I’ve recently made an effort to understand better how we are going to achieve our goal of near universal home heat electrification with heat pumps by 2050. This post draws together my understanding so far. It acknowledges uncertainties and leaves some questions unanswered.
In summary, people in the climate community and in the state administration have done a huge amount of great work to map out a path toward the 2050 goal based on our legislation. I feel that they may have put us on the most feasible path, although there are both challenges and uncertainties.
New Construction vs. Retrofits
I am optimistic about the electrification of new construction. While we have not yet legislated a state-wide building requirement for the electrification of new construction, that may become economically and politically achievable within the next few years. Many developers are already choosing all-electric HVAC systems. With hotter summers, builders increasingly recognize the need for air conditioning. Using heat pumps, builders can cost-effectively provide both heating and cooling with a single device.
More challenging is the retrofit of existing structures. Eighty percent of the housing that will likely be here in 2050 is already here and much of it was built without modern insulation. Many older heating systems use water, circulated through radiators or baseboards, to distribute heat from a central oil or gas burner. Currently available air-source heat pump technology cannot reuse existing water-based distribution systems. In many homes, the only feasible approach to heat-pump conversion is to install ductless mini-split heat pumps in multiple rooms — an approach that is not always efficient and not always comfortable.
While achieving our 2050 goals for building retrofits may be difficult, I do believe we can make meaningful progress toward those goals. The financial and practical challenges to fully electrifying an existing home can be daunting, but many homeowners are both financially able and deeply motivated to reduce carbon emissions. In addition, some are finding workable pathways to partial heat pump conversions. Others are installing heat pumps for efficient air conditioning and they can also use their heat pumps for some of their heating needs. With the incentives that we already offer for heat pumps, these three groups together have created some early momentum toward electrification. The challenge is to build on that momentum.
Building a home electrification industry
We do need to accelerate electrification if we are to achieve our goals. For now, the principal drag on the pace of electrification appears to be labor and equipment shortages, not a lack of homeowner demand. I hear again and again that people in the HVAC business have all the work they can handle and cannot always stock the heat pump units that they want to install. Many consumers report that it is hard to get contractors to propose short-term work. There are many anecdotal reports of prices rising all along the value chain, especially in the wake of the new incentives from Mass Save last spring and the new federal tax credits effective in 2023.
We should be doing everything we can to support workforce development. This is a well-recognized need — Mass Save and the MassCEC are already investing in workforce development. Workforce development figures prominently in our 2050 Clean Energy and Climate Plan.
Additionally, to attract resources to the electrification industry, we need to make sure that our existing incentive structure is credible for the long term: We want people who are considering entry into the electrification business to be able to look forward with confidence to a couple of decades worth of lucrative work to motivate their investment. Incentives need to be somewhat flexible — we should not fix them in statute. But we need a durable legislative foundation for the incentives.
We hope that we have already built a durable legislative foundation for heat pump incentives in the aggressive emissions reduction goals we have set together with the powerful regulatory authority that we have granted to the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs to support those goals. We have empowered the Secretary to set emissions reduction goals for the Mass Save program and Mass Save has responded with aggressive heat pump incentives.
However, there may be several areas where adjustments could strengthen the incentive framework. Over the months to come, I hope that legislators and regulators will work together on the following agenda (some of these measures are elaborated by the report of the Commission on Clean Heat):
- Lower electric rates by shifting the funding source for electrification incentives from electric ratepayers to fossil fuel heat users — natural gas, heating oil, and propane customers; one approach to that shift could be a “Clean Heat Standard.” (Utilities could also be directed to explore equitable rate structures to support heat pump loads.)
- Restructure Mass Save so that homeowners in municipal light districts can benefit from the incentives it offers. Municipal light districts often offer lower electric rates, improving the economics of heat pump conversions. Yet homes with propane, oil, or electric heat in municipal light districts are ineligible for Mass Save incentives. (In municipal light districts, the only homes that are eligible for Mass Save incentives are those that heat with natural gas, generally the homes with the worst economics for heat pumps.) This suggestion goes together with the previous suggestion.
