Electrify by Saul Griffith
The first time I heard Saul Griffith speak (How to solve climate change and make life more awesome with Ezra Klein & Saul Griffith), I was captivated. He confidently puts forward a vision of the future that we can all get excited about. He makes combatting climate change seem possible, even exciting.
The general premise of this book is that we can eliminate ⅓ of greenhouse gas emissions by making all our machines electric: cars, home heating & cooling, hot water, stoves. We will need to expand the grid and make it more neutral to embrace solar generation and batteries everywhere. And we have the technology to do this today; we don't need to invent anything new. We are confronting a deployment challenge, not a technology problem.
Saul proposes a clear path to decarbonization: what machines we need to replace, how we can solve for daily and seasonal variations in our supply of renewable energy, how we can create the right incentives through financing, how you should think of your own decision making when it comes to "personal infrastructure" (your car and home).
My critique is that Saul stays very high level in his systems thinking. He addresses the political challenges to electrification, but he doesn’t adequately address the fact that homes in the US are bespoke. I believe he submits low estimates for the time and energy required to electrify each home.
We can and should transition from an attitude of energy conservation to one of abundance. Instead of efficiency, massive electrification is the best way to address climate change.
We can eliminate ⅓ of greenhouse gas emissions by making all our machines electric: electric cars, heat pumps, induction / electric stoves. We have the technology today, we don't need to invent anything new.
Electrifying America will reduce our energy needs by half, but increase our at-home and grid electricity demand 3-4x. We can get all our energy from renewables but the scale of deployment will need to be massive (a war effort, with solar panels and wind turbines as our tanks and jets). We will also need a ton of batteries of all kinds (our bullets).
We should practice a "yes, and" approach to energy generation. We will need everything from solar and wind to hydro to geothermal to nuclear to tidal power. Biofuels too.
Grid neutrality is essential; we should network edge resources (rooftop solar, car batteries, etc.) to smooth out supply and demand resources. Time-of-use pricing and net-metering isn't good enough.
Electrifying buildings will be expensive but it will pay off in the long run; we need low interest rates (like we use for public infrastructure) for infrastructure in the home.
Personal rooftop solar + battery still doesn't add up for daily power generation, storage & usage, but it could soon. Right now, shifting demand to sunny hours makes more sense.
We need to streamline permitting and reduce regulation. There can be no “not in my backyard” with solar and wind energy.
We should address our personal energy infrastructure: our next car should be electric, we should replace our gas furnace and boilers with electric heat pumps at the next opportunity, we should adjust our diet to be plant-forward. Solar roofs and batteries are secondary, but still important.
For those who likewise doubt the science of global warming, there are other reasons to support efforts for a zero-carbon future: it will likely save us all money, improve the overall economy, clean our air, and improve our health. Still, whatever evidence we deploy, it’s likely we’ll have to solve climate change without broad consensus, because culture moves more slowly than science. ↗
a fully loaded modern jet aircraft gets the equivalent of around 60 miles per gallon (MPG) per passenger, ↗
A modern airplane gets the equivalent of around
60MPG per person
The United States is stuck in a way of thinking about the environment that dates back to the 1970s. This mindset can be succinctly summarized as (pardon my Australian), “If we try extremely hard, and make many sacrifices, the future will be a little less fucked than it might be otherwise.” ↗
The 2020s mindset says, “If we build the right infrastructure, right away, the future will be awesome!” ↗ :: Abundance agenda
I would then argue that electrification is more politically palatable and offers a bigger immediate win, and that we should look at this problem from all sides to make the most progress. Let’s stop imagining that we can buy enough sustainably harvested fish, use enough public transportation, and purchase enough stainless steel water bottles to improve the climate situation. Let’s release ourselves from purchasing paralysis and constant guilt at every small decision we make so that we can make the big decisions well. Instead of efficiency, massive electrification is the best way to address climate change. ↗
Great framing IMO, as is the below
End-game decarbonization means electrifying everything. It means that instead of changing our energy supply or demand, we need to transform our infrastructure—both individually and collectively—rather than our habits. ↗
Environment over willpower ↗
The idea is to make a unit of electricity, lose 25% of it in converting it to hydrogen, and lose another 25% of it in a fuel cell that converts it back into electricity that powers the wheels—all ↗
Electrification of the economy with zero-carbon sources reduces our energy needs by more than half. ↗
Electrifying America will require about
50% less energy but 3-4x more electricity
machines that convert heat to electricity lose half or more of the energy involved in the conversion. This is known as Carnot efficiency—named for Nicolas Leonard Sadi Carnot, the man often referred to as “the father of thermodynamics”—which is the ratio of ambient temperature to the temperature of combustion. Under most real-world circumstances, fossil fuel–burning machines are 20–60% efficient. ↗
What is the power efficiency of a combustion engine?
