BUILDING LEADERSHIP to inspire a global emission-free building revolution (Post #5 of Building Leadership Series)Read Now
Buildings contribute nearly 40 percent of the global climate pollution, the top contributor to climate change in nearly every other place on earth besides California where it is second only to transportation.
The paradox of addressing climate change is that while the impacts are global, many of the most important efforts to address the challenge must - necessarily - be regional and local. At the same time, no one region will be able to cut enough carbon to mitigate climate impacts on its own. Fighting climate change must be a global effort.
In the earlier blogs in this series we covered the dangers to California and the climate from natural gas and our gas infrastructure, how the unnecessary costs of gas infrastructure is pricing California families out of housing affordability, how the costs of dirty energy - like natural gas or methane - disproportionately impacts poor communities and the public health risks of natural gas. These problems are facing communities around the world.
My message to Gov. Newsom is that, in our effort to cut emissions from buildings - making them healthier and cleaner, we can inspire, lead and supply a global movement.
California can and must do this for two main reasons: (1) our state is extremely vulnerable to climate change and therefore we need the rest of the world to rapidly reduce climate pollution and (2) we have more climate experience, leadership and industries than any other entity to offer to the world.
Prioritizing building climate solutions that we can export requires that Gov. Newsom make California a role model by adopting solutions that can be mimicked in other areas as well as creating a platform from which to engage and push other states and countries on achievements in this sector.
A state leadership roadmap
To eliminate emissions from California’s building stock on a pace to meet our clean energy goals, Governor Newsom will need to lead an effort that will involve many stakeholders and fast action. He will need to align disparate government agencies and their policies and provide clear market signals to businesses and investors so they can invest accordingly.
First and foremost, he will need to get the State government moving in one direction. California policy should harmonize around a goal of zero emissions for all buildings, new and existing. All state funding programs for buildings, such as bonds and grants to local governments, should fund emission free projects. In terms of timing the state should require all new homes and commercial buildings be built emission free by the middle of the 2020’s. To get there will require both investment and incentives.
California is already investing over $1 billion a year in energy efficiency. These funds should be opened up for emission free construction and retrofits. We will need electrical rates that favor the use of clean electricity over natural gas, like we’ve done for electric vehicles to displace gasoline models. The state should use it’s powerful purchasing clout to buy bulk amounts of clean heating technology that local governments, low-income housing builders and others would be able to access. The state should build off of it’s successes, like the California Solar Initiative (CSI), and send a clear, unambiguous market signal by adopting a new zero emission building funding program, combining attractive incentives with low-cost, easy to access financing that makes the transition a no-brainer for builders, installers and consumers. When we followed that recipe for solar we changed the world. We can do it again for buildings.
Building the clean building industry
Inspiring demand and leadership from those outside of government, utilities, labor, builders, manufacturers, real estate, finance and local government, is essential to meeting our goals, as well as igniting a global movement.
Taking another lesson from CSI, where the state helped build and grow businesses in the solar industry, we need to make emission-free buildings the more profitable and easier to install option for builders and installers.
We have discussed in this series that it is already cheaper to build an emission-free home when compared to the cost of piping in gas and installing fossil-fuel run appliances. However, because of the need for rapid climate solution deployment, we must capture significant market share fast so the value proposition for builders and installers must leave no doubt in their choice to pass on gas. Robust incentives, accessible financing, wide-scale consumer education, workforce training and regulatory streamlining will all be needed to help our builders and installers make the transition to emission free construction.
Transitioning fairly and safely
Moving quickly from gas to clean electricity to heat our buildings means there will be great upheaval in an arguably institutional industry. The gas industry and its infrastructure, while it creates a lot of problems, also supports individuals with jobs and enjoys large investments from utilities.
In this transition we must address these stranded assets and jobs. We have to treat every worker in the gas industry fairly and every ratepayer justly and equitably. To ensure that the movement off of gas is done in the right way, respectful of all parties, responsible to commitments entered into, beneficial to the environment and our working men and women, the Governor should direct the California Public Utilities Commission to open a proceeding to develop and implement a just and safe transition away from legacy infrastructure that is undermining the state’s progress toward essential climate and energy goals.
Inspiring global investor confidence
All of the above solutions should help set Governor Newsom on a path to engage the rest of the world in moving away from polluting homes and buildings to create clean, healthy cities and communities and address the great climate challenge. Whether it is the millions of new buildings being built across Asia or the existing buildings of Europe, this sector will need to be emission free if we are to avoid the worst impacts climate change, which we already experiencing here in California.
