Why we need to electrify everything in our homes, with Rewiring America’s Stephen Pantano

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Good Clean Energy is a podcast that tackles one of the most existential questions of our time: how to build a world with abundant, affordable, carbon-free electricity. TAE’s Jim McNiel dives into deep conversations with experts ranging from scientists to innovators to advocates about the challenges our current electricity systems face and updates on the race for gamechanging, clean ways to power our lives.

Roughly 42% of energy-related carbon emissions come from households—our cars, water heaters, furnaces, dryers, cooktops and where we get our energy. On this episode, Stephen Pantano, head of Market Transformation for Rewiring America, explains how replacing fossil-fueled machines at home with electric ones is a critical and achievable strategy for reaching net zero emissions in the U.S.

“The perfect household is all-electric,” says Pantano, because even if your house is getting its power from a less-than-ideal energy source—like a power plant that runs on fossil fuels—electrifying your home could have a big impact on your individual carbon emissions. “You’re going to have lower emissions or soon have lower emissions as that grid gets cleaner and cleaner.”

Covered in this episode:

  • [2:30] The mission of Rewiring America
  • [4:02] “The perfect household is all-electric”
  • [5:19] Using heat pumps to heat and cool your home
  • [9:57] Cooking without gas
  • [12:45] Heating your water with a heat pump
  • [14:42] Drying your clothes with a heat pump
  • [15:32] The economic incentives to electrify your home
  • [20:49] Where Rewiring America comes in
  • [23:22] The challenges of rolling out the rebate programs
  • [24:51] The roadblocks to electrifying America
  • [26:03] The 1 billion devices that need to be upgraded
  • [29:59] Where an individual can make the most impact
  • [31:22] A vision for 2035

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

We are facing a lot of big challenges as a society, and I always ask the question, there’s so many levers to pull, what’s going to have the biggest impact? I think the answer is energy. Clean, sustainable, environmentally friendly energy. You’re listening to Good Clean Energy. I’m your host, Jim McNiel.

[ ringing] Hello?

Hey, Matt.

Hey, how you doing?

Good. Wait, where are you? Sounds like you’re on the road or something.

Yep. I just touched down in Atlanta

McNiel: That’s my brother Matt.

I’m going up to take a look at a house that we might want to buy.

McNiel: You met him a few episodes ago, when he just got two feet of rain in 24 hours. And his son had to wade home from the airport in waist-high water. Matt thought, “you know, this has been enough. Costs are too high, climate’s too unpredictable. It’s time to get out of Florida.” So Matt sold his business, sold his house, and he’s moved into an RV and parked it in the driveway of a friend who’s been kind enough to let him plug in. He’s a modern day nomad.

I’m thinking just to be on the side of the Appalachians that we are. The weather is a little bit more mild. It’s not as extreme as we have down there.

Have you guys given any thought to go electric and have a solar solution or anything like that?

I’ve always been very interested in getting some photovoltaic and having some battery backup. It’s always been a dream…. [phone call trails off]

McNiel: Matt’s a technology savvy guy. He understands how to build things. In fact, he’s been an electrician. He’s been a plumber. He’s been a carpenter. I mean, he could do almost anything. But is this a world where he can afford to put solar and batteries in his home? Is it going to make economic sense?

Today, we’re joined by Stephen Pantano, who is the head of Market Transformation for Rewiring America. It’s a group that’s dedicated to educating all of us on the value and the promise of going electric.

This is Good Clean Energy.

Jim McNiel: Stephen, it’s a pleasure to have you on Good Clean Energy. Welcome.

Stephen Pantano: Thanks, Jim. Glad to be here.

McNiel: I’m really looking forward to this conversation because I want to understand kind of the overall mission of rewiring America, what your charter is and what you guys are hoping to accomplish.

Rewiring America’s mission

Pantano: Our organization’s been around for a little over two years now and really exists to address the roughly 42% of carbon emissions and equivalent emissions that come from people’s homes. So we consider a few products and decisions that people make as key to decarbonizing our housing and the way we live as householders and homeowners and renters in the United States. That includes the way we heat and cool our homes, the way we heat our water, the way we cook our food, the way we dry our clothes, the vehicles we drive, and where we get our energy.

“Roughly 42% of national energy-related emissions come from decisions that people make about those several things.”

