Going Carbon Neutral Through Electrification
Massachusetts has been recognized as the most energy-efficient state, 6 years running. Boston has been the most energy-efficient city in the country for 8 years now.
But how can Massachusetts improve or keep its title? Massachusetts is unique for a variety of reasons, but one thing that makes us stand out is that our officials, policymakers, and citizens are acutely aware of environmental issues and take steps to make the state greener. Massachusetts has been able to begin reducing its carbon footprint in an attempt to lessen the effects of climate change; effects such as sea-level rise, ozone depletion, and global temperatures rising.
Many U.S. states have their own goals to combat environmental issues through carbon neutrality. Carbon neutral(ity) refers to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference, commonly referred to as having a net-zero carbon footprint.
A carbon price is a cost applied to carbon emissions (or pollution) to incentivize people to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas they emit into the atmosphere. Economists widely agree that introducing a carbon price is the single most effective way for countries to reduce their emissions.
Massachusetts could become the first state to put a price on carbon. In June 2018, the Massachusetts State Senate made history today by passing landmark carbon pricing legislation. The bill (S.2545- An Act to Promote a Clean Energy Future) includes a key carbon pricing provision that allows Massachusetts to regain state leadership on climate policy by designing and implementing a carbon pricing mechanism. Putting a price on carbon got a big boost when National Grid, one of New England’s largest utilities, called for putting an economy-wide price on carbon and rapid electrification of the transportation sector. The legislation’s next stop is in the House, where we hope to continue the momentum for the legislation and for carbon pricing.
The Commonwealth has an ambitious goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. However, this goal cannot be achieved by 2050 if we continue to build with natural gas or other fossil fuels. The only way we can get there is if we transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. As Boston’s skyline rises and population increases, the choices we make over the next few years on how we’re going to fuel the city’s energy future, and the buildings we construct or retrofit today will have profound effects.
Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change
Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, thus creating a warming effect, are called greenhouse gases (or GHG). Greenhouse gas emissions from human-caused activities are known throughout the scientific community to lead to climate change. There are four types of GHGs consisting of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), and fluorinated gases.
Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil), solid waste, trees and wood products, and also as a result of certain chemical reactions. Carbon can be sequestered (or removed) from the atmosphere when it is absorbed by plants.
Methane is mainly emitted during the production and transportation of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil). The largest difference between fossil fuels and renewable energy (besides that fact that renewables are indeed renewable) is the methane emitted. Methane does not linger in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, but its effects are far more devastating due to the efficiency in which methane absorbs heat. Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Approximately 25% of manmade global warming effects are due to methane emissions. Even though it occurs in lower concentrations than carbon dioxide, it produces 21 times as much warming as CO2. Methane emissions can also come from livestock, other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.
Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as during combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste. Fluorinated gases, such as hydrofluorocarbons that are used in air conditioning, are synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases typically emitted from industrial processes.
Electrifying Our Energy Supply
Industry experts have dabbled with the idea of electrification or the transitioning energy supplies to electricity. Electricity is basically a no-loss energy; it converts energy into useful power without losses and without pollution. The use of electricity could decarbonize the world.
Over the last few years, there has been an increase in the electrification of everyday transportation, specifically electric vehicles. Researchers have broken down the potential for electrification into many different sectors but transportation starts with the smallest electricity share, which would make it the easiest sector to begin with. Transportation accounts for nearly 30 percent of U.S. primary energy consumption. Beyond transportation, the building sector can take steps to reduce their carbon emissions by making the switch to electricity fueled by electromechanical generators, solar photovoltaics, or geothermal.
So, what are the next steps? Reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 starts with the electrification of our buildings and transportation systems. Then, we can begin powering that electricity with renewable energy sources, such as solar.
Step 1. Build Green and Electrify Buildings
Sustainable building starts with the design of the building to take into account the natural resources and energy available at the site. It may mean positioning the structure to make the most of the sunlight available or implementing natural ventilation to reduce the need for energy-intensive heating and cooling systems. Sustainable construction methods and materials will help reduce the demand for fossil fuels.
The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) ranks buildings using the LEED guidelines to stimulate/encourage/promote “sustainable construction, maintenance, and operation” across the country. The major pillars of LEED certification are a decrease in greenhouse gases, improved air quality, a transition to new energy sources, and smart, forward-thinking building practices. This all reduces the negative effects on human health while being conscious of the environment. Massachusetts is ranked #1 for LEED Green Building Per Capita. The goal of carbon neutrality could be reached close to 2050 if we can keep the momentum going with green buildings and electrifying them.
Local Households Making the Switch to Full Electricity
Claire and Jan Galkowski of Westwood, MA installed 29 SunPower 345-watt modules, creating a 10.0kW PV system, with 19 facing South-Southwest, 5 facing East-Southeast, and 5 facing West-Northwest. Although these directions are not the most favorable, with the great efficiency of these panels, they made it work. In an effort to reduce even more fossil fuel usage, Jan and Claire decided to convert their hot water system, heating and cooling system, and many major energy-consuming technologies to electric sources. The Galkowski family is also planning on purchasing a Tesla Model 3 that will utilize clean energy generated from their home.
