In order to protect the environment, people must learn to reduce pollution in a variety of ways. Simply replacing diesel cars with electric ones will stave off the dangerous effects of the climate change, however, we also need to learn how to reduce the use of fossil fuel in buildings, in order to stop destroying the planet.
This fact has been confirmed by a new NRDC report that presents the importance of “decarbonizing” buildings, in terms of direct energy generation. The report also stated that the use of fossil fuel in buildings is responsible for approx. 28 % of the US building energy-related emissions.
The proposed strategy for dealing with this issue, at least in the U.S., would reduce carbon emissions by 80%, by the year 2050. According to the researchers, this reduction is vital in preventing the worst effects of the climate change.
We currently have at our disposal three ways that would have to be put into practice at the same time in order to achieve this large reduction in building energy-related emissions:
- One way would be to use energy more efficiently. The less energy we use, the less we need to produce. This could be achieved by using better materials in order to insulate buildings, and by manufacturing more efficient equipment;
- We would also have to replace heating systems that use fossil fuels with ones that run on electricity. A good idea would be to use heat pumps, which can be powered by energy generated from renewable sources, however, any type of energy-efficient electrical heating solution would be just as good;
- The third way through which we could reduce emissions is to simply replace the fossil fuels used in buildings with renewable fuels. There are a variety of options in terms of fuels that are safer for the environment than the ones currently used, such as biogas, synthetic natural gas, and more;
These three combined methods would certainly help reduce pollution, however, it is also necessary to replace most of the energy consumers, such as household appliances, that can be found in buildings, with high-efficiency electric models.
It is important to understand that while we do have the option of using bio gas in order to power our buildings, the fuel is limited. Full electrification would be required in order to ensure that we are successful in decarbonizing buildings. This would also allow us to use bio gas in sectors that are harder to electrify, such as truck transport, planes, etc.
As green energy technology continues to advance, we may discover better ways of decarbonizing buildings in the years to come, however, this is the best one that is currently at our disposal.
Context is of the essence when it comes to this NRDC report, as it has been published at a time when President Trump is slowly canceling many of the measures that the U.S. was taking in order to reduce carbon pollution and to minimize the effects of global warming.
The largest amount of fossil fuel that is used in buildings goes into space heating (about 25% of the used energy), followed by water heating(13%). This means that we can potentially cut back on how much conventional fuel our buildings use simply by replacing these two systems with electrical alternatives.
This having been said, the proposed changes are urgent, especially when considering that half of all carbon emissions associated with buildings in California is produced by furnaces and water heaters running on natural gas.
Fortunately, progress is already being made in terms of developing energy codes and efficiency standards. However, this does not eliminate the need to replace space and water heating systems that burn fossil fuels with versions that run on electricity.
New generations for energy-efficient appliances
Manufacturers are already developing and selling high-efficiency alternatives for those looking to replace their conventional household appliances. Some of these can be up to 3 times more efficient in terms of energy use (in the case of devices such as heat pump water heaters), than traditional devices, and can help reduce the generated emissions by 50%. In addition to the fact that they use less power, both heat pumps and conventional electric water heaters enable utilities to use their thermal energy storage capabilities.
For example, these can charge overnight, and avoid drawing electricity from the grid when it is most used. This can help make use of renewable energy, without forcing the use of conventional fuels in order to cover high electrical demands.
While the changes proposed by the NRDC’s report would require a large number of upgrades when it comes to appliances, it would reduce pollution by a considerable amount.
Difficulties of implementation
Regardless of the usefulness of such a step in decarbonizing buildings, the proposed measures also come with several challenges. These range from the low consumer awareness regarding the benefits and necessities of upgrading, to the high price tags of high-efficiency appliances.
We have the technology to reduce the pollution generated by our buildings, however, we must not ignore the urgency of the matter, especially when considering the extreme weather events that have started occurring more and more often. The proposed shift in paradigm will also generate jobs and will help us develop a stronger, more efficient infrastructure.