It is a question that is not burning in the average person’s mind. That’s for sure. But, we need to add it to the pile of things to address to stop the climate crisis. We may think of adding solar to our homes but that is for electricity. And people will think that’s the end of it. Problem solved. But, as I look at the whole situation, it all seems insurmountable.
And, this is not just heat for our homes . . . let’s not forget Big Box stores and manufacturing plants.
The pile of lifestyle and societal changes we need to make is huge. From the energy in our buildings, the way we grow food, transportation, the military issue, plastic in the ocean, the heating of the planet, all the consumer products we make and consume, to what we eat, our capitalist economy, soil depletion, water depletion . . . add how we heat our homes and buildings. I am sure I forgot something. Species that are going extinct. Oh, yes, and the bees. Resource depletion. We are running out of sand. And, fish.
But, yes, what are we going to replace natural gas heat with? In the US it accounts for about 50% with electricity at 34%, I believe. And, in that electricity, we are slowly eliminating the use of coal and replacing it with . . . natural gas.
So I did a little searching. The Guardian had a good article on this topic. The article, “Is hydrogen the solution to net-zero home heating?” by Stuart Clark on March 2020, is a great hashing out of some alternatives. According to Clark, the UK is working hard on a 2030 target date to get off natural gas. They are at 85% of their homes with natural gas.
Hydrogen seems to be high on the list. As I understand it though, hydrogen comes from methane, a fossil fuel . . . but it also comes from water. The gas company in the UK is all for hydrogen because they would use the same infrastructure, and it is in their best interest.
The article stated that not all of the experts on using hydrogen are convinced that it is the best solution. Hydrogen is one of three solutions. Heat pumps are an alternative because using electricity was the goal. Homes would have to be insulated more. Then there is district heating, which comes from using heat from manufacturing plants, etc. and heating water to distribute to homes. That’s how I understand it. So the article was a good starting point.
C2ES, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions did a brief on “Decarbonizing U.S. Buildings” July 2018 by Jessica Leung. Hands down, heat pumps were the solution after her research. Leung also stated people have little knowledge of their energy usage. Residential and commercial buildings were both discussed. Population was the biggest reason for increases. Retrofits, construction design, windows, changing people’s behavior were all part of the solution. All in all, a good read.
A more entertaining read, full of humor and good info, is an article from Vox “Most American homes are still heated with fossil fuels. It’s time to electrify,” by David Roberts on July 2, 2018. The short assessment is that replacing an existing gas furnace for a heat pump . . . there they are again . . . is very expensive but installing heat pumps in new construction beats gas furnaces in price. It is worth reading this one.
The list of articles on this subject goes on . . . but I ended my research there.
I am on a wood stove . . . and obviously, we can’t all do that. I have not done the carbon footprint on wood stoves. Someone has, I am sure. From what I have read, a passive design is the most efficient way to heat. It seems expensive but I have read that it can be competitive with new construction. But, what do you do with all the existing homes and buildings. Big energy retrofits are expensive.
In the old days, there was one room that was heated, which was where everyone was most of the time. Perhaps it was the kitchen. Some of that heat went into the living room. Bedrooms just had lots of blankets. It doesn’t seem like a bad idea . . . in order to conserve energy.
In my cabin, it may be 18 degrees outside and 68 inside when I go to bed . . . but when I get up . . . it is 48 degrees inside and may be 10 outside. Blankets work. There is no way I am adding wood when it is that warm inside . . . and add 10 degrees in my loft.
There are alternatives to natural gas. We need to get on this issue . . . and fast.