What is the power efficiency of an hydrogen car?
electrolysis (65%) x compression (75%) x fuel cell (50%)
What is the power efficiency of an electric car?
battery (90%) x drivetrain (80%)
What is the power efficiency of compressing & decompressing hydrogen?
What is the power efficiency of a hydrogen fuel cell?
What is the formula for electrolysis?
H₂O → H + O₂
What is the power efficiency of electrolysis?
What is the power efficiency of an electric drivetrain?
What is the power efficiency of battery storage?
became a fossil fuel, which was burned to become heat, which evaporated water to become steam, which spun a turbine to become motion, which through electromagnetism became electricity. These processes all wasted a little or a lot of energy at each step along the way. ↗
What are the steps by which fossil fuels become electricity?
burned to create heat → heat evaporates water → steam drives a turbine → electromagnetism creates electricity
In the 1970s, concerns about scarcity and drought led scientists to calculate the primary energy of hydroelectricity to be the amount of fossil-fueled power that would need to be added to the grid to replace a hydro-facility lost to a drought. Because the average efficiency of fossil fuel–fired electricity generation is only around 30–40%, ↗
nearly half of all of the tonnage of stuff that is moved by rail is coal; roughly the other half is grain, ↗
LEDs use one-fifth the energy of traditional lighting technologies. What’s more, they last for tens of thousands of hours and require much less frequent bulb replacement. ↗
LED light bulbs use
5-6x less power than incandescent lighting
75W equivalent draws 12W
Also: lasts for 10k+ hours
Winning the war against the climate crisis will also mean a cleaner, more positive future. Our houses will be more comfortable when we shift to heat pumps and radiant heating systems that can also store energy. While it may also be desirable to downsize our homes and cars, this isn’t absolutely necessary, at least in the US. Our cars can be sportier when they are electric. Household air quality will improve, as will public health, since gas stoves raise the risk of asthma and respiratory illnesses. We don’t need to switch to mass rail and public transit, nor mandate changing the settings on consumers’ thermostats, nor ask all red meat–loving Americans to turn vegetarian. ↗ :: Argument against Degrowth
There are enough renewable resources to easily meet global energy demands. Solar and wind will be the biggest suppliers. Hydroelectricity is critical, especially as a giant battery. Biofuels matter, especially for things like air travel, but they won’t solve every problem. Nuclear, while not strictly necessary, is very useful. Our land-use patterns are crucial to success. ↗
To electrify everything, America will need more than three times the amount of electricity that it currently produces. ↗
If we use solar alone, that’s more than we can fit on all of our rooftops, and more than we can erect over our parking spaces (see figure 7.1). If we added wind turbines in all of the corn fields in America, that would supply about half of what we need. ↗
The amount of solar radiation that makes it through our atmosphere and into our earth systems is 85,000 terawatts. A terrawatt (TW) is a trillion watts, or about the same power as one hundred billion LED lightbulbs. What this means is that the amount of solar that hits the earth far surpasses the approximately 19 TW that humanity uses.3 The US uses approximately 20% of that, 3.5–4 TW of primary energy. ↗
The sun is the primary source of almost all renewables, i.e., energy that can be replenished. The major player is solar, abundant wherever the sun shines. The sun heats the air and creates wind that can be harnessed with turbines. The winds whip up waves that can be captured by wave-power generators. The sun evaporates water, which becomes clouds and rain, filling rivers that can be tapped for hydroelectricity. As you know when walking on hot sand on a summer beach, the sun also heats the ground. This “ground-source” geothermal heat can be harvested year-round by a technology called heat pumps to keep buildings at an even temperature. ↗
Confusingly also called “geothermal energy” is the energy that is a closer relative of geysers, volcanoes, and hot springs. These types of geothermal energy are not derived from solar, but from remnant heat left over from the formation of the earth, with a little heat generated from radioactive decay thrown in for good measure. This creates extremely hot rock, which is accessible by drilling, and can be used to create steam, which drives a turbine to create electricity. ↗
How does geothermal energy work, generally?
