GreenTown Los Altos

Electrify Everything


Oct 2019


~by Gary Hedden

Bruce Nilles lives in Oakland and he listens to the teenagers who tell us we don’t have 30 years to solve the climate change crisis. Then he looks around and he realizes that his biggest greenhouse gas contribution comes from his own house!

Bruce Nilles speaking about the electrification of homes

It’s his appliances, his furnace, and his hot water heater. But the good news is he realizes he can fix all of that, and we don’t need the federal or state government to do it for us. We can do it ourselves locally and the technology does not have to be invented.

All-electric is the answer and the sooner the better.

Bruce is the Director of Building Electrification with the Rocky Mountain Institute, so he knows something about making the switch from gas to all-electric, but we aren’t making the switch fast enough. At the recent Electrification Expo in Palo Alto, he told us we are adding new gas customers every day, every hour. We are going in the wrong direction.

Natural gas is 90% methane, a potent GHG, and half of the ‘use’ is from leaks. Leaks at the wellhead, leaks in the lines and leaks in the homes where we live. That is bad enough but there are health risks from burning it. The stove in your kitchen produces NOx when gas burns and the levels in homes have been measured at 400 ppb. That sounds small but the EPA recommends that it not exceed 100 ppb. That matters to our children. The asthma levels for children in homes with natural gas vs. children in all-electric homes is 42% higher.

Bruce Nilles with a map showing patterns of fuel use in the US

Your gas oven and gas cooktop are bad for the planet and bad for us.

Some cities like Berkeley, San Jose, Menlo Park are banning new hookups with natural gas. They are practicing local control.


My final point is that the ban should be a complete ban. A hybrid model that allows some use of natural gas slows down the switch. Once our code requires all-electric for new construction, architects, designers, builders, and city staff will adapt, make it work and the change will become easier. Many parts of the country are already largely all-electric, so we know it can be done. Retrofits will be difficult and expensive, but we can and should start making the switch with new construction.

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