Real Estate

Powering up at home

Early adopters are leading the way in a regional effort to cut emissions

While serving on the Mountain View Environmental Sustainability Task Force, Hala Alshahwany's research convinced her of the difference that converting appliances from natural gas to electric could make in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, when electricity comes from a renewable source. So when she and her husband, Nabeel Al-Shamma, remodeled their Mountain View home a couple years ago, it was a good opportunity to go "all-electric." Even so, Alshahwany had slight misgivings about cooking on an electric stove — though that didn't stop her from switching.

"A lot of people are hesitant to convert their stovetops from natural gas to electric. They like the method of cooking over a flame. I was a bit worried about that because I cook a lot," Alshahwany said. "I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The electric stove that we have works very well. It cools off very quickly. The technology now has improved these appliances."

In addition to replacing the gas stove, during the remodel, the couple switched out their gas-burning clothes dryer, water heater and HVAC (heating, ventilation, air-conditioning) for electric replacements. To complement their electric conversion, the couple also installed energy-efficient windows and insulation, and replaced their lawn and sprinkler system with a garden of native plants.

Their electricity provider, Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE), recently recognized Alshahwany and Al-Shamma's home conversion with a $3,000 prize in their All Electric Showcase Awards.

Alshahwany and Al-Shamma are among the early adopters leading the way in a regional effort aimed at cutting emissions. Bay Area cities, including Menlo Park, Berkeley and San Jose have all passed bans on the use of natural gas in most new buildings. Palo Alto is currently exploring the issue.

"City staff is finalizing energy code recommendations for council consideration," Meghan Horrigan-Taylor, Chief Communications Officer for the City of Palo Alto, said in an email. The issue is expected to go before the city council on Nov. 4.

According to SVCE Communications Manager Pamela Leonard, in highlighting the successes of early adopters like Alshahwany and Al-Shamma, the awards aim to raise awareness about the advantages of converting to electric (often referred to as "home electrification"). But the awards also try to help dispel the reputation that has dogged electric appliances in recent decades, she said.

"There's this legacy idea of these electric technologies — they're terrible, they're slower, they're not as efficient," Leonard said. "The technologies have changed and come a really long way ... A lot of European countries are using induction (cooktops), they're using heat pumps for their heating and cooling needs, because they're more efficient."

The benefits of going all-electric were touted earlier this month at two Bay Area Home Electrification Expos hosted by SVCE, the City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU), Climate Smart San Jose and Menlo Spark. The events, one of which was held in Palo Alto, featured speakers on various aspects of electrification and representatives from manufacturers of electric appliances.

Both CPAU, the electric utility for Palo Alto residents, and SVCE, which serves 13 communities including the Midpeninsula cities of Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Sunnyvale, offer electricity from renewable sources. And both providers offer incentives to customers considering electrification.

"By continuing to burn fossil fuels in the home, when you're trying to phase out the use of fossil fuels in your power supply, it doesn't really make sense anymore," Leonard said.

SVCE offers credits to customers who install rooftop solar and both CPAU and SVCE have rebate programs for a heat pump water heater to replace gas water heaters.

CPAU is ramping up other programs to promote electrification, according to Horrigan-Taylor.

"CPAU will be launching a Home Electrification Readiness assessment at the end of 2019 to help homeowners evaluate their energy use and assess the master electric panel for home electrification," she said, noting that the service will be offered as part of the utility's Home Efficiency Genie program.

Horrigan-Taylor said the city also plans to offer rebates for homeowners who install electric vehicle chargers and upgrade their electric panels at the same time. The panel upgrade, she said, paves the way for future electrification measures.

"Offering a menu of home electrification incentives gives homeowners the option to either replace home appliances one at a time as appliances reach the end of useful life, or do it more comprehensively as part of a remodeling project to fully electrify the house and disconnect the gas meter," Horrigan-Taylor said.

Making an overall switch during a remodel, as Alshahwany and Al-Shamma did, can make sense for those planning for a significant project. Alshahwany said they spent about $22,000 to convert all four of their gas-burning appliances and were able to repurpose their old heating system's existing ductwork. Actually making the conversion and upgrading the electrical panel, she said, took only about two weeks out of the four-month remodel.

Converting gradually could help some overcome hurdles in both expense, as well as attitude.

"With cooking, people feel the most emotional connection to that," Leonard said, noting that switching out a stove may be a tougher ask than other appliances. "There's less of an emotional attachment with your water heater, you just want it to work, and a furnace, you just want it to work. Those are things that are out of sight, out of mind."

Alshahwany expressed satisfaction with the effectiveness of all her home's new electric appliances, stove included. In particular, the heat pump installed for climate control has proved very efficient at both heating and cooling, even with the home's open-plan layout.

"In the summertime, we ended up using the cooling quite a bit, which I didn't expect. We had fairly hot days this summer. ... I was surprised by how much we used it," Alshahwany said.

If you're interested

For those considering electrification, Alshahwany recommends doing some homework, from online research to asking for advice at local stores to get practical feedback on appliances. Among the sites she consulted was carbonfreepaloalto.org.

Palo Alto residents can learn more about electrification on the city website at: cityofpaloalto.org/electrification.

For information about the city's water heater heat pump rebate: cityofpaloalto.org/hpwh.

Silicon Valley Clean Energy customers can learn about their programs at: svcleanenergy.org.

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Comments

11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2019 at 3:18 pm

Is the season of constant PG&E power outages really a good time to be talking about converting home gas systems to electricity?


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2019 at 3:29 pm

People are talking about going back to cooking and heating with gas rather than electricity. Electricity is now too unreliable.


3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 25, 2019 at 3:45 pm

Looking into a natural gas powered refrigerator.
I was intrigued by propane models seen in the Sierras as a kid.
Lighting was also gas. But no internet back then.


2 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2019 at 7:47 am

I'm looking at converting my gasoline powered backup generator to run on natural gas. With a gas stove top, hot water heater and backup generator I am much better prepared at a reasonable price to withstand any grid power outages.

If we were all electric, I'd have to have tens of thousands of dollars in solar cells, power storage, etc to withstand grid outages, no way.

Short sited idea, politically correct but not realistic.


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