Drill into hot spots in the earth, steam drives a turbine
Given America’s energy needs, we’ll have to make electricity wherever we can, while understanding that some sources are easier, cheaper, and more convenient than others. Some areas of the country have better wind, some have better solar, and some don’t have enough of either and will probably require some nuclear. Where there are rivers, hydroelectricity, which provides nearly 7% of electricity in the US today, will be critical. Where there are oceans, wave and tidal power will help at the margins. Offshore wind is likely to be the big producer from the oceans. ↗
enormous brouhaha emerged in the climate and energy world when Mark Jacobson of Stanford University,4 along with his colleagues, proposed that the world could run 100% on water, wind and solar (WWS).5 The pushback to this proposal was vicious, ↗
Critics of the Jacobson plan argue that we can’t have the reliability we need in an all renewables world. I tackle this issue head-on in the next chapter, and you’ll see there is every reason to believe it’s easier than we think to turn these intermittent sources into a reliable energy supply. ↗
Our best estimates suggest we have 200–1,000 years of fissile material left, ↗ :: Nuclear power
Is this accurate, or another case of us falsely believing we will run out of resources, e.g. fossil fuels?
Peak uranium — we have breeder reactors, thorium, and the possibility of pulling uranium from water sources
The most promising solution to finite uranium supply is
breeder reactors, which can produce more fissile material than they consume
The no-regrets pathway to quickly transform our fossil fuel–powered world to a world powered mostly by electricity is a combination of a majority of renewables (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal) with moderate nuclear and some biofuels as a backstop. The exact balance of those sources will vary geographically and can be determined largely by market forces ↗
Saul Griffith believes we should focus on these 4 sources of energy:
solar, wind, hydro, geothermal — with nuclear and biofuels as backups
To power all of America on solar, for example, would require about 1% of the land area dedicated to solar collection—about the same area we currently dedicate to roads or rooftops (see figure 7.1). Rooftops, parking spaces, and commercial and industrial buildings can do double duty as solar collectors. Similarly, we can farm wind on the same land used to farm crops. ↗
How much land would be required to power America on solar?
15 million acres, or 1%
About the same area we currently dedicate to roads or rooftops
So to get 1,500 to 1,800 GW we need 15 million acres, or roughly a megawatt per acre. To harness the same amount of energy with wind power alone would take around 100 million acres planted with wind turbines. For reference, the area of all US land is about 2.4 billion acres. ↗ ← these estimates seem low after I fact checked, adjusted numbers below to be 0.3MW/acre (source)
How much electricity does the US generate today?
How much electrical power will the US need to generate when fully electrified?
