How fast do we need to install energy-efficient home appliances to reach net zero by midcentury?
Image credit: Anne Bailey
Heat pumps in 140 million U.S. homes by 2050 — that’s the goal laid out in Rewiring America’s recent report on the pace of home electrification. It’s a daunting target for a country that had heat pumps in only 17 million homes in 2020.
But we’re not that far off. According to Rewiring America, the U.S. is currently on track to install about 5 million heat pumps by 2025, only about 2.5 million short of the pace we need to reach 140 million homes by midcentury.
So what can we do to close the gap? What about other major categories of electric home appliances such as water heaters and induction stoves — are we on pace to reach net-zero targets there?
In this episode, Shayle talks to Stephen Pantano, head of market transformation at Rewiring America, about the organization’s Pace of Progress report. They cover topics including:
Shayle Kann: I'm Shayle Kann, and this is Catalyst.
Stephen Pantano: You can't get to zero emissions without electrifying the appliances and equipment in our homes. 42% of overall energy-related emissions coming from these so-called kitchen table decisions about what equipment you use in your home, what kind of car you drive, whether you use solar.
Shayle Kann: Okay, so disclosure, I do have heat pumps for my HVAC system. I do not yet use electricity to heat my water in my house, and I do not have an induction stove. The question is, am I ahead of or behind the rest of the population?
I'm Shayle Kann. I invest in revolutionary climate technologies at Energy Impact Partners. Welcome. As part of the conversation that we had on this podcast last week with Trevor Hauser, there was a bit toward the end that I thought was especially interesting where we talked about the technologies where there are incentives in the United States that came largely from the Inflation Reduction Act, but where the market is not exactly booming yet. One of the ones that we talked about there was heat pumps where the market is actually down year-over-year in overall sales.
There's nuance to that because the market for HVAC systems in general is even further down. It opened up a question for me that is a little bit broader, which is how are we doing in terms of overall home electrification in the United States? You hear a lot of buzz about it these days, I think for good reason, and it's not just heat pumps for heating and cooling, it's also for water heating and for clothes drying, and for cooking, all of which can be electrified, not all with heat pumps obviously, and you could get the sense from the outside that we're at the beginning of an S-curve or we're somewhere in the middle of an S-curve there.
I don't know whether we've hit the inflection point. Are we struggling to build momentum? Anyway, it's an interesting set of questions because home electrification, one, is part of most plans for overall decarbonization of the economy, and two, has bigger ramifications for a lot of other things that we've talked about. For example, the impacts on the electric grid and load growth there that extends beyond home electrification, but is going to have a big impact on our ability to deliver clean power.
I wanted to have a chat about where we are on the pace of progress of home electrification. Also, before we begin, I'm hosting, I think the third, Ask Me Anything episode of this podcast where I answer your questions about climate tech or the energy transition or really whatever you want. Please send in questions. You could tag us on Twitter or LinkedIn with the #AskCatalyst. That's #AskCatalyst. You can also leave a voicemail if that is something that you still do. The number is 919-808-5832, or you can email us at Catalyst@LatitudeMedia.com.
For this podcast I brought on Steve Pantano, who is the Director of Market Transformation at Rewiring America, which is focused on home electrification. There's no one better to address this question. With no further ado, here's Steve. Steve, welcome.
Stephen Pantano: Thank you, Shayle. Nice to be here.
Shayle Kann: Let's talk about home electrification, starting with it's a category that encompasses a number of different things that we can do in homes to electrify things that are otherwise not electrified. Let's run through the categories, and maybe if you can rank/order the components of home electrification in terms of their importance from the decarbonization perspective. What's the most important home electrification item all the way down the list to the ones that we could talk about, but they don't matter as much?
Stephen Pantano: When we look at the profile of an average home and we have good data from the Department of Energy, they do something called RECS or the Residential Energy Consumption Survey every five years or so. The DOE tells us that about 55% of the emissions from an average home comes from heating and cooling or your HVAC system, 19% from water heating, 3% from clothes drying, and 2% from cooking. That doesn't total up to 100. The remainder is plug loads like your television, other appliances that you may have in your house, your coffee maker, etc. But really heating and cooling and water heating are well up there at the top of the list.