The economic development and partnership opportunities that will arise from this space will boost California’s economy as manufacturers and financial communities share solutions and consistent approaches to deploy capital at scale. Investor confidence in California and other major economies addressing the building sector in a standardized, transparent and ambitious way will bring about the type of capital that we need to put us on a path toward reaching our clean energy goals.
To motivate capital and inspire investment, the Governor should expand upon the Pacific Coast Collaborative’s work on emission free buildings and engage with other states to lower costs and increase market share for critical technologies, like heat pumps. Leadership specifications, workforce protections, procurement partnerships, shared markets, data exchanges and gubernatorial competitions have all been effective in speeding up market transformation in the past and the governor can lead a new round of these activities with like-minded states and governments.
Right Guy at the Right Time
Unchecked climate change will be a catastrophe for the citizens of California, with low-income and marginalized populations suffering the most. The state-produced Fourth Climate Change Assessment suggests that the climate threats California will face could be even worse than previously thought.
Gov. Newsom understands this. California cannot afford a worsening climate and we must move quickly to reduce emissions on a global scale. This means he must employ an all-hands on deck approach to establishing California’s leadership role in reducing emissions beyond our borders. Buildings are California’s second leading polluter and the rest of the world’s top contributor. We must set the bar high for this sector and develop best practices with which to engage the world.
Governor Newsom is taking this office at the perfect time to lead on clean, healthy, emissions -free homes and buildings. His blend of business, environment and social welfare experience and principles, coupled with audacious vision, make him the right man for this moment. Lead on Governor!
BUILDING LEADERSHIP to safeguard public health and safety (Post #4 in the Building Leadership Series)Read Now
In our last two blog posts, we discussed the over California families priced out of homes due to unnecessary methane infrastructure, and argued that efficiency, electrification and a shift toward renewable energy can make housing much more affordable by eliminating the infrastructure and associated costs of natural gas. We also discussed how the financial and environmental impacts of fossil fuels use disproportionately hurt lower-income communities.
Electrification and renewable energy can make housing more affordable by reducing one of the biggest and most inequitable costs that low-income households face--energy. The reduction of pollutants associated with burning fossil fuels stands to benefit those same populations, who on average suffer most from the toxic health impacts including asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease and other effects.
But, the public health implications of electrification go far beyond impacts on the poor.
The short, medium and long-term dangers of fossil-fuel pollution on the human population are pervasive and widespread. As the new administration continues the fight to mitigate the impacts of climate change, it shouldn’t forget about the immediate benefits of reducing pollution on human health.
Beyond CO2: The Impacts of Toxic Air Pollutants on Human Health
According to recent report from the World Health Organization, air pollution threatens the health and development of 93 percent of the world’s children under the age of 15 years (1.8 billion children). The report found that as many as 600,000 children die annually from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air. Citizens of rapidly developing countries such as China and India suffer most (according to a recent study, half of children in Delhi will suffer from irreversible lung damage into adulthood).
In the United States, California tops the list as the state with the largest number of polluted cities in the nation. According to a report from the American Lung Association, in 2018 90 percent of Californians lived in counties that received a failing grade for at least one pollutant.
Los Angeles remains the smoggiest place in the country. The state's temperate climate and geography, which can trap polluted air in certain areas, is partially to blame. By increasing average summer temperatures and sparking drought and wildfires, climate change only makes the problem worse.
Climate activism has rightly focused on growing levels of CO2 as the most dangerous and persistent long-term greenhouse gas. But when it comes to human health, it's other combustion-related pollutants -- many of which are also potent greenhouse gasses--that pose the greatest risks.
Ground level ozone pollution from burning fossil fuels aggravates asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis and puts people at risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Particulate pollution, which consists of a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air, can also cause serious health problems. Small particles pose the greatest risk because they penetrate deep in the lungs and may enter the bloodstream.
A significant portion of particulate matter is black carbon or soot, which is created by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels from gas and diesel engines and other sources that burn fossil fuels. In addition to its health impacts, black carbon is a major contributor to global climate change, possibly second only to CO2.
Not all of this pollution comes from coal fired power plants or diesel trucks. The major indoor combustion pollutants are carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), fine and ultrafine particles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and formaldehyde. At elevated levels, carbon monoxide causes headaches, fatigue, queasiness, and at very high levels, brain and heart damage and death. Other combustion pollutants can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, and serious lung disease, including cancer and other health impacts. Additionally, cooking emissions, especially from gas stoves, have been associated with increased respiratory disease. Young children, people with asthma, and people with heart or lung disease are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of combustion pollutants.