The energy density of solar is about
15x that of wind (per acre)
There is a camp of environmentalists that believe we’ll power the world with distributed (rooftop or community) solar, but the numbers tell a simple story that we’ll need all of the distributed energy we can harness, and we’ll need industrial installations of solar and wind as well. ↗
There can be no “not in my backyard” with solar and wind energy. Consider that fossil fuels are pervasive and pollute everyone’s back yards—in the air, water, and soil. Over the decades, we have learned to live with a lot of changes in our landscape, from electricity lines and highways to condos and strip malls. We will also have to live with a lot more solar panels and wind turbines. The trade-off is that we’ll have cleaner air, cheaper energy, and, most importantly, we will be saving that land and landscape for future generations. ↗
Nimbyism and the fight against climate change
On Nuclear power
Nuclear has been a dependable source of baseload power, though. Baseload refers to the most reliable energy resource in a grid service area that you are least likely to lose or turn off. But experts now frequently argue whether baseload is as important as previously thought. ↗
Baseload powerrefers to the most reliable energy resource in a grid service area
We likely need less baseload power than people think, and perhaps none at all, because of four factors: the inherent storage capacity of our electric vehicles, the shiftable thermal loads in our homes and buildings, commercial and industrial opportunities to load-shift and store energy, and the potential capacity of back-up biofuels and various batteries. ↗
The approximately 60 nuclear facilities and 100 reactors in the US already provide roughly 20% (about 100 GW) of all our delivered electricity (around 450 GW.) ↗
Two-fifths of all fresh water in the US passes through the cooling cycles of thermoelectric power plants. In many states there is not enough cool water available to install more plants of this nature. The amount of nuclear power we could potentially deploy using current technology is likely only double or triple that we already deploy, and consequently would only supply around 10–25% of our 1,500–1,800 GW target. ↗
The US Department of Energy itself has set targets of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour (¢/kWh) for rooftop solar, 4 ¢/kWh for commercial solar, and 3 ¢/kWh for utility-scale solar by 2030. ↗
I want fusion to succeed, and I think it will. But I do find that to be a slightly scary thought. My longtime friend, the wonderful thinker and author George Dyson (son of physicist Freeman Dyson), poses the question of what humans would do if energy were so cheap that we could move mountains on a whim. I worry we would dominate nature in a way that would make the world awful (think about the consequences of fusion-powered bulldozers). ↗ :: Fusion
the state-sponsored utility monopoly, which gives low interest rates to big projects instead of to consumers who need to swap their gas heaters for solar and heat pumps. ↗
As I showed earlier, we can get the majority of the 1,500–1,800 GW of electricity to power America from renewables. It is worth reminding yourself that this means generating and delivering three to four times as much electricity as we currently do. We won’t do this by tuning up the old grid; it will require rebuilding the grid with new twenty-first-century rules and internet-like technology. ↗
Most homes require more energy in the morning (for showers, laundry, and breakfast) than during the day. We need even more in the evening (for lights, heating and cooling, food prep, dish washing, and entertainment). ↗
On a typical 30-amp circuit at 120 V, you’ll only get about 10 miles of range for each hour of charging. This is why people move to higher currents and higher voltages for car charging, typically 40 amps and 230 V. At these rates you can get about 25 miles of range for each hour of charging. Some people even push for 480-volt “superchargers.” ↗
A 30-amp 120V circuit can charge an EV at
10miles / hour
A 40-amp 240V circuit can charge an EV at
25miles / hour
Overnight there might be a night light on, and then occasionally my refrigerator compressor switches on, and the total load on the house is not even 100 W. ↗
25 kW. Running everything at the same time is a bad idea. ↗
Measurement devices such as Sense can let you look in incredible detail at your energy use. ↗ :: Sense home energy monitoring
More and more people are putting solar on their rooftops and using it “behind the meter,” meaning they meet the loads of their own house through the middle part of the day. ↗
When you use rooftop solar to power your energy needs during the day, this is called "behind the meter"
The US will have to create lots of storage for renewable energy. In our fossil-fueled world, we already have vast storage facilities, so it’s something we already do at scale. ↗
Lithium-ion battery prices were above $1,000/kWh of storage capacity in 2010, fell to $150/kWh in 2019, and are projected to be $75/kWh by 2024. ↗
contemporary lithium batteries only last around 1,000 cycles. They can be pushed a little further, but even then, the cost is high, about 10–25¢/kWh for each storage cycle. It’s important that manufacturers double or triple battery cycle life, which will make the storage cost for each cycle mere pennies per kWh. ↗
Lithium batteries cost about
10-25¢/kWh per storage cycle
Assuming $100-250/kWh (w/ installation), 1000 cycles
the average US cost of grid-based electricity is 13.8¢/kWh. If rooftop solar achieves the price point it has in Australia of 6–7¢/kWh, and if batteries achieve a price point of around the same 6–7¢/kWh per storage cycle, then we will have arrived ↗