- Revise the statutory language that defines cost-benefit analysis for Mass Save’s planning process. Even with the social cost of carbon included as required by last year’s legislation, that math does not consistently support heat pump investments: Effectively, we need to redefine Mass Save’s statutory mission as electrification.
- Streamline the incentive bureaucracy so that both consumers and contractors can navigate it with certainty and ease. I’ve heard many reports of confusion and delay in dealing with Mass Save. Much of the Mass Save process is outsourced to regional or national contractors. On the one hand, that means we have less direct control over quality; on the other hand, it may make it easier to scale up and reduce delays.
- Support consumers with better coaching so that they can make their way through the complex choices involved in heat pump installations — for most consumers, changing their HVAC system is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Like the previous item, this is both a workforce challenge and a management challenge.
- Increase borrowing limits and simplify the borrowing process for homeowners seeking to make larger efficiency or electrification investments, possibly making additional capital available through a “green bank.”
- Develop a building energy rating scheme to recognize and honor the progress that consumers make through insulation and electrification. This may involve direct building audits or it may be driven by energy use measurements. If building ratings were published, independent researchers could deepen public policy analysis of the installed home base. Additionally, both Mass Save and individual contractors could better target marketing efforts.
- Through the previous suggestion or through other measures, find ways to better target outreach to the most promising homes for heat pump conversions.
This agenda will likely take several years to accomplish.
Funding electrification over the long term
At the moment, most observers seem to feel that our current collection of rebates and tax credits is creating adequate demand for electrification retrofits — demand sufficient to substantially raise prices and create industry backlogs. An immediate increase in the dollar value of available incentives might further raise prices without accelerating progress or could lead to greedy haste and a decline in installation quality that we would later regret. Heat pump conversions have to be done right to benefit the environment and the consumer. Unless a conversion is reasonably well-conceived and executed, it may increase both emissions and costs. We should, for now, focus on the agenda in the preceding section which will have the effect of gradually increasing the reach of incentives and better targeting their use.
However, although demand now seems strong as compared to supply, there are clear indicators that demand is finite:
- Capital costs of heat pump installation are substantial and the operating cost impacts are hard to predict because they depend on both energy market variables and installation-driven performance variables. See the evolving series of posts under “Economics of heat pumps” in this listing.
- Most homeowners are cost-sensitive, and even many of those who are carbon-motivated may be daunted by the costs of a whole-home conversion or even a substantial partial conversion. See survey results.
- Industry models of heat-pump installation project fairly low adoption rates.
Eventually, we are going to have to make a collective judgment call about whether to substantially increase incentives for whole-home and partial conversions. To achieve our 2050 goals, the annual investment in rebates and tax credits may need to grow substantially.
No one really knows what the average whole-home electrification project will cost over the next couple of decades. One variable is the level of energy efficiency retrofit (insulation, etc.) that should be combined with heat pump installation; there is no consensus on what statewide average building performance will be needed to achieve our 2050 goals. Bigger heat pumps can reduce the need for insulation, but they are more expensive to install and run and they place a larger demand on the power grid. Good quality insulation is universally recommended in heat pump conversions, but what “good” means is uncertain.
Based on my own experience and based on all the numbers I’ve seen or heard, I believe that the average cost of retrofitting for 2050-level energy efficiency and full electrification will work out to over $30,000 per housing unit and perhaps over $100,000 per housing unit. Using necessarily round numbers, that adds up to something between $75 billion and $250 billion over the next 28 years — $3 to $10 billion per year. Looking at it another way — supposing optimistically that homeowners could borrow at no interest over 30 years to execute the projects — that’s roughly $100 to $300 per month for each housing unit. As another comparison, Mass Save’s current spending totals only about $1 billion per year
Right now, installers are busy picking up the low-hanging fruit — the affluent and highly motivated homeowners, and among them, those with the easiest conversions — but eventually, we are going to have to reach the more challenging conversions and the homeowners with less desire or capability to pay a large share of the installation costs. The necessary incentive levels for installation will need to rise substantially. The necessary public investment of several billion per year may require federal assistance on a scale well beyond the Inflation Reduction Act.
