We Need to Electrify, Heatpumpify, and Insulate Our Way Out of the Current Crises

We have a carbon crisis and an energy crisis and we have the tools to deal with both.

Nordstream 2 pipeline
The Nordstream 2 pipeline .

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

There is a war in Europe that is jeopardizing the gas supply that keeps homes warm and generators turning. Meanwhile, we have a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which notes that "any further delay in concerted global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all."

For years, I have been writing that we don't have an energy crisis—we have a carbon crisis. Yet here we are and we have both at once.

All of this is driving North American oil companies and the politicians they pay for to demand that the taps be opened wide. The American Petroleum Institute is calling on President Joe Biden to permit more natural gas drilling and liquified natural gas (LNG) exports. They quote a big producer: “The United States and United States LNG industry, powered by American shale, is a solution that could prevent this type of crisis that we're seeing over there in Europe from happening."

A group of senators wrote to U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm promoting pipelines and more gas production.

"Increased production and export volumes of U.S. Natural gas encourage developing nations to use a cleaner fuel source. Investing in domestic oil and gas production creates U.S. jobs. It lowers domestic and global emissions. It also increases U.S. energy security and makes us essential to the energy security of others."

Meanwhile, up in Canada, John Ivison of The National Post writes that the industry is calling for more pipelines and terminals. Thom Dawson, vice president of an LNG company, says: “While sending troops is important, this would have a bigger impact. It would offer a long-term 20-30 year option for Europe to push back against Russia.” Chris Hatch, a climate columnist for the National Observer, writes:

"The chambers of social media echoed with posts from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, its front groups, Canada Proud and others mirroring the American Petroleum Institute’s appeals to resurrect Keystone XL. Their answer to generations of oil-fuelled wars is apparently to entrench dependence on fossil fuels even more deeply, building high-carbon infrastructure that would lock in fossil fuels beyond mid-century and driving us even faster into an era of climate conflicts."

In his recent post, "Fracking Isn't the Solution to Europe's Dependency on Russian Oil and Gas—Reducing Demand Is," Treehugger's Sami Grover reported on a similar trend in the United Kingdom, and asked a lot of good questions, including: "What if Western governments invested in a mass mobilization in pursuit of simple, energy-saving measures for homeowners and renters alike?"

Grover is not alone in looking for mass mobilizations. Economist Adam Ozimek calls for a whole Manhattan Project for cheap green energy. Tweeters pointed out that we already had a Manhattan Project—been there, done that. But nuclear did not quite end up too cheap to meter, as the saying used to go.

Others had simpler, quicker solutions. Architect Mike Eliason pointed to an article he wrote in Treehugger and picked out a few suggestions from it that could reduce gas and energy consumption anywhere in the world. Some of these are already happening in Europe; expect to see a lot more countries hop on this train.

Policy analyst Michael Hoexter nails it with his response: We don't need to invent anything new, we know what to do. And that's to do what Grover and Hoexner both suggest—mobilize.

Grover had other suggestions along the lines of Eliason's like promoting cycling, shifting to electrification, and "undertake a serious communication effort asking citizens to conserve, and supporting those experiencing fuel poverty." I have had my own mantras, which I teach to my sustainable design students:


Lloyd Alter

They entail insulating everything to reduce demand with insulation, decarbonizing by electrifying everything, not using any more than you need (so riding e-bikes instead of cars), and not doing the techno-optimist thing and waiting for small nuclear reactors or hyperloops. Do what is simple and straightforward.

Perhaps the best balance can be found in the post about insulation and heatpumpification. Eliason calls for Passivhaus retrofits; British engineer Toby Cambray invented the word "heatpumpification" and suggests a compromise.

"We’re not saying the grid could never cope with wholesale heatpumpification; we’re saying it would be expensive to make it able to cope. What’s more is that inter-seasonal electricity storage technology isn’t ready yet, a clear counterargument to concerns about the rollout of deep energy retrofit. With the latter, the technology (i.e., fluffy stuff) is well established and the barriers are 'just' political and logistical."

Fluffy stuff is insulation. We know how to use it and caulk to dramatically reduce the energy consumption of our buildings.

As noted earlier, we are having both an energy crisis and a carbon crisis. Pumping more gas may solve the former but not the latter. Electrifying, heatpumpifying, insulating, and bicycling solve both. And if we get mobilizing, we could do this sooner rather than later.