The average cost of grid-based electricity in the US is
Given that batteries are currently expensive and will never be free, we should think about all of the other things in our everyday lives that will require batteries or can be used as batteries. The batteries in electric cars will represent an enormous storage opportunity. ↗
an enormous number of hot water heaters, refrigerators, and HVAC systems, all of which can be used to store energy. This type of battery is thermal energy storage, where instead of storing electricity directly, it is converted to heat (or cold) in our refrigerators or HVAC systems. In this future, where we’ll have excess (solar) energy in the middle of the day, it is critical to store that away to keep our refrigerators cold and homes warm overnight. This is not radical, nor is it expensive—people already run water heaters when electricity is cheap and store the hot water for later use. ↗
an inexpensive thermal storage system the size of your clothes washer and dryer could store an additional 25 kWh per household—about ↗
An in-home thermal storage system the size of a washer + dryer could store ~
More than enough to heat your home for a day
Pumped hydro is a form of mechanical battery. ↗
Pumped hydro is cheap and can work with our existing hydroelectric infrastructure. Right now, 95% of our grid-connected battery capacity is pumped hydro. It is good for short- and mid-duration storage, but current reservoirs are not big enough to store the differences between our seasonal uses. ↗
Pumped hydro: pumping water uphill when energy is cheap and letting it flow downhill to power a turbine when needed
Using biofuels to bridge seasonal gaps can also be significant. Take wood, the best-known biofuel. We used to measure energy in cords, a 4ft. x 4ft. x 8ft. pile of lumber. Common wisdom holds that a house needs three cords of wood for the winter. With minimal management, the average acre can sustainably produce 1 cord per year, ↗
A cord of wood is defined as
Common wisdom holds that a house needs
3 cordsof wood for the winter
The average acre can sustainably produce
1 cordof wood per year
Thinking more broadly about winter firewood lets you imagine our substantial biological waste streams as a potential winter battery. Waste from agriculture, sewage, food, and forestry could be a “battery” that easily bridges the summer–winter divide if we were to store it as a biofuel for that occasion. ↗
we have wound up with an excess of cheap electricity at night—something people historically took advantage of to heat their hot water. ↗
We reacted to cheap power at night by creating night shifts in heavy industry so that industry could consume that power. ↗
A typical house currently uses around 25 kWh of electricity every 24 hours. If you electrified the two cars in the driveway and drove each of them the American average of approximately 13,000 miles per year, then the cars’ combined constant equivalent load would add an additional ~20 kWh per day. Electrifying everything currently powered by natural gas—hot water, space heating, and cooking—represents a further ~30 kWh load ↗
The typical US house uses
25kWh of electricity per day
Replacing natural gas with electricity will require about
30kWh / day for a typical US household
Heating/cooling, hot water, cooking
Charging an EV requires
10kWh / day / vehicle for a typical US household
Based on 13k miles / year (35 miles / day)
By networking these devices, their demands can be timed to when the supply can accommodate them. Further, by networking across multiple houses we can ensure that everyone in a given neighborhood doesn’t turn them all on at the same time. ↗
In my own home, I am building out the system to balance all my loads. I will have the largest solar-panel system I can fit on my roof. It will produce about 20 kW nominal power (the amount of energy produced around noon on a sunny summer day). It will average about 4.5 kW through the day, and produce about 100 kWh/day. This is enough to power all my loads: ↗
Nominal power: peak power produced by a solar panel
A solar panel produces about
20% nominal power on average
A 10kW solar installation will produce about
50kWh / day
10kW nominal ✕ 20% average ✕ 24 hours
I have to do some custom work on the electrical systems and controls, but these types of solutions are being developed all over the world and will only get easier and cheaper to implement. They also represent giant business opportunities to those who come up with the answers and make them simple, even invisible, for consumers to use. ↗
Let’s start demanding grid neutrality. Join the board of your rural co-op. Write your representatives. Get elected to a state utility commission. ↗
Grid neutrality: Saul Griffith's term for utilities making use of power and batteries from any source at or near retail rates
On personal energy infrastructure:
well and have a huge impact on our emissions. Environmentally concerned citizens today pay a lot of attention to small daily purchasing decisions and make complicated moral calculations about grocery bags, synthetic meat, vacation flights, and plastic packaging. ↗
We need to start prioritizing the big, infrequent decisions that really matter to the decarbonized future. Where do we live? How do we get around? What do we drive or ride? How big is our house? What’s on our roof? What’s in our basement? What appliances are in our kitchen? Are they all electrified? If you invest in the right personal infrastructure, you can be part of the solution to climate change merely by waking up and going about your daily life. To be a good climate citizen, you just need to make four or five big decisions well. ↗
What are the appliances to consider when electrifying your home?