An all too likely future compromise is the same uncomfortable compromise that we are making out of necessity right now: Instead of targeting only whole-home conversions, we are currently targeting mostly partial conversions. Partial conversions may not take us all the way to our stated climate goals, although if done right, they will move us to meaningfully reduced emissions and may reduce the need for grid enhancements. See further discussion below. We are looking forward to release of the Mass Save progress data for 2022 as an early indication of how things are going.
Systemic Challenges and Opportunities
As we electrify homes, we are increasing the load on the electric system and reducing the load on the natural gas system. At scale, this shift will have large consequences.
Increased peak winter electric grid loads
Since heat pumps draw several-fold more power on a very cold day than air conditioners on a very hot day, we will face new winter power peaks that will substantially exceed today’s summer power peaks. These new peaks may require additional regional generating capacity and challenge both the regional transmission system and local street distribution systems. The costs of the necessary upgrades have not been fully understood, although they may be manageable if they are phased in over several decades.
A combination of batteries, solar power, and demand management can help mitigate power peaks, but there is no escaping the need for substantial upgrades of generation, transmission, and distribution. Consider a cold snap generating very low temperatures throughout the northeast. With all homes calling for electric power for heating, the potential for demand management would be limited. Solar output is always down when the sun is low in the winter and, if the cold snap followed snowfall, the solar output would be nil. The batteries in electric vehicles, if immobilized and exhausted to supply heat, could last a day or two. Battery backup systems supporting another two or three days of operation would cost homeowners $5,000 or $10,000 per year at today’s prices. Especially if the cold snap lasts for several days, the grid will need to deliver much more power than ever before.*
* Even large battery systems will only last two or three days at most. For example, according to our installed power meters, our super-insulated two-family home with efficient lighting and solar thermal hot water used a total 40 kilowatt hours of power (kwh) per day per unit in December 2022’s moderate cold snap; many electrified single-family homes with more typical insulation could require 60 to 100 kwh/day. For comparison, a long-range Tesla model S battery holds 100kwh . A system of 10 Tesla powerwall batteries holds 135 kwh and costs over $80,000. The estimated lifetime of a powerwall is 10 to 12 years.
There are two additional major strategies for lowering the winter peak loads:
- Simply do not do as many whole home conversions — do partial conversions instead. Partially converted homes, homes that still have fossil-fuel systems along with their heat pumps, could rely on those fossil-fuel systems during winter peaks and so take load off the grid. However, the extent of emissions reductions in a partial conversion depends on the percentage of the heating load that is served by the legacy fossil system — hard to project or fully control. Uncertainty of emissions reductions aside, a large installed base of partial conversions will require continued use of fossil fuel heating; even if use is rare, we will need to preserve our natural gas pipes in the streets or switch many homes to use of a stored fuel like oil or propane (or some biofuel) — not an attractive prospect. On the other hand, the practical and financial challenges of whole home conversions may force us to this strategy.
- Reduce heat pump power needs by switching from air-source heat pumps to efficient networked ground-source heat pumps — an intriguing concept that is very early in the vetting process as a possible strategy to implement at scale.
Narrowing the customer base supporting natural gas infrastructure
Pursuant to a legislative mandate to reduce leaks, gas companies are engaged in an ongoing investment program to repair or replace old pipes. Many advocates are asking whether this investment makes sense if we are hoping to fully electrify all homes — especially since as more homes leave the gas system, the per-home cost of the investment will rise.
