All-electric buildings are healthy buildings
Healthy homes, apartments and businesses are better for our personal, family and community well-being, and better for the environment
All-electric buildings are climate-friendly, save consumers money, and prevent harmful air pollutants from being released indoors and outdoors
The move towards electrification is also critical to levelling up the playing field and making houses safer and better for everyone
Many Australian homes and businesses burn fossil fuels like gas to power appliances that heat and cool indoor spaces, heat water, dry clothing, and cook food. This has several health and climate impacts, not to mention a growing drain on household budgets. If we are to significantly reduce operational greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the built environment and meet our net zero carbon goals, existing buildings must be transformed to be fossil fuel free, primarily by eliminating the use of natural gas.
Building electrification means replacing fossil gas or LPG appliances with more efficient electric ones. Other important steps include eliminating leaky windows and doors. Battery storage and solar panels can be useful additions and can help make homes more efficient to run.
The benefits of building electrification
Healthier indoor air
In Australia there are nearly 11 million homes, and around 70 per cent of them use gas. Gas appliances, such as unflued heaters, especially if they are old or poorly maintained, release methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) into your home, polluting indoor air and endangering health. Homes with gas stoves contain 50 to 400 percent higher concentrations of NO2 than those with electric stoves.
Pre-existing health conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, and diabetes can be aggravated by air pollutants that come from gas stoves. Reducing indoor pollutant exposure by electrifying gas appliances will be beneficial to high-risk groups like children, pregnant women, individuals with pre-existing or compromised health, and conditions, and low-income individuals who are more likely to be exposed to pollutants.
Buildings account for around 19% of total energy use and 18% of direct carbon emissions in Australia while 35% of the total emissions were produced by fuel combustion to make electricity (on- and off-grid). Natural gas typically represents between 10% and 30% of building GHG emissions.
The electricity grid is rapidly decarbonising and renewable electricity is readily procurable, while the decarbonisation of the natural gas network is unlikely in the foreseeable future. To meet our international climate targets, we will need to reduce emissions across many sectors, but the residential energy use can be readily de-carbonised.
As more houses (and businesses) turn to electrification, there will be a reduction in emissions as the electricity grid is increasingly supplied from renewable energy sources. To meet our zero carbon targets, at the current rate of transition, we must replace around 18 million natural gas and LPG appliances with electric alternatives before 2050. That equates to around 650,000 appliances being changed over in around 400,000 homes and apartments each year.
More efficient heating and cooling
Reverse-cycle air conditioners are the most efficient form of electric heating commonly available—indeed, their efficiency is usually of the order of several hundred per cent. They are now most often referred to as heat pumps, especially for systems installed primarily for heating. Heat pumps and reverse cycle air conditioners efficiently heat and cool buildings using less energy compared to gas appliances and hot water systems.
Modern reverse cycle air conditioning systems are becoming more efficient over time, particularly in terms of energy consumption and cost, making them a very good investment in comfort and health. And as electricity prices continue to rise, air conditioner efficiency is becoming increasingly important. For example, one kWh of electricity consumed, will generate three or more kWh of heating or cooling.
Pollution from buildings disproportionately impacts low-income communities, renters and those living in social housing. Climate technologies and energy efficiency programs have historically failed these communities by ignoring their starting-line disparities and needs. Electrification work in marginal, low-income communities and those under housing stress would lower the burden of air pollution and make access to safer, more comfortable housing an issue of justice.
While building electrification has promising benefits for residents and for the whole nation if done comprehensively, it must also be pursued equitably— ensuring that all communities can access the benefits of de-carbonisation, rather than being left with polluting and increasingly expensive gas appliances.