A study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on indoor air quality in Southern California homes found that a significant portion of residences exceed outdoor air quality standards for several pollutants on a weekly basis as a result of cooking with gas burners. “If these were conditions that were outdoors the Environmental Protection Agency would be cracking down. But since it’s in people’s homes, there’s no regulation requiring anyone to fix it,” the lead author said. “Reducing people’s exposure to pollutants from gas stoves should be a public health priority.”
The Answer: Clean Energy, Efficiency and Electrification of Buildings and Transportation
California has already shown that it can make dramatic improvements in air quality. From 1989 to 2008, regulations on diesel emissions helped reduced the concentration of black carbon in the state by 50 percent.
Senate Bill 1383, which was signed by Governor Brown in 2016, requires that by 2030 emissions from "super pollutants" including methane and hydrofluorocarbons be cut by 40 percent, while human-caused black carbon must be reduced to 50 percent below 2013 levels.
Much of the reduction in pollutants such as black carbon will continue to come from improvements in diesel trucks, as older trucks are replaced and engines are retrofitted. While gasoline-powered passenger cars account for fewer particulate emissions, their contribution remains significant. These emissions could be eliminated by switching to electric vehicles.
Meanwhile, indoor air quality can be improved by switching from natural gas to all electric appliances.
Electrifying homes and passenger transportation, and then generating that electricity from renewable sources, creates a virtuous cycle that can drastically reduce or eliminate multiple sources of both CO2 emissions and dangerous particulates from the human environment.
The good news is that if we do it right, California's recent policy moves put us on a path to solve for both global climate impacts and short and long-term public health issues.
In our last blog post, we discussed the California families currently priced out of homes due to unnecessary methane infrastructure, and how efficiency, electrification and a shift toward renewable energy can make housing much more affordable by eliminating the infrastructure and associated costs of methane.
In this post we explain why, aside from affordability, eliminating fossil fuels use in buildings is one of the most important social justice issues facing California and the nation. Low-income populations have both the most to gain from a successful transition to a low-carbon economy and the most to lose if we fail.
Energy affordability is critical for low income families
High and rising costs of monthly energy bills puts an enormous burden on low-income communities. Across the United States, lower income households suffer from an "energy affordability gap" in which they must spend more than 10 percent of their monthly income on energy. People living below 50 percent of the poverty level often spend 35 percent of their monthly income or more on lighting, heating and cooling. Seasonal variation adds even more difficulty, as high energy bills in hot summer months and cold winter months can overwhelm monthly budgets and make paying for other essentials impossible, causing defaults, skimping on necessities and can even lead to eviction. Utility bills are the number one reason people resort to payday loans to cover their expenses. No family should have to choose between living in a comfortable temperature or eating.
According to a 2016 report from the ACEEE and the Energy Efficiency for All coalition, it's not just the percentage of income spent that's a problem; the actual per-square-foot cost of heating and cooling low-income households is three times as expensive as it is for those in other income brackets. There are likely various reasons for this, including lack of access to energy efficiency programs and the fact that low-income renters may have little control over the heating and cooling appliances in their homes.
On the other hand, programs that provide support to help these populations move to more affordable clean, electric appliances have significant positive impacts. Habitat for Humanity of San Joaquin County has a program to build zero net energy homes. George Koertzen, a construction superintendent for the project, described how one low-income family spent only $300 on electricity for the entire year after moving into a super-efficient, solar-powered home.
The injustice of pollution
Even as they pay more for energy on both a relative and absolute basis, the poor are also more likely to suffer negative health impacts from being exposed to its pollution.
The burning of fossil fuels produces toxic pollutants that both contribute to global climate change and cause acute risks to human health.
Non-white and low-income households are more likely to live near sites of industrial pollution and heavy traffic areas, forcing them to breathe in toxic, dirty air, leading to health impacts - including asthma, heart disease, and stroke, among many others. California is home to eight of the ten most polluted cities in the nation, and cities like Los Angeles and Fresno both have dangerously dirty air, which disproportionately impacts large communities of poor residents.
The environmental dangers that these populations face don't stop a the front door, however. Indoor air quality is worse in low-socioeconomic status households as well. Combustion byproducts from gas-powered stoves and heating, which include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, are major culprits.