Some are hoping that coordination between gas repair plans and electrification plans could reduce unnecessary gas replacement investment: Utilities and communities could work together to target neighborhoods for full electrification along particular branches of the gas distribution tree. This would allow the gas utilities to forego infrastructure upgrades on those branches. Coordination may be hard to implement in practice, but it’s certainly worth discussing and utility coordination is among the recommendations of the Commission on Clean Heat.
Equity in Electrification
Through the years ahead, we need to sustain a focus on equity. Since doing heat pump conversions from oil or gas does not necessarily save operating costs, a low rate of low-income heat pump conversions does not necessarily disadvantage low-income people. An important exception is heat-pump conversions from electric resistance heating which is expensive for renters to run, but cheap for landlords to install. Low-income electric resistance conversions should be a high program priority. Additionally, home weatherization, even without electrification is a high priority both economically and for better comfort; several Mass Save programs speak directly to this priority.
The real equity issue in the building sector may be air conditioning: As temperatures rise, air conditioning is going to become as much a necessity as heating and we need to make sure that all our residents have access to it. From that perspective, it may become more attractive, even mandatory, to do a lot of partial conversions, installing heat pumps primarily for air conditioning and hoping for heating benefits as a secondary priority.
The Carbon Tax Alternative
We should remain open to the possibility of a carbon tax, although the politics are challenging. As one looks at the complexity, the bureaucratic snafus, and the questionable outcomes that characterize our electrification programs today, one appreciates why economists usually prefer broad-based market incentives created through taxation rather than project subsidies policed by a bureaucracy. Politically, it’s difficult for one state to impose a substantial carbon tax on its own. We’d need a national carbon tax, but that is hard to imagine in our current national political climate.
We’ll continue do the best we can with the tools we have. We’ll go as far as we can go. And we’ll continue to try to better discern the path ahead. Personally, I’m still struggling with a number of questions, some of which have already been well studied by others, some of which will yield to more study, some of which will likely remain imponderable until the future unfolds.
The obsession with electrification of everything and this war on carbon is foolish and not based on science. It is based on the age old human failing of wanting to control people. This has become an irrational and dangerous cult.
I told some very woke neighbors the conversion cost numbers Will outlined in the previous posts. They told me I wasn’t telling the truth and none of these requirements will happen in their lifetimes anyway. The money and resources for this plan don’t exist and never will, without even touching on the science.
Second that Mark, life itself is carbon based and CO2 is necessary for plant life; it is a tiny percentage of the atmosphere and has diddly-squat to do with “climate change”.
A very thoughtful analysis. I assume that the assumption’s are based on best available info. Agree with your approach
Will, I appreciate your deep dive into the issues surrounding heat pumps, but I am concerned that the perspective you have taken so far on the issue is purely from the perspective of a homeowner. Most residents of Boston and Cambridge and half of Watertown residents rent and have no control over our heating sources. I am concerned that some proposals you have listed (such as shifting Mass Save incentive funding to lower electric rates and increase fossil fuel heat rates) make sense from the perspective of a homeowner, but will harm tenants. Homeowners control their heating system and have to pay their heating bills, so they can respond to price incentives by installing new heating sources. Tenants on the other hand often pay the costs of utilities but their landlords control any capital improvements, so the incentives to switch heat sources are not aligned in that case and will unduly burden tenants who have no way to respond to price incentives by changing their heat source.
Thanks, Sam. Agreed that we need to focus on rental housing. Especially the larger buildings.
FWIW, electric resistance heating (baseboards) is much more common in rental housing (8% of owner-occupied, 34% of rental). Rental housing developers like because it’s cheap for them to install and the tenants don’t pay the electric bill. So, I see cutting electric rates as supportive of tenants.
Just want to second the idea of incentivizing efficiency upgrades for larger buildings! I roll my eyes everytime I see the rent increases each year while thinking of the dollars the property manager lets leak out of the poorly insulated building and the poorly controlled systems we have.
Thank you for yet another thorough and helpful analysis. I especially appreciate your exploring in some detail the complexities of the trade-offs between whole-home and partial-home conversions, both here and in your post dedicated to this topic.
