“Electrifying everything” may require improved electrical service

Sign up to receive daily news updates from CleanTechnica via email. Or follow us on Google News!

At the dawn of time, when I was a child and dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, my family’s home had a fuse box in the basement with four 15-amp circuits. If a fuse blew and there were no replacement parts available, my old Irish grandfather would use a penny as a temporary replacement until someone could go to the hardware store to buy more fuses. Our 60 amp electrical service was considered a big step forward compared to what some of our neighbors had – a fuse box with four 10 amp circuits.

Things have changed a little since then. Today, a new home typically comes with 200-amp electrical service, and some even feature 400-amp service. We use much more electricity now than we did then. Air conditioners, dehumidifiers, electric water heaters, and swimming pools are common in most homes in the United States. And now we’re adding electric vehicles, heat pumps, solar panels, and residential battery storage as well.

The mantra used by people like Project Drawdown, Mark Z. Jacobson, and Tony Seba is “Electrify everything.” Why? Because things that run on electricity are more efficient than things that burn oil or methane. Preventing the Earth from turning into a boiling cauldron will require us to use resources more efficiently. We simply can no longer let most of the energy we produce from burning things go to waste. We used to believe that anything humans did could have a tangible impact on Earth. Now we know better. (Well, some of us do.)

The ins and outs of electrical service upgrades

Nearly 40 million homes in America have 100 amp electrical service. This was considered a great thing during the Carter administration, but it is hardly enough to meet the demands of all-electric homes today, especially as we gravitate toward new technologies that allow electric cars to interface with the utility grid. While many families may want to be part of the clean energy revolution, they will first need to upgrade their electrical services.

Such upgrades are not the kind of weekend project homeowners can do themselves. They require the services of a professional electrician. It’s more than just taking out your old circuit breaker panel and sliding in a new one. The entry cable that connects your electricity meter to the nearest utility pole will need to be upgraded first. This requires coordination between you, your utility company, and your local building inspection department.

Believe it or not, building codes are updated regularly. No one can come into your home and force you to upgrade your electrical service, but once you start the process, everything between the pole and your new breaker panel should be up to code.

Electricians do not work for free. New electrical panels aren’t free either. All of this means that the electrical service upgrade you want done because you bought an electric car, installed solar panels on your roof, bought residential battery storage, or replaced your furnace with a heat pump, is going to cost some money. $5,000 to $10,000 is routine these days. If you can accomplish this at a lower cost, you are way ahead of the game.

Investment versus expenditure

Many of us are cheap. We want to reduce the amount we spend on maintaining our homes so that we have money to buy fun things. But the money spent to upgrade your electrical service is not an expense, it is an investment. By allowing you to use more efficient equipment to heat and cool your home, you will save money on your monthly utility bill every month for as long as you own your home. Up-to-date electrical service also makes your home more attractive to potential future buyers.

Today, many companies offer so-called “smart panels” that contain advanced circuit breakers with IoT capability. To turn a traditional crusher on or off, someone would have to go into the basement and actually turn it on. Smart breakers can be programmed remotely to limit the amount of electricity supplied to each individual circuit. Utility companies are increasingly using demand response technologies to manage peak loads.

If you have a smart panel, your local utility may offer you rebates if you let them manage your electricity usage during periods of high demand. You also get the ability to turn circuits on and off remotely via an app on your smartphone. These panels cost around $5,000 and are clearly not for everyone. But if you’re upgrading your electrical service anyway, you might consider installing one now. They will be in high demand in the future and your home will be more valuable as a result.

Image courtesy: Newcharge

There are some things you can do to avoid the cost of upgrading your electrical service. Canary Media suggests using a circuit sharing plug like the NeoCharge that allows you to connect an EV charger and dryer to the same circuit. Only one can be used at a time and you can control which one has priority. Induction stoves need much less electricity to cook food than a traditional electric stove. Upgrading the insulation in our home and sealing leaks can reduce heating and cooling demand. Heat pumps are more efficient than window air conditioners.

Tax rebates and incentives

There are rebates and incentives available to upgrade electric services, but they are a mixture of federal, state, local, and utility programs. Many utility companies have rebate programs that are offered on the basis that homes that are upgraded will use more electricity. Some also encourage demand response programs that use Internet-connected smart panels and other devices, because reducing energy consumption as needed is cheaper than building new generating plants.

Two good sources for information about available rebates and incentives are Rewireing America and the U.S. Department of Energy. There is a $600 federal tax credit for electrical service upgrades that include a new access panel. Low-income families can qualify for a rebate of up to $14,000.

Get a few dollars a month to help support independent cleantech coverage that helps accelerate the cleantech revolution!

Ready meals

The good news is that the “Electrify Everything” movement is the key to reducing dependence on fossil fuels. The bad news is that participating in it may require some investment by individuals in order to get the rewards. Nobody wants to spend money they don’t need. No one wants to put on a new roof or replace their windows. But time goes by. Things get worse and new technologies become available.

At some point, those 40 million homes in America with electrical service of 100 amps or less will need to upgrade. There is money available to help pay for these upgrades, but homeowners will have to shoulder much of the financial burden. The payoff is a home that does more with less electricity and will be worth more in the future. We’ve come a long way since the days when 60 amp electrical service was considered more than adequate.

Do you have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Latest CleanTechnica.TV videos


CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *