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Toward net zero, 10% of American households must install an electric machine by 2026. Can it happen?

illustrations of RDJ, homes, and buildings over an image of solar panels
Image Credit: Jeroen van de Water // Unsplash. Illustrations by Nate Merritt. Graphic by Miquéla Thornton

Last year, the White House got the memo: in our to stop the worst effects of climate change, fossil fuels need to, by large, be a thing of the past. And one key way of riddling oil and gas into obsolescence is through the electrification… of everything from cars to stoves to heaters and air conditioners, to how we get our power.

That’s why the Inflation Reduction Act — aka the biggest climate bill in U.S. history — mobilized $369 billion dollars, which are still rolling out, to help states, cities, communities, and households get on board with the energy transition through tax incentives for electric machines like electric vehicles, rooftop solar panels, and heat pumps.

Additionally, sizable portions of the funding, as well as that from the CHIPS and Science Act, is going into researching the renewable energies and technologies of the future, because decarbonization consists of both short-term goals through proven technologies and long-term goals for a net zero nation with technologies that aren’t yet to scale.

With its new report, Rewiring America, a leading electrification nonprofit, identifies exactly how much of these electric machines American households must adopt to reach the climate goals set by the White House.

By 2026, America needs 14 million new electric machines

Dubbed the Pace of Progress report, Rewiring America calculates that by 2026, American households will need to purchase and install 14 million electric machines and appliances including heat pumps to replace gas space heating, heat pump-water heaters to replace gas heating units, induction stoves to replace gas stoves, electric vehicles to replace gas cars, and solar panels to add to our renewable energy capacity. This is crucial to keep up the pace of our 2050 targets.

While that 14 million number may seem huge, the nonprofit’s report shows that it’s very possible.

house as dollar bill
Illustration Credit: Nate Merritt

“With polls showing awareness of what household electrification is and why the climate demands it in the low double digits, 14 million more clean, efficient electric machines by 2026 is all at once extraordinarily ambitious and absolutely possible,” said Ari Matusiak, Rewiring America’s co-founder and CEO, in a statement.

With the size of the American population, 14 million electric machines and appliances are the equivalent of putting down just one finger of two gas-guzzling hands.

Cora Wyent, research director at Rewiring America put it like this via Fast Company: “There are 120 million households in the U.S., so that’s less than 10% of households taking just one of these actions over the next three years.”

“There are 120 million households in the U.S., so that’s less than 10% of households taking just one of these actions over the next three years.”

This 10% of households electrifying one thing is one step toward the electrification of the 1 billion fossil fuel machines across the country. According to Rewiring America, because these machines account for 42% of the country’s emissions, we need to understand the adoption curve required for each of these machines to achieve our climate goals.

Each of the electric machines has different rates for the pace of adoption needed. As the report illustrates, each machine has an S-curve, showing a sharp uptick over the next three years, that gradually plateaus as these technologies become the new norm and their fossil-fuel counterparts slowly become their ancestors.

This same S-curve style adoption happened for cell phones, fridges, and color TVs, and according to Rewiring America, this gives us a reason to be optimistic: the smartphone revolutionized entire sectors of the economy. There’s no reason why it can’t happen again.

graph of technology S-curves
Image Credit: Rewiring America

And we’re already making progress.

Last year became the first year in U.S. history that heat pumps outpaced the sale of fossil fuel furnaces.

Heat pumps are a device that uses thermal energy to ​​transfer heat from a warm space to a cool place and can be used to heat and cool homes as well as provide hot water, through a heat pump water heater, aka a hybrid-electric water heater. And if some startups have anything to do with it, heat pumps which are the norm in the warmer south, are taking off in the north to keep homes warm during those frigid winters.

As we progress, heat pumps need to scale from being present in 16% of American households to multiplying by three times over business-as-usual by 2032. That’s 240,000 electric heat pump sales by the end of 2023 and 2.38 million sales by 2026.

Again, that may sound like a lot, but in addition to IRA tax credits (which are expected to these technologies 40% cheaper) states, and cities are passing legislation that makes the transition not only smoother but in many cases, legally required.

The state-of-play of city and state electrification policies

Back in May, New York passed the first statewide ban on gas in new buildings, making new buildings required to implement technologies like heat pumps and solar panels — whatever the need to not use fossil fuels. Vermont’s legislature is currently pushing to require fuel providers to deliver cleaner, cheaper sources of energy.

The idea of banning gas in new buildings is also taking off in Colorado, with Denver recently passing a law, Louisville passing one in March, and Boulder poised to consider one, with smaller cities and mountain towns approving their own small-scale bans.

There is pushback: several preemptive laws by many Republican lawmakers are lobbying to prevent cities from passing gas bans and Washington state recently hit the brakes on what would be a landmark gas ban, despite its most populous city, Seattle, having a new building gas ban since 2021. Still, it’s clear that the idea of gas bans on new construction projects will not be fading anytime soon, and will continue to be a hot topic.

illustration of building atop battery
Illustration Credit: Nate Merritt

In addition to goalposts for the electrification of appliances like space heaters and water heaters, Rewiring America also provides the necessary ambition for rooftop solar and electric vehicle adoption, with solar scaling from 5% adoption currently to multiplying by seven by 2032 and with EV adoption scaling from 2% to also multiplying by seven.

As EV adoption, for example, surges, with more and more automakers going all-in on EVs to keep pace with deadlines such as impending nationwide emissions rules and California’s precedent-setting statewide ban on new gas cars and heavy-duty vehicles, the idea that the majority of cars on the road will one day be electric is not unfathomable.

California’s EV law, which mandates that all new cars sold by 2035 be electric, has already been mimicked by New York, Oregon, Washington, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Vermont, with states like Rhode Island and Delaware likely to pass similar laws.

While the same tale concerning gas bans in new buildings is taking place concerning new gas car sale bans, with local and state governments like Wisconsin’s passing laws preventing cities from passing future bans, federal proposals like the Environmental Protection Agency’s “most ambitious pollution standards” for vehicles ever could as Verge’s transportation editor Andrew Hawkins puts it, mean “the end is nigh for gas-powered cars.”

graph of If all new car sales were electric by 2035
If all new car sales were electric by 2035 (Image Credit: Rewiring America)

Policy will play a monumental role when it comes to the energy transition, especially to ensure that it is a just transition, but it won’t be the only catalyst.

Rewiring America provides guides and tools to help everyday climate-conscious individuals like yourself make the switch. They are just one option, as several startups have taken it into their own hands to walk people through making the switch, with companies like Footprint Coalition-backed Sealed, cove.tool, and, making the transition for households and buildings easier.

Plus, many startups are beginning to work directly with cities and local utility companies to power entire communities and residential areas with renewables.

Rewiring America outlines the ambition needed behind the energy transition, but the level of ambition is not only feasible but is already happening, as people adopt these technologies not only because they are better for the planet, but are better for their health and pocketbooks.

“It’s possible because of historic investments in helping Americans make this transition and the fact that these machines are not only more energy efficient, so cheaper to operate, but deliver better performance, comfort, health, and ease of maintenance,” Matusiak said.

“Now we have specific targets for increased sales and installations each year in this clean energy transition — and knowing our targets will be a powerful tool.”


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