Shayle Kann: I guess the other way to think about which ones are most important are which ones do we have most urgency on because the stock turnover is slowest? There's some things that you can do any time and there's other things that you're only going to do once every 10 years or whatever it is.
That second category are ones that even if it's the total magnitude of the impact isn't necessarily as large, it's an important one because the purchase behavior is infrequent. How do you think about that with all the categories?
Stephen Pantano: We look at, there are, I think typical statistical lifetimes for equipment. An HVAC system has a life of about 15 years. Statistically, a water heater about 10 years, clothes dryers maybe seven or eight years, and cooking might be a little bit longer, but HVAC is really the big one there. Again, because it's a big expense. You don't want to replace your heating system every five years. Hopefully, you're not in a position where you have to do that.
Part of our mission at Rewiring America is making people aware of the appliances in their home and the equipment in their home so that they're ready to make these changes when that piece of equipment fails, and then you don't lock in emissions from a fossil fuel appliance for another 15 years or so if you're putting in a new fossil fuel HVAC system.
Also, the electrical equipment is an important piece to the equation as well. If you think about your load center in your house, your electrical panel, that's probably original to your home in most cases. It doesn't get upgraded very often, but a lot of what we talk about when we talk about electrification is turning fossil fuel devices into electric alternatives, which in many cases requires new circuits to be run.
If you have a gas water heater today and you want to convert to a heat pump water heater, you're going to need electrical service in that vicinity where you maybe don't have it now. That's going to require some changes to your panels. So, panels are another one that come up on the long life list where we want to see people being proactive and thinking about ways to prepare themselves for a future appliance upgrade.
Shayle Kann: We talked about the share of energy consumption in the home that each of these units accounts for on average. Stepping back for a second, how important is home electrification in the context of overall emissions in the United States? I guess there's two parts to that question. How much of overall emissions is associated with residential energy consumption, and then how big a benefit do you get electrifying particularly given that the grid is not yet fully decarbonized? This is going to be a regional answer, I'm sure, but just high level.
Stephen Pantano: Overall, you can't get to zero emissions without electrifying the appliances and equipment in our homes. There's 121 million households around the country. That's a lot of equipment. The number we use for that is about 42% of overall energy-related emissions coming from these so-called kitchen table decisions about what equipment you use in your home, what kind of car you drive, whether you use solar on your room, or community solar to get your energy. It's a big chunk of the national emissions picture.
It's also in some places, in a lot of places actually, it's carbon positive today to make these changes, and somewhere the grid is perhaps a little... There's perhaps a lot of coal or dirty emission sources on the grid size. It's maybe not emissions positive for everyone today, but if you put solar on your roof and electrify, that changes the equation dramatically. We're seeing so much introduction of new renewables on the grid nationally that that situation will change pretty soon everywhere.
Electrification is an investment in the future. It returns some dividends on your investment in terms of carbon emissions. Every new bit of renewable that joins the grid, every bit cleaner that the grid gets, your electrification investments in your home get that much more beneficial in terms of their overall carbon impact.
Shayle Kann: Lets talk about where we are in terms on progress on electrification and trends in electrification in each of these categories that we've described. I think it'd be interesting to talk about it categorically, but also geographically, like different types of customers. There's a bunch of interesting ways to think about this. Let's start with just overall, and we can go in that same rank order of importance what the trend line is.
Starting obviously with heating and cooling, we did an episode very recently where part of the conversation was what's going on with heat pump sales, just because overall heat pump sales are not exactly booming as you might imagine they would be right now given all the excitement about heat pumps. What's the overall picture on heating and cooling electrification? How has that been trending? And where are we in the progression of overall electrification there?
Stephen Pantano: We wrote a report earlier this year called The Pace of Progress, where we charted what we think needs to happen across each of the big end uses to get to zero emissions, sort of building stock, residential building stock in the country. We looked to a 2050 target, and we said "Where are the sales trends going today? How much do we need to accelerate those in order to get to 100% electric by 2050 given some of these equipment lifetimes, and long lifetimes that we talk about, and the turnover of stock and where things have been going?"
For heat pumps, you may be aware that heat pumps out-sold gas and oil furnaces as heating equipment for the first time last year. Those trends have continued. I think the changes in sales that are being perceived right now are really broader market changes in people's ability to invest in home upgrades of this nature. If you look broadly across all heating technologies, all markets are down, and heat pumps continue to beat furnaces in terms of their overall sales.