And based on an analysis from one of our cofounders, Saul Griffith, we know that roughly 42% of national energy-related emissions come from decisions that people make about those several things. So what type of water heater you have, whether it’s gas versus heat pump electric, whether you have a gas furnace, oil furnace, oil boiler or an electric heat pump to heat your home and whether you use rooftop solar, just to give a few examples, as well as your cooking, right? Do you have an electric induction stove or a gas stove in your home?

McNiel: And do you drive a diesel car? Do you drive an electric vehicle? All the kinds of decisions that are made at the kitchen table, I think is what you guys are talking about.

Pantano: That’s right.

“The perfect household is all electric”

McNiel: So this is the stuff that’s in the command of the average consumer. Let’s approach this in reverse. Why don’t you walk me through what the ideal household would look like?

Pantano: So I would say the perfect household is all-electric. I mean, that’s the fundamental thing we’re looking for here. And the reason for that is because, as we get more and more renewable energy on the grid, on our rooftops, through the power lines that connect to our homes, that energy is getting cleaner and cleaner every day. Lower emission, right? So even if you’re in a place where there’s still a lot of coal generation on the grid, if you’re all electric, you’re going to, by and large, have lower emissions or soon have lower emissions as that grid gets cleaner and cleaner, because we’re investing so much in clean energy.

So the perfect home would have solar panels on the roof or be connected to a community solar development, if the rooftop is for whatever reason not suitable or perhaps too shaded. It would have electric vehicles in the garage. Electric bicycles as well, perhaps for shorter trips. There’s lots of ways to get from point A to point B that don’t require a gasoline engine. It would have electric heat pumps for heating and cooling. It would have an induction stove. Perhaps, an electric heat pump clothes dryer or a clothesline.

How heat pumps can heat and cool your home

McNiel: There’s a lot of information out there for the homeowner in terms of figuring out how they want to heat or cool their house. And there’s this misconception that if you live in the northeast, an area where you get below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, that a heat pump isn’t going to cut it. Do you agree with that logic?

Pantano: I think I may have agreed with that 20 years ago, but there are plenty of cases now where you have a couple of different approaches to this in cold climates. One is to go truly all electric, with a cold climate heat pump system. And these come in a variety of shapes and forms. These are products that are specially designed to produce sufficient heat down to very cold temperatures. The Department of Energy has a Cold Climate Heat Pump Challenge that’s been running for quite some time now, and manufacturers have responded with innovations that let these electric technologies efficiently provide heat down to, I believe it’s -15 degrees Fahrenheit. It could be off by a few degrees there, but quite cold, right?

McNiel: Yeah, we know that Canada has had good success with heat pumps. So obviously Canada is going to be colder than just about any part of America. Right. With the exception of maybe Alaska.

Pantano: As has Maine, right? Yeah. I mean, there’s ample evidence of the success of these technologies in cold climates now that maybe wasn’t the case 10 or 15 years ago.

McNiel: Is it true that you have to use a ground source heat pump when you’re talking about below 40, or can you use an air heat pump?

Pantano: Air source works here, right? So the Cold Climate Heat Pump Challenge I was just referring to is for air source heat pumps. So these are products that pull heat out of the air down to very cold outdoor temperatures. I mean, it’s important to keep in mind here that what we consider very cold, in terms of air temperature is still, there’s still plenty of heat in the air that can be extracted by these vapor compression systems that are inside heat pumps and then brought into the house, right? Obviously the products get slightly less efficient as the temperature gets colder, but these products have been designed to work well down to some very cold temperatures. And then on the small number of hours where perhaps it gets colder than that, you have options for backup heat in many cases as well.

McNiel: Well, of course, the ideal situation is if you have the ability to develop a ground source heat pump, because the earth’s temperatures rarely get below what, like 60 degrees or something like that.

Pantano: Yeah, ground source is a great solution in all temperatures. The earth a few meters down is always rather warm, regardless of the air temperature. And yeah, I mean, I guess the challenge with ground source is that for retrofit applications, it’s a bit more disruptive than just changing your air conditioner. You often have to dig a well or some other ground loop to get the heat transfer equipment into the ground, but they do work very well. And if you have the land and the space, or where you’re building a new home in a cold climate, ground source is certainly an excellent option to look at.

McNiel: Yeah. The one thing I noticed doesn’t really come up, at least not in a clear fashion, is the fact that a heat pump approach  is not just a heating solution. It’s also a cooling solution. So I don’t think that the economics really get calculated into this conversation.

