President Biden plans to electrify the U.S. economy — cars, heating systems and factories—and produce the electricity from wind, solar or existing nuclear power to electrify them regardless of the cost to American families and taxpayers. This is his answer to fulfilling his promise to “end fossil fuels.” Electrifying almost everything is a formidable, and most likely impossible, task as Americans get almost 80 percent of their energy from fossil fuels. While other options are available, such as hydrogen fuels produced from renewables, biofuels or adding technologies to fossil fuel equipment that capture carbon emissions from the air, smokestacks or machines, they are not the preferred choice. Widespread electrification would mean replacing more than 280 million gasoline-powered cars and 200 million home appliances that run on natural gas such as furnaces, water heaters, stoves and dryers–changes that will cost American families mightily. And some activities, such as long-haul trucking, chemical manufacturing, cement-making or other heavily energy-dependent operations, would be very difficult to electrify.
While there are signs the United States is already moving in a more electrified direction with sales of electric vehicles accounting for 5.8 percent of new cars sold and electric heat pumps outselling gas furnaces for the first time last year, the Biden administration is using legislation and regulation to force the transition. The EPA recently proposed regulations to ensure that new car sales are two-thirds electric by 2032 and the Inflation Reduction Act is providing hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies.
Along with electrifying the various energy sectors, the electric sector must also transition to non-fossil fuels, despite those fuels making up 60 percent of generation today. Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants have declined by 36 percent since 2005 as natural gas, wind and solar energy sources have replaced coal. The Biden Administration is speeding up the transition to wind and solar energy through their continued subsidization and through regulations that will close more coal plants. But, as the best wind and solar sites have already been built, it is getting harder to build and connect new sources of renewable power to the U.S. grid, which also needs to be upgraded.
The U.S. transportation sector, which includes cars, trucks, boats, rail and planes, gets 94 percent of its energy from fossil fuels, mostly petroleum. The remainder comes from biofuels and electricity. Passenger vehicles are considered the most feasible to electrify, though high purchase costs and the availability of charging stations are still major hurdles despite Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Bill. Even insurance policies for electric vehicles are more expensive, with rates 27 percent higher for them than existing forms of transportation.
Heavy-duty trucks that carry goods thousands of miles cross-country are harder to electrify as they require large, heavy batteries that take hours to charge. Some automakers believe hydrogen made using renewables would be a better option, but that would require a whole new infrastructure and is currently prohibitively expensive. Transitioning aviation is an even harder problem as batteries are too bulky to power all but very small planes. For longer flights and bigger jets, other options, such as fuels made from agricultural waste or fuels that recycle carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are candidates, but are extremely costly.
The residential sector gets 50 percent of its energy from fossil fuels and the commercial sector gets 47 percent, with natural gas having the dominant share to power furnaces, hot water heaters, stoves, ovens and clothes dryers. Electricity represents 42 percent and 50 percent, respectively, of the energy consumed in the residential and commercial sectors. Most homes and businesses use electricity to power air-conditioners, lights, refrigerators and other appliances.
While electric alternatives exist for most gas appliances, the economics of switching from natural gas to electric heat may be formidable for many homeowners. Since natural gas is cheap and electricity prices are increasing as state mandates and federal subsidies push more renewables into the electric system, fuel costs will also hamper the transition. Some homes may require costly upgrades to electric panels or new duct work. And while the Inflation Reduction Act offers subsidies for electric appliances, many contractors are unfamiliar with electric heat pumps and electricians are in short supply.
The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) report on the “The Hidden Costs of a Virginia Natural Gas Ban,” indicates that a natural gas ban could cost every household in Virginia as much as $26,000 if the ban were forced onto families, as one in three Virginia households use natural gas for home heating. The findings dovetail with previous research by CEA which found that the cost to replace just major gas appliances in homes nationwide would be more than $258 billion. The report also found that attempts to “electrify everything” would require a massive infrastructure buildout of over $100 billion in Virginia, just one of the fifty states. A CNBC survey found that only 41 percent of Americans had enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency, which is much less than the amount needed to cover the costs for a natural gas ban. A ban on household use of natural gas would also disproportionately harm the 9.9 percent of Virginians who live at or below the poverty level and those on fixed incomes, as energy bills will inevitably increase.
Also, most electric grids are set up to deal with power demand peaking in the summer when air-conditioners run full blast. But if electric heating becomes widespread, utilities will have to figure out how to handle surging demand in the winter when there is less solar power available. Currently, utilities stockpile natural gas for wintertime heating, but storing electricity from excess wind and solar power involves very expensive and huge batteries that will increase costs further for consumers. It will also make the United States more dependent on China. As the International Energy Agency has said, “China produces three-quarters of all lithium-ion batteries and is home to 70 percent of production capacity for cathodes and 85 percent for anodes (both are key components of batteries). Over half of lithium, cobalt and graphite processing and refining capacity is located in China.”
American industries need huge amounts of heat for creating steam, melting aluminum, processing wood, tempering glass, processing sugar, and even drying car parts, with much of this heat created using natural gas or coal. Almost 80 percent of the energy consumed in this sector comes from fossil fuels with just 13 percent coming from electricity. In theory, many companies could generate heat using electricity. A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that about half of industrial energy use had “high” or “medium” potential for electrification, including production of aluminum, machinery, wood, rubber and some plastics, but it would be significantly more expensive than generating heat by using natural gas. The increased expense would put the U.S. industrial base at a competitive disadvantage to other nations, particularly China, who is consuming ever increasing amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas to drive its industries.
Other industrial processes are harder to electrify. Cement kilns and glass manufacturers, for instance, need temperatures in excess of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The chemical industry uses fossil fuels as a raw material for its products, with no obvious substitute.
Electric Grids Need Upgrading
Electrification would require enormous changes to the nation’s power grids. In one scenario, electricity demand in the United States would roughly double by 2050 as uses increase and as solar and wind power generate only a portion of the energy that traditional generating technologies generate. To meet that demand, electric utilities would need to add staggering amounts of new carbon-free power while ensuring that all those newly electrified cars, homes and factories do not strain the system and cause blackouts. They would also have to construct large new power lines across the country, both to accommodate renewable projects located far from demand centers and to improve grid reliability. Without permitting reform, transmission projects are very difficult to build.
Last summer, amid a heat wave with electricity demand soaring, California had to ask its residents to avoid charging their electric cars during peak hours, raising questions about whether the grid could handle a surge of new demand. To deal with this, either expensive batteries would be needed to store electricity from excess wind and solar power or consumers will need to be cognizant of times that they can use their appliances so that they do not strain equipment or require the construction of costly new power plants. That means electricity in America may not be available when a consumer wants or needs it.
Electrification of the U.S. economy is an enormous and expensive undertaking that the Biden administration is forcing on Americans through regulation and legislation. With almost 80 percent of U.S. energy coming from fossil fuels that are reliable, abundant and relatively inexpensive compared to the escalating costs of electricity in Western countries, homeowners and companies will be inundated with phenomenal costs to make the transition happen—costs they cannot afford–despite federal subsidies funded by taxpayers wherever the Biden administration can obtain them. The Inflation Reduction Act has subsidies for some homeowners and electric car purchasers that will cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. Biden’s authoritarian government will break the bank of homeowners and the country if Americans let its current laws and regulations continue. Declining economic performance for the United States as a consequence of artificially higher energy costs will weaken our energy, economic and national security as is happening in Europe.