All of the policy recommendations you list here make sense to me. Thank you.
W0uld it make sense to add policies related to workforce development to this list? I’m so aware of the choke-points that are emerging as demand exceeds supply. I’m enough of a capitalist to think that markets do tend to sort out such imbalances over the years, but they can be helped (or hindered), and there’s some time-urgency.
Also — as you may remember, I’m a volunteer heat pump coach in Arlington, and I’m also the point person who responds to incoming queries. This program launched in early November, and one of the issues that has already come up repeatedly is homeowners’ dissatisfaction with Mass Save’s recommendations around insulation. Many houses in Arlington are older and quirky, and I keep hearing about homes where the residents know that their insulation is inadequate (and rooms are uncomfortable) but Mass Save has no recommendations for improvement. I understand that Mass Save has to do cost-benefit analysis in its programs, which leads towards standardization and something of a lowest-common-denominator approach. But I’m wondering whether there could be a better pathway for homeowners who want to improve their insulation above that standard — for example, pointers from the auditors for how to explore insulation improvements that Mass Save currently doesn’t subsidize. (I’m still learning myself, and I don’t (yet?) have good pointers to give unhappy homeowners.) I’m also hoping (expecting?) that over time Mass Save will raise its insulation standards. Insulation isn’t heat pumps, but as you noted above they’re related, and I thought you might be interested to hear that Arlington’s heat pump coaches pretty often receive questions about insulation after homeowners have had Mass Save audits.
Yes, work force development is key and I think we are all trying to figure out how to do that better.
And, yes, we need to make deeper investments in insulation. The challenge is to synchronize insulation with major building maintenance. Doing it right is expensive.
As I have mentioned ,I would appreciate starting with our power plants and assuring adequate supplies of electricity to avoid roaming blackouts.We must start at this point.
Secondly ,we need to abolish Mass Save as it exists.It does nothing in assuring savings to folks in any meaningful way. They hire outside contractors, offer little, if no oversight.I have had many dealings with them and find them outdated and out of touch.
Next ,we need to focus on larger users of power.High rises, commercial,industrial and manufacturing facilities.They will get us to the goal much quicker than homeowners.These type of users typically consume the most amounts of power and can scale payback in a much different manner than a homeowner.
We need to find a device that will feed power back to the grid.This will allow us to avoid peak demand pricing,roaming blackouts,etc.
Heat pumps are not the answer.Mini splits are not the answer.
I believe our politicians should put efforts into research and development of things like safe Nuclear Power,Hydrogen,and newer emerging technologies similar to the Tesla Systems that allow batteries to feed back power to the grid.
Let’s not make a mistake and put the cart before the horse.Build a source of power first,put the money into large infrastructure,similar to how cable companies wired communities for FiOS.Where can we get the biggest bang for a buck.In the interim, fund research and development to work in tandem with the utilities infrastructures.Then and only then, find a marketing strategy (not Mass Save) that can implement,oversee and be responsible in helping to achieve the goals, and understand them.
We are Americans,we are migrants,we are the best and strongest minds in the world.Lets logically go through a process that makes sense to achieve our mutually agreeable goals that MAKE SENSE.
Thanks to all of you who think logic and order have a place in these decisions.
You misunderstand the goals and purpose of this initiative. Look where it originated.
Will, you stated above that many folks are looking to switch over to electric, but there are many barriers including, the availability of equipment/ installers as well as the financial barriers for folks in older homes, including the cost of electric, and then you “eloquently” state above that you want to increase fees/taxes on folks who currently have fossil fuel heat? That’ll be a big help to me (not so eloquent sarcasm) as I save up to make the switch. THANKS!
Instead, of a smack on the nose, like we’re bad dogs for using gas, how about more “positive” incentives for folks who are considering solar panels, or perhaps easing zoning for those who want to install windmills, farms that want to capture methane, etc… Come on!
