Jan 5, 2021 - Energy & Environment

The steady rise of electricity for home heating

Data: Energy Institute at Haas; Map: Axios Visuals
Data: Energy Institute at Haas; Map: Axios Visuals

A new working paper from UC Berkeley business professor Lucas Davis charts the share of U.S. homes that use electricity as their main heating source.

By the numbers: It went from 1% in 1950 to almost 40% by 2018. The paper, using Census data, maps it through the decades (two snapshots are above).

  • It has occurred "mostly without any policy intervention," notes Davis, who works with the school's Energy Institute at Haas.

Why it matters: Going electric for heating and other equipment that now use oil or gas, paired with an increasingly low-carbon power mix, is a tool against global warming.

The intrigue: Davis looked at several forces that have driven the trend.

  • Changes in energy prices — notably a general decline in power prices and rise in gas and heating fuel — has been by far the most important.
  • But there's lots of regional variation in energy costs, heating needs and how much electrification has occurred (as the maps show).

Yes, but: Policies to spur electrification would have differing regional costs and impacts on residents. One of them: "In general, much smaller subsidies would be necessary in warmer states."

The bottom line: "One implication of the research is that, nationally, it may be a lot easier than is generally believed to encourage electrification," Davis writes.

  • There are "large numbers of additional households for whom adopting electric heating would impose relatively modest costs."
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