Going back to the pace of progress, the way this curve works is it starts off gradually and then ramps up quickly over future years which means that we have a few years left to get to 2050 where the sales targets nationally for heat pumps can be a little more modest, and then they quickly grow to where we want to see that become the predominant technology being installed everywhere. What we found was that between 2023 and 2025, we need about 7.7 million heat pump sales overall nationally.
The business as usual growth, if there were no acceleration in the market, would be about 5.3 million heat pumps. That leaves a gap of about 2.5 million sales that we want to see induced between now and 2025. That puts us on track for this full turnover to electric technologies by 2050. As I said, the market is... I think interest rates are high, people are hesitant to make big infrastructure investments in their homes.
These are big projects, whether it's to replace a fossil furnace or to install a heat pump. People are looking at tens of thousands of dollars of investigation. It's harder to finance that today with the home interest loan or home equity loan or otherwise than it was a couple of years ago. That's probably depressing sales sort of broadly across the market.
But even still, we've got 9.5% slowdown in heat pump shipments, but still sales of $2.7 million year-to-date as of August of this year. That's from the latest data from AHRI, the Industry Association. Even gas furnaces are down about 25%. Gas and oil furnaces are down 25% over the same period. So, heat pumps are not being maybe affected as much as some of the fossil fuel equipment, and still sort of beating out fossil despite the fact that the overall numbers have slowed down just a bit.
Shayle Kann: Right. So, rising share of a shrinking market, at least in the immediate term. Then presumably at some point, the market doesn't shrink forever because US housing stock is going grow. It's sort of an undetermined timeline under which that turns, because obviously interest rates are higher for longer than people expected. This is what happens with the economy. The good new is, a growing share. Bad news is, the overall market is down.
Stephen Pantano: Yeah, and you can't defer investments in heating and cooling systems forever. There comes a point where people have to make this choice regardless of interest rates. There is some turnover that'll certainly continue to happen. Then of course, we hope that the Inflation Reduction Act and all of these investments from the federal government that are coming into play will really spur more and more of that transformation.
Shayle Kann: I'm interested to go one level deeper on this. I think there's a few different ways you could cut the heat pump sales figures. There's regional, because heat pumps have much higher penetration already in places like the Southeast where they're predominately used for cooling than they do in the upper Midwest or the Northeast where you need a lot of heating. I'm interested if the trends are different regionally? I guess the other way to look at it would be, heat pumps are a broad category. There's mini splits, and central ducted units, and all sorts of different kinds of things. Do we see any noticeable difference in adoption thus far along those lines?
Stephen Pantano: Unfortunately, we're limited by the data in this respect. There was a time where there regional sales figures published for the heat pump market within maybe across five or six different regions of the country. Unfortunately, those data aren't published anymore so we're a bit blind to that. What we do have, and what we will soon have more of, is state-level data that will give us a bit more insight into how the market is moving state-by-state.
For example, one success story of late is the state of Maine, which had 100,000 heat pump sales target for it's statewide climate goals, and exceeded that a couple of years ahead of schedule, and then revised that goal up to I believe 175,000 systems. We know for example that there's a lot of success happening in the state of Maine. So, we can have some of that insight into exactly what's happening state-by-state or region-by-region. Unfortunately, right now we're sort of limited to the national view, plus some of these stories that are coming out in limited quantities from certain states.
Shayle Kann: Maine is obviously an interesting one. Unless there's something specific about Maine, like they've got a statewide rebate or something like that, it's obviously a cold climate so you'd anticipate that barring Maine having something unique, idiosyncratic to that state, then probably what's happening in Maine might be happening in Vermont or Massachusetts, or other regional areas that have similar climate profiles.
Stephen Pantano: I think Maine has been a leader in taking a pretty comprehensive statewide agenda towards the heating electrification market in general. They have put a lot of resources towards contractor training and consumer awareness, and this broader program to try to move the market. That is also happening in other states, New York for example, Massachusetts.
In the Northeast, both have heating electrification programs. I haven't necessarily seen the stats on those to know if they're also exceeding their targets. But more and more states are starting to pay attention to this now obviously in light of the rebate programs that are coming. We expect a lot more of this to be happening in a lot of places pretty soon.
