Will we eventually evolve to an all-electric based PHVAC world?

Let’s turn back the hands of time to the 1970s, and gather round you youngsters born after 1980 because you’re not going to believe what mechanical contractors faced while fighting to keep their vehicles gassed up and on the road to service customer’s needs. 

Starting in October 1973, the United States — coast-to-coast — suddenly faced a shortage of gasoline. It wasn’t uncommon for folks to wait in lines that took hours before you finally got to the pump, only to discover there was no more gas! God help you if you attempted to line-jump and tempers were mighty short. Gas stations resorted to limiting how much gasoline you could purchase, and you could only purchase on certain days if your license plate ended in an odd or even number. 

The company I worked for had a long-standing credit account with a gas station that also took care of their fleet for repairs, oil changes and inspections. We were granted access to the gas pumps after hours and instructed to turn off our lights before approaching the gas station, which was also in a self-imposed blackout. Clandestine fill-ups! In that era, there was no taking your work truck home; you drove your own vehicles to/from work, so we too had to deal with the crisis. Fortunately, my family had always used the same Phillips 66 service station for all of our needs, and Big Al (the owner) invited me to stop by late at night with no lights on to fill up my car. 

In June of 1973, gas was less than 50-cents a gallon, by May of 1974, the cost per gallon was more than $4! The root cause was the U.S. production of oil had gone from our supplying 2/3 of global production to just 16.5% of global oil production by 1973, which left us vulnerable to artificially created shortages from nation members of OPEC. According to www.usinflationcalculator.com, $4 in 1973 would be equivalent to $23.24 today. 

The second “oil shock” came in 1979, and we went right back to even/odd license plate numbers to determine if you could purchase gasoline. Once again, we filled up after dark at a station also in the dark. 


Let’s move to 2020 and look at some insanity occurring in several locations. No gas for you now means no natural gas — not even for cooking!

Berkeley, California, was the first U.S. city to ban natural gas in new homes. The same Berkeley that has banned sexist terms like manhole cover from public discourse and literature. Wouldn’t it be a hoot to be a fly on the wall when they delve into plumbing terms like ballcock valves, gas cock, etc.?  

An excerpt from the San Francisco Chronicle states: “The natural gas ordinance, introduced by Councilwoman Kate Harrison, requires all new single-family homes, town homes and small apartment buildings to have electric infrastructure. After its passage, Harrison thanked the community and her colleagues ‘for making Berkeley the first city in California and the United States to prohibit natural gas infrastructure in new buildings.’” 

Brings to mind the song from the movie, “Easy Rider.” The song, “Don’t Bogart Me,” went something like, “Don’t bogart that joint, my friend, pass it over to me.” No thanks Berkley — whatever you’re smoking, I don’t want any. 

In the article, “Gas vs. Electric Stoves: Which is really more efficient?” Stephanie Watson writes: “The clear winner in the energy efficiency battle between gas and electric is gas. It takes about three times as much energy to produce and deliver electricity to your stove. According to the California Energy Commission, a gas stove will cost you less than half as much to operate (provided that you have an electronic ignition, not a pilot light).” 

The real kicker, from my perspective, is that the electric stove, heat pump and/or inverter heat pump appliance is one that pollutes elsewhere. Unless you are utilizing wind (a whole other can of worms) or solar PV power, you’re all-electric home is more likely than not to be powered by a natural gas power plant. Let’s take a look at the power plant and grid’s power-production-to-home-use efficiency losses.

According to www.needtoknow.nas.edu, the typical gas-fired power plant conversion of heat-energy into electrical power is 42% efficiency. When’s the last time you installed any natural gas appliance that operated at 42% efficiency? If you’ve ever stood under high-voltage transmission lines, you’ve likely heard those transmission losses crackling over-head. Transmission of electricity also heats up those lines, which makes them sag a bit more and transmission losses are greater in hot weather. According to the chart for California, http://bit.ly/39koPPP, that adds another 9.2% line loss for a net efficiency of just 32.8% for the electricity being provided to those all electric homes in Berkley, California. 

An article from USA Today states: “Natural gas is a fossil fuel, mostly methane, and produces 33% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas causing climate change.”


Ok, let’s say we’re all on board the climate train and in 100% agreement it’s the single most dangerous crisis we face today. Why would we blindly flounder into a ludicrous ban on natural gas in new homes when it is as plain as the nose on the proponents’ faces that they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces by requiring homeowners to use a 32.8% efficiency energy source for electricity that simply pollutes elsewhere?   

No problem, some say, we just need more “green” alternative energy sources. To some extent, I can’t fault that thinking. We installed an 11.28-PV solar system for one of our customers who wanted to offset his heating/cooling geothermal power consumption, electric water heater usage and a fair portion of his lighting power usage, and it did just that. 

His is a grid-connected system and the grid in his area can handle the give-and-take from his PV array.  My immediate neighbor had more than enough PV-power to offset 100% of his power consumption, but his desire to go greener drove him to install a wind-generated power tower that exceeded township height restrictions, so all nearby residents had to sign off. While it hasn’t been killing off birds, and it is very quiet (we can’t hear it at all), it has broken down no less than six times and has not yet passed its first birthday! His windmill will never pay for itself. But they’re just two tiny cogs in the grid’s wheel. 

Imagine if 80% of homes had their same, or similar, alternative power systems? How will the grid handle that influx of electrons surging up/down as wind and sunshine fluctuate? Then there’s the challenge for the power companies to have enough flexibility to ramp up/down production as winds die off or cloudy days settle in. Not to mention the loss of PV input to the grid at night. In other words, when highest demand exists, the grid receives the least from alternative energy sources like PV. 

From where I sit, it looks to me like Berkeley, California, and the other cities joining the “No More Gas for You” band-wagon are putting the cart before the horse. Will we eventually evolve to an all-electric based PHVAC world? Will gas and oil fossil fuels become as extinct as the dinosaurs that begat them? You can have my gas grill when you pry it from my cold dead hands.    

This article is also available at: https://www.pmmag.com/articles/102779-dave-yates-no-gas-for-you