Pantano: That’s a really important point, and it’s coming up more and more in places where there hasn’t often been a need for air conditioning, so as temperatures get warmer and we see some of these more extreme summer temperatures like in places like the Pacific Northwest or New England, where there may be older homes that have never needed air conditioning in the past, putting a heat pump in gets you both services, right? So it’s not only about replacing the heating fuel in the home, but also adding cooling and doing that in an efficient way as well. In many cases, when you’re putting heat pumps in, you’re not just solving for the climate emissions during the heating season, but you’re also enhancing the service that’s provided to that home and making it more comfortable and livable for people.

“[Heat pumps] are not generating heat. They’re simply transporting it from one place to the other.”

McNiel: So to be clear, for those who are not familiar with heat pumps, the main advantages, especially in a ground source heat pump, is that if you’re heating, you have only a small gap of temperature you have to heat. So if you get 60 degree temperatures from the ground and you want to heat your house to 68 in the middle of winter, you’ve got to increase that temperature by eight degrees.

Pantano: That’s right.

McNiel: And if you’re cooling, and it’s 104 degrees outside, but the ground is at 65 degrees, then you already have cool enough air just to cool the house, right? You’re just cycling it through basically this radiator that’s installed in your backyard.

Pantano: Exactly. Yeah, all heat pumps do is move heat, whether ground source or air source. They’re moving heat either from inside the house to outside or from outside to in. That’s why they’re so efficient. They’re not generating heat. They’re simply transporting it from one place to the other.

Electrifying cooking

McNiel: Which is why we use the term “pump.” It’s basically just pumping air in one direction or another. Yeah. OK. Now let’s cover cooking. I mean, I love to cook. I’m guilty. We have a 1918 gas stove in my house.

Pantano: Wow.

McNiel: But I have taken the plunge to understand how an induction range works versus the traditional kind of hot coil stoves, and from everything I’ve read and also from my own personal experience, it’s kind of a superior cooking approach, and it’s also healthier. Isn’t that the case?

Pantano: Absolutely. I’ve cooked on every possible cooking technology, I suppose, in my life. I love to cook. I, just in the past year, got my first induction cooktop. It’s one that drops into the counter in my kitchen and it’s really great. What we changed from in my house was from an electric resistance flat top, flat cooking surface to induction. And the way induction works is by heating the pan instead of heating the surface of the stove. So it’s actually inducing heat inside the pan itself, which means that the stovetop doesn’t get as hot. From a cooking perspective, it’s really fantastic technology, because you have the same sort of responsiveness that you get from gas. So when you turn the heat down, the temperature in the pan drops almost instantaneously, much like a gas stove when you turn down the burner. Whereas with resistance electric, you’ve got a bit of a lag because the coil stays hot or takes a while to heat up. So it takes a while for the temperature in the pan to change. Induction is almost instantaneous.

McNiel: Yeah, for me, that is absolutely the gamechanger. I mean, the only reason I really prefer gas over electric is that exact reason. You turn down a regular electric stove and it takes a while to cool down. And so that just wreaks havoc with your omelet. So I bought an induction. It was $100. I bought it just to play with it and see, cause we’re going to be building a new house and we were going to go electric and I want to know what I’m dealing with. And I went and cooked an omelet in a regular stainless steel pan, not a non-stick, and it performed beautifully. I started at 70% and then I dropped it down to three and everything was magical. In fact, I think it was even more precise than gauging the heat coming from a gas flame. It’s a gamechanger, and also it’s healthier. 

Pantano: Yeah, there’s a lot of evidence coming out now about the health harms from fossil fuel combustion inside of homes. Gas stoves being the biggest culprit, perhaps because they’re right in people’s kitchens and right in people’s faces. A lot of times, people don’t have adequate ventilation, and when you’re combusting fossil fuel in your house, there are emissions from that. And it’s things like benzene and nitrous oxides and the like that are harmful to health, particularly if they build up and concentrate inside of a room. There are strong links to childhood asthma and other effects, and we’re really just at the start of learning about these impacts. And the more we learn, the more obvious it seems that electricity is the way to go.

Using heat pumps to heat your water

McNiel: So, OK. So now we have a warm house. Maybe we have a nice radiant-heat floor to keep our toes warm from a heat pump. We’ve got an induction stove and we’re cooking well. Obviously the other major comfort of life is hot water. So what about hot water?