Again, I think as these programs take shape we'll have much better insights into what's working and what's not, and can help to facilitate some of that learning between states ourselves and a lot of other organizations that play that type of role to help different states or different program implementers learn from their peers and incorporate those practices.
Shayle Kann: From where you sit today, that period of needing that extra 2.5 million units or whatever it is, is pretty short. That's now to 2025. That period is probably during the interest rates remain high cycle. Maybe they come down toward the end of that. Who knows? From where you sit today, how hard is it going to be to approach those numbers given that we have growing share of a shrinking market?
Stephen Pantano: I think it's undoubtedly a huge challenge. We have tens of millions of heating systems, not to mention water heaters and everything else that has to be installed. This is a big mobilization that I think should be considered on par with other big national mobilizations of effort to make the changes we need to make. The climate emergency is a climate emergency. It needs to be addressed as such.
Thankfully, the administration put the Inflation Reduction Act in place to get the conversation started and put a lot of money into the market. One thing that always comes to mind for me is that we have roughly $9.5 billion in rebates in the Inflation Reduction Act that can be applied for efficiency or electrification. That's a lot of money. But at the same time, in one year, I think it was 2022, one oil company, Exxon, made $54 billion in profit. That's six times what's available for rebates.
That's one oil company in one year after doing everything they needed to do to secure their market share for fossil fuels still reaped $54 billion in profit. The disparity in economic power we're talking about here is still big. We need more attention on this. We need more resources for this, as much as we can get. The playing field is pretty uneven to begin with here. Thankfully again, we have the IRA, we have this good start.
Hopefully, we'll have a lot more funding channeled in this direction as well through other IRA programs in the future. Looking forward to trying to make those all harmonize and work together well.
Shayle Kann: We talked about HVAC. Let's talk about water heating. Obviously, that's the other reasonably large category, and I think the one that gets less attention honestly. People talk a lot about heat pumps for heating and cooling, and I think less for water heating. Where are we on our pace of progress on water heating electrification?
Stephen Pantano: For water heating, we have a little more time. Water heaters have... Again, we use this 10 year life versus 15 for HVAC. What that does is it lengthens the shallow part of the curve before we really have to accelerate progress. According to our calculations nationally, again to that 2025 deadline, we need 810,000 heat pump water heaters in total installed across the country. We're on pace for 613,000, which leaves about 204,000 or so as a gap in terms of what we need to accelerate. 200,000 over 50 states is not a huge challenge. Again, this is like the convenient part of the ramp that we're in now, but we do have to start taking action.
There's been a lot of interesting innovation. I think just a couple of days ago I saw that AO Smith introduced its own 120 volt plug-in heat pump water heater. Rheem has had one on the market for a while. Now, AO Smith has one as well. That's a huge opportunity. This is a technology that is going to get us a lot of these sales that we need to see in the market because if let's say again you have a gas water heater, but you happen to have a free 120 volt outlet nearby, you can plug in a heat pump water heater instead of having to have a dedicated 240 volt circuit run. That's going to work great for a lot of smaller homes, multifamily buildings and elsewhere where maybe there's some challenges in investing in some of the electrical infrastructure.
Now you don't have to do that. You can buy that water heater today and plug it right into the wall, and you've gone to heat pump. Obviously, you still need to plumb it into the house, so it's not quite that simple, but it's a lot easier than having to run a dedicated circuit.
Shayle Kann: What about the combined... We've seen some heat pumps that do both water heating and space heating and cooling. Do you see that as a significant trend? Or is a tiny niche-y part of the market?
Stephen Pantano: I think it's a niche for now. There's a lot of innovation out there that's yet to hit its stride. That could be one where we start to see some interesting market growth. I think for now, most of these products, HVAC and water heaters, are sold through different channels. People think about them differently. They buy them on different timelines. Unless you're really doing a comprehensive retrofit of your home, there's probably not going to be top of mind for most people to try to do two things at once.
Shayle Kann: That actually gets to a broader question that I wanted to ask you about, so we'll jump to it now, which is that doing home electrification piecemeal versus electrifying your home full stop, there's a bunch of companies now that are out there pursuing this with a whole home electrification approach, and they can wrap financing with it, and maybe this involves more than what we've just talked about. Sometimes it'll include an EV charger, or rooftop solar, or whatever. Historically, I think just going back a ways, in the early days of rooftop solar, some of those companies, Solar City being an example, dabbled in "Oh, maybe we should do an energy efficiency retrofit at the same time that we do rooftop solar."
