The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released earlier this month warned that to stay within 1.5 °C of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 or earlier before declining. The report gave the effort to decarbonize buildings through electrification more urgency, but scientists have long known the risks of using natural gas indoors. Electrified buildings can draw power from renewable sources, but natural gas remains many buildings’ primary energy source in San Mateo County, despite its large greenhouse gas footprint and associated hazards. Three expert speakers shared their knowledge about building electrification during our April Virtual Happy Hour.

Blake Herrschaft, Building Electrification Programs Manager at Peninsula Clean Energy highlighted his organization’s efforts to make building electrification easy and accessible. Peninsula Clean Energy is San Mateo’s County Community Choice Aggregation (CCA),a community-controlled, not-for-profit, joint powers agency. The agency offers a variety of rebates for homeowners to replace gas appliances with fully-electric options and supports cities to adopt codes to require electrification in new structures. This year, Peninsula Clean Energy plans to expand the scope of its efforts to more directly address electrification in existing buildings and rental properties.

Diane Bailey, Executive Director of Menlo Spark, a local nonprofit helping the City of Menlo Park adopt a suite of measures by 2025 that are necessary to reach net zero annual carbon by 2030, illustrated the hazards posed by natural gas and informed attendees about the public campaigns to electrify buildings in San Mateo County. In many suburban areas, gas use from buildings can cause up to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas, made up mostly of methane, is a potent greenhouse gas itself and can result in dangerous leaks, fires and even explosions. Also a leader of the Campaign for Fossil Free Buildings in Silicon Valley, Bailey highlighted the campaign’s Electric Home Ambassador Program which allows neighbors who have electrified their homes to assist others who are phasing out and eliminating gas.

Adrienne Etherton, Sustainability Manager at the City of Brisbane, CA, provided insight into steps cities can take to promote electrification. In 2020, Brisbane received an Innovation Award from Sustainable San Mateo County for adopting a Reach Code that promotes electric vehicle charging, building electrification and solar power. Reach Codes consist of building codes that go beyond State energy requirements. Furthermore, Brisbane’s Building Efficiency Program requires that owners of buildings of 10,000 square feet or more report energy and water use to the City. Building owners must achieve high energy efficiency or take corrective action to reduce their consumption. Increasing energy efficiency makes the transition away from natural gas easier. Achieving electrification in her own home, Etherton urged attendees to avail themselves of existing rebates and ambassador programs. Though the many benefits of electrification are clear, ending the use of natural gas in San Mateo County will require collective action from individuals, businesses and local governments.

By Roscoe Escobar

Watch the recorded Happy Hour below:

See the slides used by our presenters here and find answers to audience questions here.