires.
While he sees how new construction could benefit by going all-electric, retrofitting older buildings is trickier.
“Very often, existing buildings do not have the necessary installed electric infrastructure and capacity to handle loads that are likely to be much higher in older construction. Electrification of older buildings is going to be a poor way to get decarbonization for the foreseeable future,” Sherman warns.