Mike Phillips is the CEO and co-founder of Sense. Prior to Sense, he was founder and CTO of SpeechWorks and Vlingo. As a research scientist and graduate of MIT and Carnegie Mellon, Mike was among the first to commercialize speech recognition technology.
How Carbon-Free Standards Will Impact Homeowners
Several states are taking action to combat climate change. Advise clients on what’s coming and ways they can optimize their energy footprints.
November 14, 2019
As CEO of a “clean technology” company, which helps with reducing carbon use, people ask me how they can have a positive impact on the environment. My answer is this: What really matters, more than anything else you do, is that you pay careful attention to your energy use, because it is your single biggest contribution to climate change.
Scientists have made clear that climate change will have very negative impacts on the environment as a whole. Today, I’m feeling hopeful about climate change because I am seeing important steps that are underway to address energy use.
A recent poll by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 80% of Americans say human activity is fueling climate change. And after years of indecision, state governments are getting serious about taking action and responding with more aggressive measures to curb carbon emissions. As of today, five states—California, Hawaii, Nevada, New York, and Washington—as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have enacted 100% carbon-free standards and set a timeline of about 20 years to accomplish it. This represents 11% of national electric sales and 5.4% of national utility carbon emissions. Four more states are actively debating 100% carbon-free standards, and several governors have made pledges to be carbon-free by 2050: Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Other states have set 50% to 75% carbon reduction goals, such as Maryland, New Jersey, and Vermont.
The state of New York has a deadline of 2050 to reach net-zero carbon emissions for its economy, including an 85% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. By 2030, the state must also generate 70% of its electricity from renewable sources—up from 23% currently—the vast majority of that coming from hydroelectric power.
Utilities are also taking leadership roles. National Grid, one of the largest electricity and gas utility companies in the Northeast, has proposed the Northeast 80x50 Pathway, an integrated blueprint for New England to reduce greenhouse gas emissions deeply below 1990 levels while supporting economic growth and maintaining affordability and customer choice. National Grid’s approach combines several mutually reinforcing strategies that together provide a clear pathway to significant emissions reductions and signal a paradigm shift in the way we all relate to energy.
National Grid’s Pathway calls for big shifts in the region’s energy systems by 2030, including:
- Accelerating the zero-carbon electricity transition by ramping up renewable electricity deployment to achieve 67% zero-carbon electricity supply.
- A transformation of the transport sector by reaching more than 10 million electric vehicles on Northeast roads (roughly 50% of all vehicles).
- A transformation of the heat sector by doubling the rate of efficiency retrofits and converting nearly all of the region’s 5 million oil-heated buildings to electric heat pumps or natural gas.
Beyond 2030, the Pathway calls for deeper and more sustained technological innovation coupled with increasingly ambitious policy action, according to the 80x50 Pathway document.
What This Means for Homeowners
As these required standards become the norm across states, homeowners will need to make changes, and real estate professionals can advise them on where to start. It will be more important than ever for your clients to know how and when they are using energy in their homes.
Innovations ranging from heat pumps to electric vehicles to smart thermostats will give the average homeowner more ways to optimize their energy use, so everyone’s carbon footprint shrinks without diminishing their lifestyle. People will be able to make their homes smarter and more efficient while being less resource-intensive, costly, and wasteful.
As utilities move to more renewable energy sources, it will be increasingly important for homeowners to know not only how much energy they are using but when they are using it. Should they be doing their laundry during the day—when solar energy is at its peak—or at night? When is the best time to charge an electric vehicle?
Smart homes will increasingly help consumers make those decisions. Smart thermostats are an example of technology that will help shift energy loads to accommodate the ebb and flow of renewable energy sources like solar and wind. The notion of a truly “smart home” is still early, but over time, more and more technology will become part of homes, and energy and other resource optimization will be important drivers. Smart homes will give people more information so they can make choices to live comfortably while optimizing their use of energy.
Here are a few concrete tips real estate professionals can share with homeowners so they can begin to immediately optimize their energy footprints and take advantage of the positive changes that are underway:
- If you live in a state with time-of-use pricing, adjust your energy lifestyle to match the peaks in renewable power flowing into the grid. Schedule energy intensive activities when the utility rates are lowest, not only to save money but because it’s the time when renewable energies are at a peak.
- Consider getting solar panels in 2019 while federal incentives are still in place. Figure out your potential solar savings (Project Sunroof is a good resource to estimate a roof’s solar potential). Be sure to check out state incentives as well. Solar rebates are popular among voters, so it’s likely that many state incentives will be extended past 2020.
- States and utilities have already started to offer incentives to encourage a move to heat pumps, which are two to three times more efficient than burning fossil fuels like natural gas or heating oil. Although heat pumps are powered by electricity, new technologically advanced pumps are so efficient that they cost much less to run than a conventional oil heat system.
- If you live in a new, energy-efficient home, don’t take it for granted. How you live is as important as the home itself. Know how much energy your heating, cooling, appliances, lighting, and consumer electronics are all using on a day-to-day basis. Actively seek out energy-efficient appliances and consumer electronics, and use smart thermostats to control your heating and cooling usage (and costs). Take advantage of smart plugs and strips to keep your vampire power drain to a minimum.
- If you live in an older home, keep looking for ways to make the house’s envelope tighter so your heating or cooling isn’t escaping. Many states offer energy efficiency programs through the utilities with free assistance to make your home more efficient. Visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency to find your state’s incentive programs.
- Look for energy hogs; every house has them. Aim for at least 8% energy savings in the next year and target vampire energy losses, which impact 23% of the average home. Prime culprits are older entertainment systems or printers with “fast start mode,” computers left on instead of hibernating, roof heating coils left on, and so on.
- Assess your transportation choices when it comes to commuting, and buy an electric vehicle or hybrid as your next car. Right now, consumers can take advantage of state and federal tax credits for electric vehicles before they sunset starting in 2020. Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen have agreed to a voluntary framework developed by the state of California for continued annual reductions of vehicle greenhouse gas emissions through the 2026 model year. Consumers can expect to see new cars that achieve 50 MPG fuel economies, as well as continued innovation toward electric vehicles by these automakers.
At the end of the day, these carbon-free standards will not only protect the environment but help homeowners save money on their utility bills by living more sustainable lifestyles.