Why we must electrify everything

All electric house copyThe announcement of an El Nino climate pattern a few months ago confirmed this summer will be hotter than the last three, with increased risk of drought and bushfires. More territory has already been burnt in fires now raging in Queensland and NSW, than in the Black Summer fires of 2018/19. And we know the worst is yet to come. Australians, especially regional Australians and our fire-fighters, are going to be tested like never before. 

That’s the sobering reality but given it seems there’s not much we can do about it, many of us just default to business as usual. Don’t. While we can’t stop what’s heading at us this summer, there’s still time to mitigate the frequency and intensity of future extreme weather events – floods and bushfires – if we take action now to reduce emissions to halt runaway climate change.

What’s more such action will also save you money.  [Illustration by ReWiring Australia}

Last year Ballarat Council endorsed a community-wide Ballarat Zero Emissions Plan to help meet the City’s ambitious net zero by 2030 target.  With electricity and gas prices going through the roof, there are considerable cost benefits in going solar and getting off gas. And, as the amount of renewable energy feeding into the National Electricity Grid grows – expected to be 82% by 2030 – just drawing mains power is far better than using gas. 

We’re very ‘gassified,’ in Victoria with 80% of homes connected. But with State government determination to meet our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions target, signalled by the ban on gas connections in new builds in Victoria by 1 January 2024, we do need to begin planning now for this transition. Home electrification can make a significant reduction in national GHG emissions, particularly as we ‘green the grid.’

The ‘electrify everything’ movement, backed by significant government incentives, makes financial sense on a number of fronts. New energy-efficient electric appliances like hot water heat pumps and induction cooktops use considerably less power than old gas hot water systems or cooktops – or even old electric ones.  If you are on solar, setting your heat pump to heat during daylight hours is another easy win. It’s estimated that going all electric can save consumers up to 60% off their power bills. In her recent announcement that the State Electricity Commissions (SEC) will offer a one-stop shop for home electrification, Victorian Premier, Jacinta Allan said: “We know that too many people have been put off electrifying their home because of the complexity and the cost.’ The SEC’s mission to ‘streamline’ this process also underlies other Council sponsored electrification programs across the state. 

A movement is underway but we need to accelerate it to make the difference we need. Engineer, Tim Forcey, the brains behind an electrification Facebook site with 106,000 members, wrote recently: “I started My Efficient Electric Home (MEEH) to spread the word about how people could save money by heating their homes with reverse cycle airconditioners … Watching what is posted we have evidence now that thousands and thousands of households have made good progress reducing their gas use.”

Even partial electrification, installing one or two reverse-cycle air-conditioning units to reduce your gas space-heating, is better than doing nothing at all and will still save you money, and also help keep your home cooler in summer. 

Change can of course, be challenging. However, home electrification should be seen as an opportunity. Getting off gas is something we must all plan for over the next few years. Pathways will vary according to obstacles encountered and how these are overcome. Fortunately, there is excellent information online for those who look for it – the State agency Sustainability Victoria is one of those worth visiting. 

Some myth-busting is also needed here. Ballarat is not too cold for hot water heat pumps, which are good for temperatures down to -10C. Replacing utilities isn’t cheap, of course, which is why forward planning is everything.  When old gas appliances die it’s important to be ready to electrify. Don’t be persuaded to just replace them with new gas ones. The hard truth is that current government rebates won’t last forever and reluctant adopters will pay a premium if they wait too long to transition. 

New solar system sizes this year are trending above 10KW, as householders go all-electric including transitioning to EVs – a ‘win win’ for the consumer and the environment. In Ballarat our domestic rooftop solar take-up languishes at a lamentable 17.2%, well below the national average of 30%. That seems likely to change as the cost benefits of generating your own electricity increase with retail rate rises.

Heat waves in the Arctic, wild fires across Europe, record Antarctic sea-ice melts, all tell us climate change is here and we need to make changes – for personal comfort and affordability but also for the environment and future generations. We each have a role to play as individual householders in a community, a state and a nation. The faster we collectively make these changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate anthropogenic climate change, the better chance we have of averting its most catastrophic consequences. In so far as we have a climate action policy, this is it – electrify everything. Let's do it!

An edited version of this article was published on The Courier's opinion page on 8 December 2023

Mary Debrett  
BREAZE Inc. Board