You are right on the money, Carlos. The costs of doing electrification right are high and, unless we find a different strategy or technology or the federal government comes through in a much bigger way, many people will be unable to make the investment.
Glad to see you acknowledge the need for more electrical infrastructure, good luck getting anything built once the nimbys find out about it. Two examples:
1) the Northern Pass power line to bring power down from Hydro Quebec, still stalled by litigation.
2) Eversource’s attempt to build a substation in East Boston, years in planning and picketed daily by protesters.
Good luck with all that.
This is wildly delusional. Massachusetts will never again have enough base load to survive winters (rising cold deaths!), and many will be driven into debt, or better, out of the state because you unqualified, pie-in-the-sky ideologues make the cost-of-living and “retrofits” untenable. And your solution? “Batteries” and frozen solar panels lol. (Meanwhile, you won’t even mention the single long-term solution to consistent, “clean” base load: nuclear.)
Serious question: what are your qualifications to advocate for and plan such monumental disruptions to people’s livelihoods? What if you’re wrong? Do you ever consider that possibility?You even admit the cost-benefit is so obviously negative that your “solution” is to just change that law (lol).
Sell your MA homes now while you can, homeowners. It’s over for this state. And if you move to NH, make it redder.
These proposals are being pushed all around the Country/World. All part of the Agenda 21 and Agenda 2030, WEF nonsense. British author C.S Lewis sums up this urge to “do good” with this quote.
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
True. Let’s not forget illustrious David Ismay, the Baker administration’s $130,000-a-year climate change undersecretary, who resigned after uttering the following gem:
Ismay landed on the hot seat after MassFiscal posted a video of the undersecretary saying the state needs to “break their will” and “turn the screws on” ordinary people to force changes in their consumption of heating fuels and gasoline. Ismay described the ordinary people as the “person across the street” and the “senior on fixed income.”
This is what these people are all about. At least this one got caught.
Indeed. And no defense left in Massachusetts. Pie-in-the-sky ideologues unchained.
People would do well to read The Screwtape Letters for where these crushing ideas come from. (It ain’t “the science,” Will.)
I agree the numbers are challenging. We need to surface these numbers in order to have a real conversation. I appreciate your engaging.
With respect, Will: no, not challenging. *Impossible.* Excess deaths due to cold, extended blackouts, bankruptcies and poverty. It’s okay to tactically retreat and embrace reliable and clean energy: fast-track new natural gas generation and distribution plus a nuclear plant or two in NE. That would be bold and bring prosperity—not iced-over solar panels, wind turbines that don’t spin, and minerally-intensive “batteries” that are mined by people out-of-sight in Africa.
I like this idea of shifting funding source from electric rate payers to fossil fuel users. With conversion incentives and electric car incentives we have this uncomfortable equity issue where we’re basically giving money to higher income people to achieve our goals. We should balance that out with approximations of a carbon tax where that’s politically feasible. If outcry (voting out?) prevents a proper carbon tax then in the short term we could focus it to try to eliminate oil, leaving gas alone for the time being (other than not as much being needed in power plants as more renewables come online). We’ve managed to largely eliminate coal, let’s now put oil on the chopping block. Maybe those against that would be fewer and more beatable. Divide and conquer.
On the general approach, your proposals look good to me. When it’s the case that we’re doing what we can in that direction, when we have all cylinders firing on the 80% with the conversion rate being what it can be, it will perhaps be time to step back a bit and look for other initiatives to operate in parallel. I feel like a clue is present in the units used for heating energy intensity: kBTU/ft2/yr. We have a roughly fixed number of people projected over the time frame in question, so, to be super reductionist, how can we reduce the ft2 per person? Many of your constituents are in the I don’t want to live in NYC crowd, but this week a friend mentioned overhearing a rent price quote of $3800/mth for an ordinary (non-luxury) 700 sqr ft 1 br in Coolidge Corner. So clearly there’s lots of demand to “live on top of each other.” Those being priced out of the city will move farther out, with all the extra ft2 and driving mileage that implies. Housing and climate are not independent issues!
