Dreaming the Inconceivable Dream • Watts Up With That?

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen — 9 January 2023 — 1400 words/6 minutes

The new mantra for the renewable energy advocates of almost all stripes is: “Electrify Everything”.  Think not?  Try an internet search for the phrase: “electrify everything” —   a few samples:

We Need to Make ‘Electrifying Everything’ Easier — Scientific American — Jul 1, 2022

Electrify Everything — Center for Energy and Environment — Jan 1, 2023

Electrify Everything — Mother Jones  — Apr 18, 2023

Why and How to Electrify Everything — Skeptical Science  — May 4, 2022

2022: The Year that Launched the Electrify Everything Movement – Sierra Club — Dec 12, 2022

How electrification became a major tool for fighting climate change. – NY Times — April 14, 2023

Electrify Everything Everywhere All At Once For The Climate And Economy — Forbes   Nov 6, 2023

Let me start with the claims made in the NY Times news item — by Nadja Popovich and Brad Plumer —  published last April in the NY Times ( repeating the link ).  Their main point is given in the first three paragraphs:

“The United States still gets most of its energy by setting millions of tiny fires everywhere. Cars, trucks, homes and factories all burn fossil fuels in countless engines, furnaces and boilers, creating pollution that heats the planet.

To tackle climate change, those machines will need to stop polluting. And the best way to do that, experts increasingly say, is to replace them with electric versions — cars, heating systems and factories that run on clean sources of electricity like wind, solar or nuclear power.

But electrifying almost everything is a formidable task.”

They have at least one thing right:  electrifying almost everything is a formidable task.  It is not just formidable — I suspect it might be  physically impossible in the present and probably in the short-term (years, decades).

Another quote from the same Times article:

“Can the Grid Handle It?  —  Electrification would require sweeping changes to the nation’s power grids. Under the scenario visualized above, total electricity demand in the United States would roughly double by 2050, even as overall energy use went down.” ….  “To meet that demand, electric utilities would need to add staggering amounts of new emissions-free power while making sure that all those newly electrified cars, homes and factories don’t strain the system and cause blackouts. They would also have to construct large new power lines across the country, both to accommodate far-flung renewable projects and to improve the reliability of the grid.”

I wrote just last year:  “How Much of the Grid Must Be Upgraded?” in which I examined the small case of upgrades needed to the grid just switch the homes of the California city of Palo Alto to “All Electric”.   I used this cartoon:

The transformers are circled in yellow — that’s a lot of transformers ….and many of them will be needing to be upgraded or replaced.  The problem?  We not only don’t have enough transformers to do a major upgrade on the grid, the United States doesn’t even have or manufacture enough transformers to meet current demand.  And that problem is only going to get worse, not better, as demand grows ahead of the manufacturing capability.

The green box surrounds the long-distance transmission lines – from the generating stations (oil, gas, solar, wind, hydro) to the transmission customers to the utility companies and finally local transmission to the end-user customers – you and me.  We don’t have enough – we will need far more to connect to different places of generation – and we aren’t building them.   CNBC’s Catherine Clifford tells us why in “Why a U.S. national electric grid would be great for the climate — and is nearly impossible”.

Hey, but don’t worry about the fact that a new, upgraded electrical grid is absolutely necessary and is simultaneously “nearly” impossible – the government is studying the issue!   (…I wouldn’t hold your breathe while waiting for their solution).

It is not just the necessary political will and the necessary money (the government can “just print more”), but do we have the necessary other physical stuff?  Transmission cables, insulators, high tension power line towers, on and on….

As a nation, we don’t have sufficient quantities of transformers or the manufacturing base to make sufficient quantities our own – many come from China. An analysis by the Heritage Foundation considers this to be a national security issue.

What about skilled laborers?

“Laborers?” you may ask.  Yes, men and women with the skills to actually build transmission lines.  For that matter, do we have the trained and qualified men and women necessary to just install the dedicated 240v outlet in your kitchen to allow you to put in an induction stove or to install an EV fast-charger or two in your garage.  The Climate Crisis propaganda outlet GRIST has run two stories on the problems of doing this:  “He wanted to get his home off fossil fuels. There was just one problem”  and  “To get off fossil fuels, America is going to need a lot more electricians — A shortage of skilled labor could derail efforts to “electrify everything.””   Each details the trials and tribulations of a True Believer®  who sets out to ‘do the right thing’ and electrify their homes.

The roadblocks?  The costs of all of the necessary equipment and total costs of the projects were far higher than they originally thought.   And, even when they trimmed back the projects to lower the cost, they had difficulty finding contractors who would do the work within a reasonable time frame.  There are not enough trained personnel to do the work even at today’s demand levels – no less if Electrify Everything were to be mandated by municipal or state governments via laws or regulations. 

What about the economics?  Aren’t we constantly being told that electricity is far cheaper than gas or oil?

Let’s ask the U.S. Department of Energy:

(click for larger image)

Looking at the “Representative Average Unit Costs of Energy” per million BTU (a measure of the heat content of fuels or energy sources).  This is the official document from the energy.gov, for 2023.   Electricity costs over three times more than natural gas per million BTUs with the costs listed.  Currently, for January 2024, the average of state averages is 13.9 ¢/kWh,  a little lower than used in the chart. For Natural Gas, as of Aug 2023,  the average of state averages, the cost was $13.65 per thousand cubic feet (MCF), also a bit lower than in the chart. [Your Local Costs May Vary]

And, finally, out in California, where I last looked at the Electrify Everything idea in regards to adding EV chargers and making homes all-electric in Palo Alto – Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has announced:

“Effective Jan. 1, monthly electricity bills for the typical PG&E electricity customer reached an average of roughly $222 a month. That’s 28.4% higher than the monthly electricity bill of $172.84 in January 2023.

Gas bills now average $72 a month. That’s 6.1% higher than the average monthly gas bill of $67.89 in January 2023.” [source – paywalled]

Bottom Line:

We don’t have enough to Electrify Everything:

1.  Not enough electrical grid

2.  Not enough transformers

3.  Not enough raw materials

4.  Not enough skilled laborers

5.  Not enough time (to meet arbitrary targets).

Maybe, someday, we could sensibly electrify home heating, cooling and appliances.  But not anytime soon.

# # # # #

Author’s Comment:

I think electricity is cool – always have.  Did electricity experiments (all totally unauthorized and some terrifyingly dangerous) when I was a kid.  But the Electrify Everything agenda is really an anti-natural gas/fossil fuels agenda and is not being pushed for the benefit of citizens.

And, yes, this Electrify Everything doesn’t even touch Primary Power.

Heat pumps that can operate efficiently in sub-freezing temperatures are very expensive and lose efficiency in cold weather.  Even heat pump installers recommend having backup heat for when the weather turns very cold. 

They promote induction stovetops – not induction kitchen ranges – the ovens in kitchen ranges are all plain old electric ovens using hot coils to bake your cake or braise your meat.  ONLY the stovetop burners are induction.  If you are a baker, like one of my daughters-in-law, having an induction stovetop doesn’t save you much – she has and uses two electric ovens.

If you can efficiently turn your Natural Gas to sensible BTUs in heating your home, the natural gas is far cheaper. 

Thanks for reading.

# # # # #

Like this:

Like Loading…

Comments are closed.