car, HVAC, hot water, cooking, clothes dryer
Your personal transportation infrastructure: Everyone’s next car, and every subsequent car, should be electric. (Of course, public transit, bicycles, electric bicycles, electric scooters, or anything that isn’t powered by fossil fuels are even better options.) ↗
Everyone should install solar on their roofs at the next opportunity, ↗
You should be installing enough solar to power your electric vehicles and electrified heating systems, not just the small solar systems of today that only accommodate your existing electrical load. ↗
Your personal comfort infrastructure (HVAC): Replace furnaces and gas- or oil-fired heating systems with electric heat pumps. Additionally, it is wise to insulate and seal homes. If you are replacing your flooring, it is a perfect time to install radiant hydronic heating systems. Choose efficient air conditioning, and buy systems that allow you to heat and cool only the rooms you are in, instead of the whole building. ↗
Infrastructure in your kitchen, laundry and basement: Choose the most efficient and electric refrigerators, dryers, stove-tops, ranges, water heaters, and dish and clothes washers that are available. ↗
Your personal storage infrastructure: As the country becomes increasingly electrified, there will come a moment when a small home battery will make economic sense to install as a backstop to personal energy demands (and this will also make the grid more robust). We don’t need to argue; in the spirit of “yes, and,” there will also be grid-connected batteries. ↗
Your community infrastructure: Support clean-energy infrastructure in your community and state, so that all of your personal infrastructure is connected to carbon-free electricity sources. Advocate for solar cells over your school and church’s parking lots. ↗
Your personal dietary infrastructure: It is not as obvious to think about your dietary choices when discussing infrastructure, but the decision to eat less meat, or become vegetarian or even vegan, is one with a very high impact on your energy and climate emissions. ↗
We also need to lobby our landlords, friends, and family members to make these same choices. ↗
On the need to network / share infrastructure, and financing
Americans need to get comfortable with the fact that balancing our whole energy system is going to rely on shared infrastructure, ↗
We could of course do it all individually, with everyone trying to buy a big enough battery to handle their own loads, but that would be the most expensive way to decarbonize. ↗
If a small portion of my car battery will be used to balance the grid, and occasionally the grid uses my heat pump and hot water heater to shift loads, then why should I pay retail credit-card interest rates on those objects instead of low interest rates more appropriate to infrastructure? ↗
Redefining infrastructure allows us to contemplate the intriguing notion that the US might be just an interest rate away from a climate cure. ↗
The average cost of distribution in the US is about 7.8¢/kWh—higher than the 6–7¢/kWh which is LCOE of rooftop solar in Australia. ↗
The average cost of electricity distribution in the US is
A friend and fellow Aussie expat, Andrew “Birchy” Birch, wrote an influential article about replicating the Australian model of rooftop solar in the US. He showed how the dominant portion of the rooftop-solar costs in the US are “soft costs,” or those not directly tied to a piece of hardware. These include permitting, inspection, overhead, transaction costs, and sales. The Department of Energy agrees with him, and the aim of their $1/W solar moonshot is to eliminate soft costs. ↗
Taxes, overhead, and other indirect costs mean that consumers in the US are paying close to or above $3.00/W. ↗
The myths of Silicon Valley hold that disruption is always good and that progress is made by unconventional founders turning the world on its head. That model has worked in software, but in hardware, especially in infrastructure, it doesn’t really work. ↗
progress is predictably achieved through consistent investments in research, coupled with manufacturing at massive scale. ↗
In figure 11.1, we can see that in 2018 the post-tax expenditures per household were $61,224, of which $4,136 (close to 7%) was spent on energy. The $1,496 we spend on electricity is more than we spend on education ($1,407); the $410 we spend on natural gas is more than we spend on dentistry ($315); and the $2,109 we spend on gasoline and diesel is more than we spend on fresh meat, fruit, and vegetables ($1,817). ↗
The average US household spends
7% of expenses on energy
What is the percent distribution of the energy costs for the average US household (by type)?