Three years later, the Galkowskis decided to add to their solar system. They ended up installing another 10 Sunpower 345 panels to create a 39 panel, 13.46kW system. Nine of these are again East-Southeast, and 1 is West-Northwest. Even though their home (and car) ran entirely on electricity, their bill was only $2 per month. Also, the Galkowskis earn an extra $100 per month in SRECs with the additional panels. The Galkowskis are pioneering efforts to reduce GHG emissions in Massachusetts.
Step 2. Electrify Transportation
For those who are committed to sustainability, make the switch to a fuel-efficient vehicle, such as a hybrid or electric vehicle to further reduce your environmental impact. Where is the electricity coming from? Shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy to power your EVs will reduce carbon emissions from vehicles. Simple changes like avoiding speeding and unnecessary acceleration can reduce gas mileage by up to 33%, subsequently reducing carbon emissions.
Additional Ways to Travel Cleaner
Complete Streets is a transportation policy that mandates streets to be designed, planned, maintained, and operated to enable safety, convenience, comfort, and accessibility to all travelers, regardless of the mode of transportation. Complete Streets promotes and encourages pedestrian and bike-friendly roadways. Establishing a complete streets policy demonstrates a community’s commitment to improving community livability by focusing on safety and mobility, sustainability, and economic development. Massachusetts Department of Transportation is taking action to encourage more Complete Street projects across the state.
Many towns in Massachusetts have been recognized for their efforts in integrating Complete Street plans into their short-term agendas. Smart Growth America recognized Stoneham, MA as National Complete Street Champion. Governor Charlie Baker & Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito awarded the city of Cambridge $400,000 to fund a Complete Street program and help the city get started on achieving their sustainability goals.
Step 3. Embrace Renewables
Approximately 75 percent of our emissions in 2018 come from energy use in buildings, compared to 68 percent in 2017. The University of California is aiming to be the first carbon-neutral school system by 2025. Over the last year, UC campuses made big strides toward zero-emission vehicles. In the last year, UC Irvine converted its entire bus fleet to electric. Campuses also cut water use, saving enough water to fill 125 Olympic-size swimming pools. Complete electrification will mean converting all university buildings and facilities to electricity powered by solar, wind and other renewable sources, a conversion that is already underway at some campuses. All 10 University of California campuses now have on-site solar power, and more progress is in the works. UC has purchased 80 megawatts (MW) of off-campus solar — enough to supply 14 percent of total electricity use. Campuses have also installed nearly 80 on-site solar photovoltaic systems, an additional 13 MW of on-site solar is in development. Solar panels will supply the universities with carbon-free energy.
California has become the first state in the nation to require solar panels on new homes, starting in 2020. Watertown, located just outside of Boston, has recently become the first town in Massachusetts and New England to require solar panels on new commercial construction. The town mandated renovations of existing buildings that are more than 10,000 square feet to have solar collectors. Parking garages will also require solar installations.
Watertown’s Energy Manager, Ed Lewis, believes the new ordinance will help to reduce pollution, decrease the town’s carbon footprint, and drive local business. Local companies typically install the solar panels, so the mandate will help provide local jobs. New renewable energy generation will offset the money previously spent on non-renewable energy sources. Energy for Massachusetts customers typically comes from outside of New England. With this new ordinance, the money that normally leaves New England will now stay in the local economy.
Solar is easily the most popular energy source among Americans. Mandating solar is an idea most Americans support for their state. A poll released by Morning Consult, reveals that approximately 63% of Americans supported requiring solar in residential construction.
Step 4. Make Small Changes in Your Home
The idea of electrifying your home, business and transportation can seem daunting. There are plenty of smaller changes you can make in your home that will reduce your energy use. Here are other ways to save money and energy.[one-half-first][/one-half-first] [one-half][/one-half]
Turn off electronics when they aren’t in use. About 25% of all residential energy usage comes from appliances that are plugged in when not in use. Even when your coffee pot isn’t brewing coffee or your laptop charger isn’t charging your device, they are still using energy. To make unplugging easier, try using power strips that you can switch off.
Utilize your blinds. It’s surprising how much opening and closing your blinds can impact the temperature of your home. In the summer, close your blinds during the day to limit sunlight heating up your home. In the winter, keep them open.
Wash your clothes in cold water. 90% of the energy usage of laundry machines goes towards heating up water when many clothes can be washed in cold water. Making this switch could save $40 each year, and washing only full loads saves 3,400 gallons of water annually.
Use low-flow showerheads. A low-flow showerhead uses 2.5 gallons-per-minute or less. A ten-minute shower saves you 25 gallons of water compared to a full bathtub. This saves you up to $145 each year in utility costs.
Switch to efficient light bulbs. Reduce energy use by 30% to 80% with energy-efficient bulbs such as halogen incandescents, CFLs and LEDs.
Clean or change filters regularly. Having dirty filters in your AC, heating unit, dryer, or other appliances reduces their energy efficiency and effectiveness.
Your Home or Business’s Impact
Since carbon neutrality is an ambitious goal, there will have to be changes made both locally and nationally. Massachusetts has a great start in legislature and state politics to combat climate change now through 2050. Electrification of buildings and transportation, supported by renewable energy sources, would be a huge leap towards climate change mitigation.
Your decision to go solar and electrify your home or business can have a huge impact. In a previous post, we explain the true and hidden costs of fossil fuels and how switching to solar saves money and resources.