The major indoor combustion pollutants are carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), fine and ultrafine particles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and formaldehyde. At elevated levels, carbon monoxide causes headaches, fatigue, queasiness, and at very high levels, brain and heart damage and death. Other combustion pollutants can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, and serious lung disease, including cancer and other health impacts. Additionally, cooking emissions, especially from gas stoves, have been associated with increased respiratory disease. Young children, people with asthma, and people with heart or lung disease are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of combustion pollutants.
There is a reason we require carbon monoxide monitors in homes in California now: so our burning of gas in our homes doesn’t poison us. We’re grateful for California's Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act of 2010 - but instead of having alarms that tell us we have dangerous levels of chemicals in our homes shouldn't we just remove the source of the chemicals?
Renewable energy and electrification helps communities that need it the most
Transitioning buildings toward renewable energy, efficiency and electrification has the potential to alleviate a number of energy and environmental hardships that low-income citizens face at once.
Most directly, making low-income housing more efficient will reduce the disproportionate energy cost burden that vulnerable populations face while improving quality of life, allowing families to live in comfortable temperatures all year round. Beyond efficiency, home performance upgrade programs are designed to identify and address common health and safety issues from old appliances such as elevated carbon monoxide levels. Electrification of home appliances takes these upgrades further by entirely eliminating fossil-fuel use in homes and its associated air quality impacts.
Moving toward a zero-emissions economy is a win-win proposition that can benefit vulnerable communities first and foremost. Governor Newsom should continue and accelerate California's ambitious climate goals, knowing that the gains will extend to everyone.
Is natural gas pricing tens of thousands of California families out of the housing market?
In California for every $1,000 increase in the price of a home 15,328 households are priced out of the market for a median-priced new home. Meaning for every $1,000 we add to the cost of home with unnecessary add-ons we leave tens of thousands of Californians stuck in our Statewide housing crisis. This data came from a 2016 National Association of Home Builders study looking at the impact of pricing for new home’s impact on households ability to purchase.
With how bad our housing crisis is we cannot afford any unnecessary costs.
With how bad our climate crisis is we can’t afford to be adding new GHG-emitting infrastructure.
It is for these two imperatives that building electrification is so important.
The Cost of building natural gas infrastructure
Natural gas use is not just a problem from a greenhouse gas and climate change perspective what with methane being 84x more potent than CO2 from a global warming perspective and making up 92-98 percent of natural gas delivered to Californians. But running homes off of natural gas unnecessarily increases the cost of housing in California.
Most home building in California lays out new natural gas infrastructure that includes a connection from the house (service line) to the main transmission line in the neighborhood (main) and whatever main extension is needed depending on the number of homes being built. The home then installs internal natural gas plumbing to get the gas from the service line to the appliances, such as stoves, water heaters and such.
Two different recent studies looked at this cost of infrastructure, a study by Rocky Mountain Institute suggested between $1,000 and $24,000 per home, with a median value of $8,800, based upon regulatory filings and customer quotes and a study by Synapse Energy Economics suggested using an average of $6,412 for these costs. This is the cost of having natural gas supplied to a home and plumbed around it.
Then we need to look at the natural gas-powered appliances and compare them to all-electric alternatives.
This year, the California Building Industry Association commissioned a report from the consulting firm Navigant to look at the costs of building electrification. The study found that electrical appliances today are already cheaper than natural gas models in three out of four categories. The report's claim that the fourth category (heat pump water heaters) are more expensive isn't borne out by the data in the study or market place.
So if we assume the lower $6,412 for natural gas infrastructure and at worst negligible cost difference for appliances we find houses that use natural gas for heating to cost as much as $6,000 more than an all electric house.
Since California’s electricity is getting cleaner every year (50 percent renewable, ~74 percent emission free such as renewable, large hydro and nuclear by 2020 and 100 percent by 2045) and we can use that clean energy to replace any natural gas appliance, all of that natural gas infrastructure is unnecessary and only adding costs to our new housing in California.
The authors of the NAHB study would look at this and conclude that $6,412 of unnecessary infrastructure at 15,328 families priced out per $1,000 in California means our natural gas infrastructure is pricing over 90,000 families out of the housing market.
Developers of new subdivisions with 40’ wide lots in PG&E territory are paying more than $6,200 for their lot’s worth of 2” distribution line, and another $16,000 for their lateral and meter set--at $22,200 per new house for gas connections. Yet a Zero Net Energy solar array for that same house is 5-7 kW, and Developers pay $2000-$3000 per kW, totaling $10,000-$21,000. For less money than a gas connection, a new homeowner will have free energy for decades to come.