Pantano: Yeah, heat pump hot water heaters are really the way to go there. It’s the same technology, the same heat pump technology that you would — again moving heat from one place to the other, very efficient, much more efficient than an electric resistance coil. So people typically will have one of two types of water heaters in their homes. That’s either a gas hot water heater, which is lighting a flame under a tank of water. Or electric resistance, which has a resistance coil inside the water tank and heats that water up. And the heat pump hot water heaters serve the same purpose. They heat up water in a tank, but they do it far more efficiently, several times more efficient than electric resistance. No emissions. Oftentimes they also come with, they’re called hybrid heat pump hot water heaters. So there’s also an electric resistance element in there that turns on in case your hot water demand exceeds what’s in the tank and the heat pump can’t recover that heat quite quickly enough. You have the option to sort of default back to electric resistance, but the vast majority of time those products run very efficiently with the heat pump providing that hot water. And it’s all stored in the tank and otherwise exactly the same as you would experience from any other storage water heater.

McNiel: OK. You said tank? So this is hot water that’s hot all the time. It’s not an on-demand kind of delivery system.

Pantano: These are all storage water heaters. So it’s a large cylinder, just like any other storage water heater. And there’s a heat pump unit on the top. So they’re typically a little bit taller than an electric resistance tank, but they come in the same sizes.

Actually, I’m looking for my own home. I have a 60-gallon electric resistance water heater now, and I can actually go to an 80-gallon heat pump hybrid system in the future. So I’ll have a larger tank, but it will be so much more efficient, and probably should save me several hundred dollars a year on my energy bills.

McNiel: It’s important to kind of think about this word “heat pump” because we’re talking about it. We can use it for cooling. We can use it for house heating. We can use it for hot water and we can also use it for the dryer, right?

Pantano: Exactly. Yeah, heat pump clothes dryers. That’s the other application. These products, they’re maybe not quite as widespread on the market today. They’re sort of still gaining traction. Again, it’s the same idea of bringing heat from outside of the device inside. In this case, heating up the drum where the damp clothes are to dry them off. But doing so in a very efficient way. Typically with a heat pump clothes dryer, the cycle times are a bit longer. So you’re not going to “cook your clothes” as some folks say. When you electric resistance, it gets very hot very quickly, and sort of evaporates that water off rapidly. Heat pumps are more gentle on clothes, but the cycle time is a bit longer.

The economic incentives to electrify your home

McNiel: OK. So I think that if you’re at a cocktail party, you could probably convince even the biggest skeptic that going electric would be more economical in the long run, and be healthier and better. Really the challenge that we’re facing here is there are 110 million American households. And there’s a lot of old gear. There’s a lot of gas furnaces, there’s a lot of gas stoves, so what resources are available to the average consumer who wants to upgrade and improve their footprint?

Pantano: That’s a great question. Thankfully, there’s quite a lot available for people today to make these upgrades. The Inflation Reduction Act is really the source of a lot of this funding for conversions at the federal level. This is the Biden administration’s big climate bill from a couple of years ago. Built into that are a couple of big programs that can help. The first is for anyone with a tax liability. So anyone with a higher income who pays income tax. There’s now an enhanced home energy tax credit program. This program has been around for a while, but I believe there was a $2,000 lifetime cap on the improvements you could deduct from your taxes. Now that’s been renewed every year. So every year, you get a new tax credit that you can claim for efficiency improvements, which works well for people who — as most people would — make upgrades one at a time, right? 

McNiel: Yeah, one step at a time. That’s a little bit more affordable, right?

Pantano: Yeah, very few people are going to upgrade their entire home all at once and their vehicles and everything else, right? That costs a lot of money. Instead, what most of us do is replace things as they break or as they reach the end of their life. So it’s likely that your water heater and your heating system and your stovetop can all be replaced one year at a time. And whenever they’re ready to go, that tax credit will be available whenever that time comes. 

For me, as I’m looking at my water heater which is at the end of its life, I’ve now got the benefit of, I think it’s 30% of the project cost up to $2,000 that I can claim off my tax return at the end of the year. So that’s one whole program, is these tax credits through the IRA. There’s another program, which is the rebates program, the High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Act. This gives up to $14,000 in direct point-of-sale rebates for a variety of electrification upgrades. There’s also another program that’s called HOMES (Homeowner Managing Energy Savings), which is around broader efficiency upgrades to the home, that can be done on what’s called a measured basis. So they look at energy bills before and after, these programs can be coupled together. But the rebates program in particular is focused on low- to moderate-income households. And people who make less than 150% of the area median income, wherever they happen to live, are eligible for these upfront rebates. So really helping to subsidize the cost of the transition for low-income and moderate-income families who otherwise perhaps wouldn’t be able to afford some of these better technologies.