They all backed away from that because it needed up overly complicating the sales process, and it just made the customer acquisition cost higher, all these additional challenges. I wonder how you see that playing out in home electrification here. Is this all happening... As you said, the replacement cycles are all different, but there may be some set of consumers who want to electrify their home and don't want to wait around for each thing to come up.
Stephen Pantano: I think we'll see a variety of solutions. I'm not going to [inaudible 00:23:11] guess as to which ones become predominant necessarily. I think for people who have the money to make a huge investment and big comprehensive investment in upgrading their home, then sure, there will be service providers who offer that. For others, I think it's as important as anything else just to have a plan, just to understand how your house works, what fuels you're even using today, and then how long you might have until you have to replace your heating system.
For example, let's say you have a gas water heater and it's five years old. You happen to have your electrician over to the house to do some work in a bathroom or something. That electrician should be... There's a good argument to say that that electrician should be prepared to help that homeowner make a plan for electrifying their home sometime down the road. We're developing tools, other organizations are developing tools to help people do this planning. But the idea is that if you have a professional in your home, they can help you navigate, "Okay, your water heater is five years old."
When you're ready to go to a heat pump, even if you're not ready today, we should be doing that electrical work now or preparing ourselves for it so that you know that when that water heater eventually fails, you have an idea of what types of products you're going to look for, you have an idea of how much time it's going to take to make that transition. And perhaps you've run the circuit over to that location so that you're ready to go with your new electric device instead of fossil fuel, and you're not hindered by these obscure structural barriers such as "All of a sudden now I need to call an electrician that I didn't plan for if I want to make this change towards a more climate-friendly product."
Planning really matters a lot, and I think most people, maybe not listeners to this podcast, but a lot of people probably don't know how their home works and what fuels they even use, or how much it actually costs them to operate their home. Another example of this is if you have oil heat. You get an oil bill intermittently. You might get your oil tank filled up, depending on where you live, once or three or four times a year. But it doesn't look or feel like your electric bill or your gas bill because you don't see it monthly. Maybe it's not billed to your credit card automatically, or whatever you have for a payment plan.
There are probably a lot of people out there who don't consider their oil bill as part of their total energy cost. If they were to look at the big picture here and think about it wholistically, would understand that they're actually spending a lot more on energy than they think. So, having that plan, understanding how your home works, understanding what your big opportunities are to save money through electrification is really important just to get people oriented towards solving this problem and feeling empowered, and having the pieces in place so that it's not too logistically challenging when it comes time to make a change.
Shayle Kann: Okay, so we sort of skipped past the two smaller categories that we mentioned at the beginning, which is cooking and clothes drying. Just briefly on those two, where are we relative to the other in terms of pace of progress and any observations as to trend lines in electrification of those two?
Stephen Pantano: We did not run clothes drying numbers in our pace of progress report, but I think we're going to have those soon. On cooking, I can tell you we've looked at 3.2 million induction stoves needed, again up until that 2025 time period. That was over the first three years. Business as usual suggests we'll have about 1.5 million sales over that period, so we need to about double that pace over the 2023-2025 time period.
Shayle Kann: Okay, so bigger delta in terms of how much is needed relative to the current pace, but obviously also smaller overall impact than needing more heat pumps or electric water heaters?
Stephen Pantano: Yeah, again, the cooking is just 2% of typical emissions from the home.
Shayle Kann: I'm interested in anything that you think... I think the overall trend lines here seem fairly intuitive. Maybe people hadn't appreciated that HVAC sales are down overall. Anything within the numbers that you've seen that surprises you either from a category perspective, geographically? What might not we appreciate about how we are doing in terms of electrification of the home?
Stephen Pantano: The thing I like to point to here is this whole analysis, this whole pace of progress analysis does a couple of things. It breaks the problem down into me sort of achievable near-term, let's say three to five year objectives where the numbers aren't astronomically high so you can actually think about designing an incentive program or what have you that actually achieves those numbers. Then if you break it down even further to the state or county level, those numbers obviously get a lot smaller.