Finally, when will more offshore wind projects enter the pipeline? The 3 GW or whatever it is was thrilling before but now seems inadequate. I see some focus on onshore wind from Maine, which is good, but we need more offshore wind projects lined up before the Federal Government swings to the right again. And, naturally, a lot more solar. With behind the meter seeming to be the way we’ve grown faster in the past (using ISO NE estimates from their website I reckon behind the meter to be almost 10 times utility scale right now) we should up the incentives or increase workforce for that. The current incentive plan, last time I looked, didn’t make sense to me. It had this flaw where people only earned a credit for excess solar they were able to generate, which for all but the most devout might mean, “gee, might as well buy a hot tub, what else can I do with these credits.”
I agree that the wind is coming online too slowly — below the planned pace.
I’m concerned than the emphasis on the electrification of older buildings will shift the focus away from improving the thermal insulation of those buildings. I’m a renter in Allston, and I believe that simple improvements such installing better windows and adding thermostatic radiator valves will reduce the carbon footprint of my unit more than electrification. I would like to see a cost/benefit analysis of different options that would lead to an informed choice of the most efficient way to reduce carbon emissions.
Agreed. I think that insulation and electrification go together, but if you have to choose one, definitely do the insulation first. Conservation first.
Change is hard and this challenge is massive, but we’re up to the task. I appreciate Senator Brownsberger’s clear-eyed assessment of where we stand and where we need to go. Massachusetts hasn’t solved every puzzle yet, and we won’t clean up heating, electricity generation, or any sector overnight, but we’ll pick the low hanging fruit first while improving and developing technologies to reach higher branches. With thoughtful policy, we can do this while keeping our heat secure and affordable.
An important long-term part of the picture, which you suggest without getting too deep, is changing the rate-charging system to not only shift costs from electric to gas users, smooth-out peaks (summer and winter), but to use some of the more innovative ideas discussed in this paper: https://www.esig.energy/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/News-Release-ESIG-White-Papers-Aligning-Retail-Pricing-with-Grid-Needs.pdf
Yes. The rate model is a deep issue. More work to be done on that! I do cite the underlying paper above.
Wow, I look forward to being punished for switching to gas 25 years ago, which was touted as the clean alternative to oil. Mea culpa! I am retiring this summer and will be living on a fixed income. I own a condo in a 2-family house, and I’m a planner, but I never planned on $20-25,000 conversion to a insulated electrified home from gas. Rich people have been able to sop up the incentives because they have the money needed to make up the rest. My upstairs neighbor and I would love to install solar but can’t due to a slate roof. We can’t afford to replace that and then do solar. We are still trying to get rid of our knob and tube electric so we can at least take advantage of Mass Save’s insulation incentives. The will is there, believe me, but the money is not. Making us pay more while wealthier people make the switch and while we are trying to figure it out is not a good plan.
I also agree that Mass Save is not the best and needs an overhaul. And I also agree with the person who says we should figure out the power grid before we have to deal with blackouts. Jeez. Some common sense there.
You are not alone! The costs are beyond many even with available or likely soon to come assistance.
Would be very interested if you were able to do a considerably deeper dive into networked geothermal possibilities. I recognize that most of your district does not include residential lots suitable for drilling but am most curious to understand the possibilities for street drilling in moderately dense urban environments. Perhaps a zoom meeting with HEET staff and utility co. reps…
Also, separately, I wonder if it might be feasible to legalize here use of vehicles like this: https://electrek.co/2023/02/02/i-bought-electric-rickshaw-tuk-tuk/
Yes. Have done a first meeting with Heet. Write up here. Expecting more research results fairly soon on this.
Excellent! I look forward to learning more.