McNiel: Yeah. At first glance, this stuff is pretty comprehensive because you’re looking at  rebate opportunities for electrical panels for wiring, for battery storage for, as you said, hot water heaters, induction stoves, heating and cooling. So it kind of covers the whole gamut.

Pantano: Yeah,that’s obviously very intentional, right? So, one of the big hurdles in the market is if you have a gas stove and you want to go to induction, or if you have a gas water heater and you want to go to an electric heat pump, you often need to run a new electrical circuit to that place.

McNiel: You need more amps.

Pantano: You need more amps. You might need to upgrade your panel. You certainly need a new circuit to be put in. And that costs money. So if you’re someone who wants to make this change, and even if there was a rebate for you for the device, for the induction cooktop or the heat pump water heater, you’d still have to carry that cost of the electrical work, which could run several hundred dollars or more depending on how your house is configured. So yeah, the program also has rebates for that infrastructure work within the home. And we think that all together, this package of incentives between the efficiency rebates and the electrification rebates, will allow a lot of people to make some of these more holistic upgrades to their homes in ways that were never possible before.

McNiel: And how easy is it to get this stuff done? I mean, no one likes paperwork. They hate bureaucracy. Where do we have to go to get this done efficiently?

Pantano: So yeah, this is still very much work in progress at the state level. So these are federally funded programs — the rebate programs in particular I’m talking about — but they’re being administered by each of the 50 states. So, the Department of Energy has put guidance out to states on how to administer these programs well. Several rounds of this guidance and the states are now taking that and figuring out how to integrate it with other state-level programs that may already exist in some cases for electrification or efficiency and line these all up so that they can be deployed effectively to people. So people learn and know about them, first of all, that they’re eligible, so that contractors are aware of these programs and can direct people to the right qualifying products. So there’s a lot of work happening across the country right now to build these programs that will let them run efficiently and effectively everywhere. But there’s a lot of details still to be worked out.

Where Rewiring America comes in

McNiel: And so what role does your organization play in getting this done?

Pantano: We are doing a lot of advocacy work directly to consumers, so trying to educate people about these technologies, inform people about the rebates that they may be eligible for, when those rebate programs are ready to roll, inform people about the tax credits, really build that consumer demand. We also work with policymakers to help provide some guidance to them and sort of build off what they’re hearing from the Department of Energy and help bring new ideas in about program administration and ways to do that well, and how to access their constituents who may be eligible for rebates. We’re working at that level. We’re working with manufacturers as well, trying to show evidence of this market demand and help to guide projects and deployments. And we’re very excited to actually just put an application into the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund through the EPA, along with a couple of affordable housing developers, enterprise community partners, enlist Local Initiative Support Coalitions as well as the United Way and Habitat For Humanity to bring even more funding to this. challenge, focused on affordable housing and we’re doing that through a coalition called Power Forward Communities. Obviously, we’ve just made a proposal. We don’t know if the program doesn’t doesn’t exist yet, but it’s another way we’re excited about bringing funding and attention that this transition deserves.

“There are still tons of challenges in helping people in disadvantaged communities make this transition to the electric future that we think is so beneficial.”

We recognize that regardless of the amount of funding in the Inflation Reduction Act and the ambition of states and local communities to top that up with additional funding, there are still tons of challenges in helping people in disadvantaged communities make this transition to the electric future that we think is so beneficial and is the way the country’s going to go altogether. So that really requires a much deeper focus and investment and really bringing to bear all of the financing and expertise that we can. Because in many cases, we’re talking about multifamily buildings with a lot of renters who have limited options over how their homes are heated, for example. We need to be working with building owners, which is a totally different population, right? Maybe they don’t live in the buildings that they’re renting out. So they need to understand the benefits to their tenants and to their energy bills themselves and how to participate in this market. That’s where some of these partnerships come in. So it’s really about building momentum, bringing these different perspectives on housing and energy and climate all together to address this challenge, because it’s a really hard problem to solve and we need people all moving in the same direction.

