New report shows how repowering buildings with electricity could protect public safety, cut pollution

PHILADELPHIA — Electric technologies are ready to replace the natural gas that heats nearly half of Pennsylvania homes and fuels our cooking, according to a new report from PennPIRG Education Fund, PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group. However, critical barriers must be overcome to accelerate and complete the shift, the study notes. 

Electric Buildings: How to Repower Where We Live, Work and Learn with Clean Energy highlights the dramatic leaps in technology in recent years that have made electric water heaters, electric induction stoves and electric heat pumps (for heating buildings) not only highly effective and energy-efficient, but also more widely available at lower prices.

Electrifying America’s homes and commercial buildings is a critical strategy to address the issue of our crumbling gas infrastructure. Gas leaks are widespread, costly, and hazardous to the public’s health and safety. There are opportunities for leaks throughout the transmission process, costing consumers and increasing the risk of explosion which can be deadly to the public and damaging to property. In Pittsburgh, about 29 percent of the pipes managed by People’s Natural Gas are made with outdated materials and are more liable to leak, and roughly 46 percent of them are over 50 years old.

“Electrification is the solution to our aging gas infrastructure in Pennsylvania,” said Emma Horst-Martz, PennPIRG Education Fund’s Campaign Associate. “To prevent any future possibility of deadly gas fueled explosions like what happened in Philadelphia last month, we need to transition our buildings to run on electricity. The cost efficiency of electric heating and appliances will also protect consumers’ wallets in the long term.”

“Buildings that run on electricity are cleaner and safer than buildings that don’t. They represent a huge opportunity to improve our communities,” said David Masur, PennEnvironment’s Executive Director. “Repowering buildings with electricity can help us in essential ways: cutting indoor and outdoor pollution, avoiding gas explosions, stopping the environmental damage done by drilling, and cutting our dependence on fossil fuels. That’s a lot of value.”

The report finds that unlocking this value is easier than ever. For example, building climate control is being revolutionized by electric heat pumps, which are several times more energy-efficient than gas and oil heating systems and can meet both heating and cooling needs in homes and commercial buildings. Heat pumps used for heating water can be five times as efficient as gas-powered water heaters. 

Nevertheless, despite declining costs and advances in technology, wide-scale electrification of buildings faces obstacles. The primary issues are retrofitting costs and that neither the public nor contractors are aware of and knowledgeable enough about relevant technologies. 

Public policymakers can accelerate the transition to electric buildings through a variety of policies, including rebate programs, low-cost financing, tax incentives for electrifying buildings, education programs for developers, contractors and consumers and bans on fossil fuels in new construction.   

“When people built a lot of the buildings we live and work in today, we didn’t have these technologies,” said Emma Horst-Martz. “But now we do, and we can use them to make a cleaner, safer world. It just makes sense.

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