Thank you, Will, for your thorough examination of this mind-bendingly complex challenge. I read it all with great interest. I am old enough to remember when my grandparents’ rural community in Illinois lacked electricity, indoor plumbing, phone service and paved roads. It took a huge investment of government policy and money to make these upgrades nearly universal. We are facing a similar opportunity now to make rapid investments in electrification and workforce development. Legislation such as we have passed in Watertown to require that new construction not include gas hookups is a powerful first step, as well as requiring net zero design for new commercial buildings. I am very intrigued with the possibilities for networked ground-source heat pumps for big mixed-use developments. Retrofitting existing homes really is the hardest. The need for well- trained “coaches,” as you call them, I think is key. Mass Save is not up to the challenge. When my husband and I installed solar panels for heating hot water during the Carter administration, and again in 2015 when we added more panels to supply our electricity, we were able to turn to specialists who handled everything for us — not only the installation but the paperwork to take advantage of financial incentives. I am eager to improve insulation on our 2011 radiator-heated house and install mini-splits, but I don’t yet trust that I can tap into the right advice. If our state government can guarantee long-term incentives for this work, it would be worthwhile for contractors to invest in the necessary training to do this coaching.
Will although portions of your analis are well reseached you have a sever bias toward all electrification yet you have not delt with the main issue of power source and infrastructure. As I have stated prior , I have had discussions with engineers at National Grid regarding this and they only have capacity for 1/4 of what it will take to supply the need required to “Electrify Everything” . We are currently requiring the gas companies to replace existing infrastructure and we should continue to be able to use it.
You raise the issue that you can not use a hydronic system with a heat pump – Wrong , you can these systems are more expensive and have not been fully developed – in fact we use a similar technology for cooling in large building using chiller plants which generate waste heat – well you can take the same waste heat and use that for heating – if you have a plant designed for just that.
Another issue is National security – making everything electrical makes us more vunerable to attacks. As an example the rise in shootings of substations. High voltage power lines are out in the open and easly attacked or subject to weather issues.
I don’t want you to think I am knocking your goal but it is important to take into account other factors.
Yes. Re Hydronic — the challenge comes in retrofit: Most hydronic systems in home cannot be converted to heat pumps because they are designed for very hot water. I don’t mean to say that one couldn’t possibly do a hydronic system with heat pump in new construction.
I’m starting with the electrification premise because that is the plan the state has. But I agree that there are fair questions to ask about that plan.
Thanks for all your hard work and insightful analysis. There is so much that needs to be done.
Separately, I have a question that someone may be able to answer. Do heat pump installations, both for home heating and hot water heating qualify for a 30% federal investment tax credit? If so, is the federal ITC maximum $2,000. And, is there any similar MA program?
Here are a several resources on federal energy efficiency credits per the IRA:
We also need to revise our rate structure. A new study finds that time-of-use-by season useage rates, combined with a large fixed base charge which allows overall per-volume price reductions will make user costs more reflective of marginal producer costs (which is especially impactful around peaks and the need to meet them) while reducing heat-pump operating costs enough to significantly offset the cost of initial installation. The study is based on a small sample and involves a lot of modeling assumptions, but it is very suggestive — and points towards an important new strategy for moving towards more non-emitting technologies.
The system seemed to lose the link to the study…https://www.esig.energy/heat-pump-friendly-rate-designs/
My mother recently got heat pumps installed. However, her house is poorly insulated and there are several steps she would need to take to get it well insulated, and no one is guiding her through that process. So the heat just goes out the roof. The people who installed the heat pumps were looking to make money so they put in five units without really looking at how many she needs and where would be most effective. Some rooms are warm, others chilly. She also has frozen pipes in her basement because her (inefficient) oil boiler is no longer giving off heat which no one prepared her for. People need an impartial guide to do a complete assessment of their home and all its energy needs, and stick with the homeowner through each step of the process. It’s currently just a bunch of independent contractors who want to make a buck as fast as they can for as little work as possible. The process is daunting and overwhelming for the average person so they’re forced to trust salesmen with an incentive to not be totally honest or go to any extra effort.
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