The challenges of rolling out the rebate programs

McNiel: It seems like typically to address these types of problems, it always comes down to the economics, but there’s been hundreds of billions — almost like a half a trillion dollars — allocated from the Inflation Reduction Act towards clean energy. How successful have we been in getting that money into the hands of people that actually can benefit from it?

Pantano: In some cases it’s still early. So these rebate programs I was discussing are not yet live anywhere. We expect them to open up soon, perhaps in the next several months, into the middle of next year in the first few states. There’s lots of work to be done still to stand those up and get those funds into the hands of the people that will benefit from them. The tax credit program is live, but we haven’t completed a first tax year yet. So we’ll really understand how that is getting out to support people. That benefit will accrue early in the next year as people start to file their taxes and we’ll get a better understanding there. So it’s a bit early to say just where these funds are landing. But on the other hand, you see lots of announcements of new manufacturing facilities and job growth having to do with some of these investments at a broader scale. So these types of programs take years to understand their total impact. But, one of the things I think about a lot is how, even with, for example, the $9 billion in rebates for efficiency and electrification that are aimed at low- and moderate-income households — $9 billion is a lot of money. But it still pales in comparison to the amount that we as a society invest in fossil fuels, right? So, there’s still a long way to go and we need to be bringing more and more investment into this sector.

The roadblocks to electrifying America

McNiel: Well, that brings up my next question, which is, what kind of opposition are you encountering in trying to sell this story?

Pantano: I would classify it as inertia as opposed to opposition. People make choices to buy gas stoves, because there’s a belief that they’re the best way to do things. And they’re invested in those things. They’ve cooked their food that way for years. These are big scale societal changes–

McNiel: Yeah, that’s what mom did. So I’m going to do the same thing right.

Pantano: Right. Like, this is how food is cooked, right? You have to change people’s mentality. so I think a lot of the resistance to this is really just inertia or maybe a lack of understanding on behalf of individuals who are making these decisions. Maybe they don’t know there’s a better option out there. Maybe they haven’t tried an induction stove. Maybe it feels too mysterious or their heat, “What’s a heat pump? I don’t know how that technology works. Whereas, I know my furnace is going to blast hot air because it lights a fire,” right? It’s a simpler thing to understand in a lot of cases. So there’s a lot of education to do. Our belief is really that people will see and experience this as a better solution, not just for climate, but for lots of reasons, economics on one hand, health, the quality of the cooking they can do. It’s a lot of education work really more than anything else.

The 1 billion devices that need to be upgraded

McNiel: Yeah. And in your report on your website, you mentioned there’s 1.2 billion devices that need to be improved or upgraded or changed, right? That’s a big number.

Pantano: It’s a huge number. And so one of the things we did recently was publish a report, that we call Pace of Progress, which really breaks down that billion machines into more manageable chunks. The whole premise for the report is that if you look at the way that technology transitions happen over time, for example, flat screen TVs replacing CRT televisions or cellphones replacing landlines, there tends to be this “S” shaped adoption curve where there’s a small number of people adopting the technology at the outset, it grows bit by bit, and eventually it starts to really accelerate quickly. And we think that these electric technologies will follow the same path. So we just did the math and worked backwards from a target, in this case of the year 2050, when we want to see all-electric everything in every household. And we said, for each of these technologies — heat pumps, induction stoves, etc. — what would that adoption curve look like based on how the market is growing today? And what incremental work do we have to do to boost it up to that level that’s going to carry us up that adoption curve? 

Across the whole country, we came up with a number of 24 million incremental sales of electric things over a three-year period. So roughly 8 million sales a year. But then if you start to break that down further to states and to individual communities, those numbers are really achievable. They’re no longer in the billions, which is a really hard thing to comprehend, making that level of change. They’re in the tens of thousands or the single thousands, or in some cases, even the single digits of, in a small community somewhere, you might need to sell 10 heat pumps that you wouldn’t have otherwise sold. That’s a very solvable problem. And I think part of the story we’re trying to tell is that this is hopefully and likely to follow a very similar growth curve as we’ve seen for other better technologies. And really our job is to sort of chart that path for folks and help to tell the stories that make that start to happen.

McNiel: Well, as an individual, perhaps the best thing you can do is go live in a denser area, live in a multi-tenant building, like an apartment building, live with less square footage, but you don’t have a lot of control over how that building operates. So what’s being done to kind of change the way landlords are powering their buildings?