One example we have is for the Chicago area. There's about two million households in Cooke County. If you look at the gap in water heater sales for heat pump water heaters, it's only 13,000 over that few years time period. That's an imminently achievable number to put Cooke County on pace essentially. That number is only several hundred thousand nationally, so in any given place it's only tens of thousands or even less in terms of water heaters. Those are achievable things.
It becomes a very solvable problem in the short term as long as you're also then keeping an eye towards are these changes going to become self-sustaining over time? There aren't going to be rebate programs forever. There are now, or will be soon. These are unlikely to last until 2050. Maybe they will. It'd be great if they did, but let's say it's unlikely. So, the market needs to catch on to these signals and respond in turn. What that means is investing in training for a workforce, building competition among installers so that there's enough people out there who know how to install these systems well and that people have good experiences with them.
Building awareness, all this stuff around the market has to happen so that up in this near term period of time where we have a few years of time to get the market going, that that actually... Once we hit that 2025, 2027 timeframe, there's enough momentum built and people are aware and people are demanding these products, and there's enough people out there to install them well that it can sustain itself over time. Hopefully, the prices have come down quite a bit by that point as well.
Shayle Kann: That's actually another question. I don't know if you have data on this handy, but how have prices been trending?
Stephen Pantano: That's a difficult one as well, and this is another area where we're hoping for more and better data through these rebate programs over time and through state programs more broadly. Prices are still pretty high in some places. I think it largely depends on how much competition there is in the market among contractors that do the installation work, how much they're willing to recommend these products.
I expect that in the Southeast, for example, for heat pumps where they've predominant for a long time, there's not so much of a margin compared to other places where the market's sort of still getting its feet under it and maybe there's still a premium being placed on some of these installs.
Shayle Kann: The other thing we haven't talked about here is the product side, like what are the products that people are buying to electrify homes. In some ways, you could make an argument that these are fairly mature technologies and it's more of an adoption problem. We've had heat pumps for HVAC and water heating for quite a while. Induction stoves are not entirely a new thing. From your perspective, is there product innovation that is required? If so, what do you think is going to be important to see?
Stephen Pantano: I think there's a lot of room for further innovation here, particularly with products that people see and feel regularly, like cooking products for example. On the water heater side, we already talked about the 120 volt plug-in style heat pump hot water heaters. Those are great. They open new market segments. There's a lot of other market segments for cooking products for example that people might like these products not for climate reasons, but for plenty of other reasons.
One good example of this is some new induction stoves that are being brought to market which have a bank of batteries where the warming drawer would ordinarily be. They also plug into the wall, so they can also run off of 120 volts, replace the gas stove. And the nice benefit is you have backup power built into your stove, so if there's a power outage you could conceivably plug your refrigerator into your stove and have resilience and backup power where you didn't have it before.
I hope we start to see more solutions like that, where obviously there's climate benefit and health benefit to converting to that induction stove, and it's a better cooking experience which will bring more people to it. But also, it gives you resilience in your home and it solves for something maybe you didn't have at the top of mind as a buyer of a stove. All of a sudden, you go to the store and you see this thing which can power your fridge and you're like, "Oh, that's a brilliant idea. Why don't I get one of those?"
So, there's lots of ways, there's lots of benefits to electric appliances that have nothing to do with climate. They're just a better experience overall. I think the market's starting to catch on to that, the market broadly for a lot of these products. We'll start to see innovations that bring people to this conversation from very different places that have nothing to do with the emissions reductions.
Shayle Kann: Steve, thanks so much for doing this. We'll check back in in some time when we have more data on the pace of progress on electrification.
Stephen Pantano: Yeah, thank you. This is great. Looking forward to it.
Shayle Kann: Steve Pantano is the Head of Market Transformation at Rewiring America. This show is a co-production of the newly rebranded Latitude Media and Canary Media. You can head over to CanaryMedia.com for links to today's topics. Latitude is supported by [inaudible 00:33:42] Ventures, a venture capital firm that partners with entrepreneurs to address climate change across a range of sectors, including advanced energy, food and ag, transportation and logistics, advanced materials and manufacturing, and advanced computing.
This episode was produced by Daniel Waldorf. Mixing by Roy Campanella and Shawn Marquan. Theme song by Shawn Marquan. I'm Shayle Kann, and this is Catalyst.