50% car fuel, 35% electricity, 10% natural gas
With fossil fuels, you save now and pay later; with renewables, you pay now and save later (including the planet). Most families currently can’t afford the up-front costs of decarbonizing their households that will save them money in the long term. If US policymakers can offer “climate loans” at the right rate, the transition to clean energy will start saving us money today. We’ve created these types of loans before, notably long-term mortgages to enable home ownership after the Great Depression. ↗
switching to all renewables will cost the average US household about $40,000. ↗
According to Saul Griffith, switching to all renewables will cost the average US household
We must invent all kinds of low-interest financing options to help consumers afford the capital investments for twenty-first-century decarbonized infrastructure. ↗
America’s lifestyle has been built on loans; the car loan and mortgage were both twentieth-century American innovations. ↗
Creating a climate loan in response to the climate crisis has clear historical precedent. The modern mortgage market was shaped by the federal government’s intervention ↗
Under the New Deal, another program offered low-cost federal financing support for electrification. The Electric Home and Farm Authority (EHFA), originally an offshoot of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), helped provide financing for the purchases of electric appliances—refrigerators, ranges, and hot water heaters. Its focus was rural America (especially the Tennessee Valley), and it was part of an effort to expand the domestic market for electricity consumption. ↗
Currently, it is estimated that the total value of fossil fuels that aren’t even dug up yet is maybe $10–100 trillion. ↗
The total value of fossil fuels that aren’t dug up yet is
building and electric codes that aren’t friendly to solar, home, and vehicle electrification. ↗
In the US, CAFE fuel standards were devised to motivate the American automobile industry to manufacture more fuel-efficient vehicles. That’s a great idea. But, as with any set of rules, over time enough lawyers can be thrown at them to find loopholes and workarounds. Light trucks were placed in a different category, with different fuel standards than other vehicles, and because of that, SUVs and cross-over vehicles were born, effectively killing off the market for sedans and shorter, more aerodynamic (and hence more efficient) cars. ↗
Why did SUVs explode in popularity in the US?
They got around 1975 CAFE fuel standards, since they are categorized as "light trucks"
If the US were guided by prudent policies, we would tax vehicles by the mile and by the ton. ↗
Recall that when you buy solar on your rooftop in Australia, it costs $1/W. In the US, because of regulations, permitting, inspections, and high sales costs, that price is $3/W. The underlying hardware is incredibly cheap, with modules (assemblies of solar cells) selling internationally at 35¢/W (with believable pathways to 25¢/W). Solar energy is not expensive. The regulations surrounding solar make it expensive. ↗
Rooftop solar in Australia costs:
$1/W or 7¢/kWh
Rooftop solar in US costs:
$3/W or 21¢/kWh
Higher regulation and installation costs than in many other places
Rooftop solar panels (just the hardware) cost:
35¢/W or 1¢/kWh
San Francisco, you can’t put solar modules all the way to the edge of your roof—you have to set them back four feet. I have been told this is because of the fires that followed the 1906 earthquake, which were more damaging than the earthquake itself. It’s incredible to think that at that moment in history, the majority of home lighting came from dozens of tiny little fires in your house connected by gas lines. Gaslighting as a climate-change problem has existed for a century! When the earthquake hit, the gas lines leaked, the gas filled the houses and rose to the top because methane is lighter than air. Fires sparked up everywhere. Subsequently, firemen insisted on building codes that allowed them to vent the building by punching a hole in the roof (one of the reasons the stereotypical fireman carries an axe). San Francisco’s lots are small, typically 25 feet wide and 80 feet long. Houses can usually only stretch 45 feet into the lot. The roofs are tiny, and if you eliminate 4 feet around all the edges, you lose 44% of the area that could be used to generate cheap solar electricity. ↗
Why can't you install solar panels to the edges of roofs in SF?
