Why States Need to Ban New Gas Hookups in Buildings (in 5 Charts)

The building sector’s climate impact does not receive enough scrutiny. That will change in 2020, the author writes.

Fossil fuels, primarily gas, are a fixture in millions of American homes and businesses, but the building sector’s climate impact hasn’t received the same scrutiny as coal and gas in the power sector or oil in the transportation sector.

Fortunately, that’s changing.

In 2019, more than 20 California cities jump-started a building decarbonization movement when they took steps to eliminate gas from new buildings, ensuring they will instead be constructed with electric appliances such as heat pumps. At the end of the year, Brookline, Massachusetts joined the movement, and more cities around the country are expected to enact electrification measures in 2020.

The gas industry is mobilizing to oppose these measures, setting the stage for local battles across the country. 2020 could mark a turning point for building-sector emissions, according to a new Rocky Mountain Institute analysis.

Here are five charts illustrating why a growing number of cities and states are turning their attention to fossil fuels in buildings and why the electrification movement is critical to addressing climate change.

The U.S. Electric Grid Is Getting Cleaner, But Not the Buildings Sector

Thanks to the rapid decline of coal generation and the growth of wind and solar power, the electric grid is quickly getting cleaner. As a result, the U.S. electric sector reduced its carbon emissions by 26 percent from 2005 to 2018. Preliminary estimates for 2019 indicate that this trend is accelerating, with another 10 percent drop just from 2018 to 2019.

Building-sector emissions, on the other hand, remain largely unchanged despite energy efficiency gains. This is because more than half a million new customers are added to the U.S. gas system each year.

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