What about operating costs you ask? In new homes equipped with cost-effective solar panels, required by California’s new building code in 2020, highly efficient zero emission buildings will cut energy bills by several hundred dollars annually.
A Win-Win Scenario
Ultimately, there is no question that the world will need to stop burning gasoline, coal and natural gas. For years, however, some have argued such a transition was premature, would cost too much, and would even harm disadvantaged communities.
These arguments no longer hold water.
Today the cost of electric appliances are roughly the same or cheaper than their natural gas equivalents. For new construction the message is clear: the avoided costs of natural gas infrastructure tilts the equation toward electrification.
California should continue and accelerate its commitment to electrification and zero-emissions buildings with the knowledge that it will be helping to solve both the affordable housing crisis and our climate predicament as it moves the state forward on its journey to a 100 percent clean energy economy.
Our housing-desperate families and climate impacted communities can’t afford the costs of more natural gas infrastructure.
Building Leadership: Gov. Newsom’s climate, housing and social justice solution (Post #1 in the Building Leadership Series)Read Now
Set a goal and achieve it.
It’s the most basic premise in any business or self-help guide on how to succeed.
And in California, we’ve set some lofty climate goals. We said we would get back to 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and we did it -- four years early.
While California should celebrate its climate achievements so far, reaching the next phase of emissions cuts will be more difficult … and more exciting. Successfully rising to the challenge will require a statewide, cross-sector, all-hands-on-deck effort led by an inspired Governor Newsom.
Already in California we’ve made great progress in our globally-leading utility and renewable energy sectors. But the fact is, supply-side levers are easier to pull than the mass market of the demand-side. We must now inspire Californians to take the clean energy revolution into their homes and workplaces, by moving away from gas in favor of clean, electricity.
The benefits to transforming fossil-fuel powered buildings to clean, electric ones will be enormous. Not only will we tackle the source of nearly 25 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, we will also cut the potent planet-warming methane emissions that are released from gas operations.
It is time to transform California’s two favorite things, our homes and our cars, into something greater: a housing affordability, job-creating, economy-growing, income-inequality reducing, public health-improving, climate crisis-solving, global leadership opportunity. The potential is there, we just need solid leadership that unlocks California’s ingenuity.
Within transportation we have an enormous challenge with a clear pathway: rapidly increase consumer demand for, and access to, low- and zero-emission technology, significantly expand charging infrastructure and successful incentive programs to prime the consumer pump (pun intended).
However, California’s buildings do not share that clear pathway, and herein lies the opportunity: the time has never been better to lead on buildings and Gavin Newsom is an ideal leader for this time and topic.
For the Gov. elect is a rare leader who can weave the housing crisis, income inequality and the climate crisis together into mutually-beneficial solutions to California’s greatest challenges.
Moving the state beyond fossil-fuel powered buildings will help lower the cost of new homes, empowering tens of thousands more families to afford their own home and realize the California dream. Moving buildings beyond fossil fuels will be one of the greatest job improvement and creation opportunities available in the climate solution space. It will relieve the burden of high energy bills, allowing hard-working families to spend more of their money on other household needs. Eliminating fossil-fuels from California’s buildings will create more clean air, reducing toxic air pollution in some of our most vulnerable communities. Lastly, creating clean energy buildings could be our most important climate solution export and a platform Governor Newsom can use to empower other leaders around the world.
In this blog series we will look at how Gov. Newsom can leave his mark on California's communities: why the moment is right for clean energy buildings, how Governor Newsom can carve out leadership in this space, and what the co-benefits of healthy buildings are for the climate, economy, the housing crisis, poverty, and public health.
The importance of leadership
California is the most populous state in the United States, the fifth largest economy on the planet, and a global leader in the fight against climate change and air pollution. California's ability to successfully decarbonize our buildings will provide a powerful example to the rest of the country and the world. Across the globe, buildings are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. If we get this right in California, we provide a model for every other economy, we create new technologies and industries for clean energy buildings like we did for renewable energy and we export the hard and soft products and knowledge to help other governments with their most vexing climate challenge. Countries like China are already modeling programs (such as their electric car mandate) on California's leadership. We can do even more with buildings.
In our next post, we'll discuss how decarbonizing our building stock will mitigate not just emissions but also the housing crisis.
Panama Bartholomy is the Director of the Building Decarbonization Coalition.