1906 earthquake caused gas lines for home lighting to break and ignite, firefighters lobbied for 4ft around the edges for ventilation
44% decrease in effective area
we currently have codes that require the load center—that’s the giant breaker box between the grid and your house—to be sized as though every single load in your house were turned on at the same time. ↗
The thing between your home and the grid is called
a breaker box or load center
Required to be sized to cover 100% simultaneous load in house
Net metering, where solar panels and other home renewable-energy sources are connected to a public-utility power grid and surplus power is transferred back onto the grid,6 isn’t good enough. Since electricity is generally purchased back at the wholesale rate, rather than the consumer rate, it doesn’t encourage you to maximize your own solar capacity or share your storage assets. It’s a bit like a tax credit; it’s only useful if you pay a lot of tax. ↗
Net metering: getting credits for sending electricity back to the grid
The 3 big variables in net metering rules are:
limits on installation size, pricing, rollovers
Time-of-use pricing, where electricity rates vary over daily or yearly cycles and utility companies charge more during high demand and less during low demand to help balance the grid,7 isn’t good enough either. This method breaks the day into chunks at different prices, and then consumers choose when to use energy. Not everyone has that choice, and the coarseness of the rate schemes limits adoption. ↗
It is estimated that the manufacturing of an ICE automobile requires about 125 GJ of energy, and because it is a little heavier and the batteries are more complicated to produce, 200 GJ for an EV.2 That’s 50–60,000 kWh. If you were driving that EV at a pretty efficient 300 Wh/mile, that means you have to drive the car for 200,000 miles before the energy used in moving it would equal the energy used in making it. ↗
An EV requires
60% more energy to be produced than an equivalent internal combustion engine car
Wood is good. I like to think that wood is the second-best method for carbon sequestration, other than books! To use more would mean we need to have much better forestry management. People are already building wooden multistory housing, and wood is really a perfect sustainable building material, but there isn’t enough of it in the world for everyone to have an American-style home. ↗
Today, only 34% of glass is recycled in the US. ↗
34% of glass is recycled in the US
less than 10% of plastic is recycled in the US. ↗
5-10% of plastic is recycled in the US
Possibly even less!
ruminant: grazing mammal that ferments plants in a specialized stomach before digestion
cows, goats, sheep, deer
Per passenger-mile traveled, it requires approximately the same energy as driving in a car with a passenger. ↗
If you are a consumer, don’t focus so much on your small decisions. While it may be helpful to buy shampoo in bulk to eliminate the plastic or buy all-natural clothes that can be composted, what matters most are your big purchasing decisions. Your next car must be electric. You need to do everything you can to make your house run on solar power. If you are about to buy a house, consider a smaller one or a mobile home. Whatever you invest in turning your house into a big battery that can give back to the grid will have more impact on climate change than any other purchasing decision you make. ↗
If you are an electrician, prepare to be the busiest you have ever been. Train your friends, teach your children. ↗
If you are in construction or renovation, encourage your clients to shift to houses that don’t pipe in natural gas and buildings that are solar-powered. Learn to install heat pumps and batteries that make houses run efficiently. ↗
If you are a tech worker, stop making social media and delivery apps and start making software that helps people use less energy and that balances the grid, automates the design of solar and wind plants, makes public transit work better, and does other useful things to accelerate America’s transition to renewables. ↗