Are Electric Water and Space Heaters the Greenhouse Gas Solution for California?

June 18, 2018

Buzz has been growing around electric water and space heaters as potent technology for helping California reach its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals. Recent state moves to require solar panels on all new residential homes by 2020 certainly make electric water and space heaters more carbon efficient.

Also helping are more efficient heater models that can produce more than three times more energy than they consume – by sucking up the heat in surrounding air or soils and pumping it into water or air.

Still, most electric heaters use more energy and cost more to operate than heaters fueled by natural gas, at least in California, given the state’s lower natural gas prices when compared to electricity. Will that change soon enough to make electric heaters make both economic and environmental sense? And what can the state learn from other U.S. states and European countries who have already embraced electric heat?

Just completed by ERG master’s student and BERC communications director, Jack Chang, and recent Berkeley Law graduate Rashmi Gupta, this memo dives into the residential electrification debate with insights from experts at the California Energy Commission, Northern California utilities, the Sierra Club and others who are closely watching how the residential electrification outlook shapes up.