Pantano: It’s always been a challenge, I think. What’s called the split-incentive problem where the people who are investing in the buildings and making the changes aren’t the ones that are necessarily reaping the economic or health benefits from that. It’s the tenants, right? So, in this case, again, I’ll go back to our proposal around the Power Forward Communities coalition. We’re looking to make this the most affordable choice for landlords, and to help to align those incentives. And the value proposition there is that they end up owning higher-performing, more comfortable to live in and more appealing buildings for their residents, right? So, we’re looking to bring support for things like weatherization and remediation of other building-level issues like structural problems or mold or lead paint. And tie that in with more holistic electrification upgrades so that a building owner will have every reason to want to improve their building at a very affordable cost, and to be able to offer their tenants much better energy service and much more comfortable living conditions and healthier living conditions in the future. We want to make this the most affordable choice. And we want to do the education work and the outreach and at the community level, at the building-owner level, state and national level, to get communities oriented around this and get people demanding it and asking it of their landlords, “Why aren’t you making these changes that are affordable and easy to access?”

Where an individual can make the most impact

McNiel: So if you’re an individual who is a homeowner in the United States and you’re hearing this conversation and you want it, you say, “OK, I can only do one thing right now. Which decision is going to have the most impact?”

Pantano: So I guess it depends where you want to see that impact. So if you want to see the impact in terms of climate emissions, electric vehicles and electric heat pumps for heating and cooling are near the top of the list. If you want to see those changes in terms of economics, that kind of is more an individualized thing. And it depends on the rate you’re paying for your fossil fuels today and your electricity today. To some degree, it depends on which piece of equipment is most likely to need to be replaced next. So it may be that your hot water heater is at the end of its life, and you’re going to have to replace it in a year or two anyway, and the best choice you can make is to do the work now to switch that to a heat pump because you’re going to have to make an investment, and really, you just want to make that incremental investment, to go up to a heat pump versus a more basic electric resistance water heater. And you get all those energy bill benefits and climate benefits along the way for what is really just an incremental change in cost.

We have tools and other organizations that we partner with all have tools to help people understand the options that they have and try to drive them towards making more well-informed choices in the future.

A very specific roadmap for 2035

McNiel: OK, that’s great. We ask our guests, “What’s your vision for 2035?” You guys have a very specific roadmap for what you want to see in 2035. You want to share that with us?

Pantano: We really want to see every community around the country take up the mantle of electrification and individual households everywhere to build this movement that we think is better for so many reasons for so many people.

McNiel: Yeah, and to be clear, the biggest contributor to greenhouse gasses is the production of energy. But the math bears out that even if you’re getting your electricity from a gas plant or a coal plant, that electrification of your lifestyle will have a positive impact, right?

Pantano: Yeah, in almost every case, especially if you include vehicles and rooftop solar, almost everywhere you will see net-climate benefits today, and particularly in the future as we have more and more renewables on the grid. And we think about these as electrification choices as appreciating assets, appreciating climate assets. So your heat pump today will give you carbon savings, versus your gas or your oil furnace, and it’ll give you even more carbon savings tomorrow, right? That gas or oil furnace will never get better, from a climate perspective. You can only get it so efficient, but if you go to a heat pump, you get far more efficient right off the bat, which reduces emissions overall. You’ve eliminated that source of combustion within your home, which brings health benefits and other benefits as well. And now you have a way that your home will sort of become cleaner as the grid becomes cleaner. So your home is now participating in sort of the greening of the whole economy, and the reduction of those carbon emissions overall over time. And you don’t have to do anything else at that point. Your job is done.

McNiel: Yeah. Well, Stephen, that’s great. So you continue to educate and help electrify America, and we’ll continue to build a fusion machine that can provide baseload carbon-free power to the entire planet. And eventually we’ll get there, right?

Pantano: Yeah. Let’s hope.

McNiel: Well, thank you for coming on Good Clean Energy.

Pantano: Thank you.

Thanks for listening to Good Clean Energy. Make sure to follow the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google, or wherever you listen. And if you like what you hear, please give us a rating and a review. It makes a huge difference. I’m your host, Jim McNiel. See you next time.

Good Clean Energy is produced by Jennifer Hsu. Mixing and sound design by Wade Strange and Mike Clemow at SeeThruSound. Digital production by Katherine Wiles.

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