Does electricity’s bad rap need changing?


electric-heat-saves-moneyOf course, as electricians, we promote electricity for applications like heating your house or cooking your food, but Steve Maxwell from the Toronto Star gives some compelling pro-electricity arguments so that we don’t have to!

Most notably, he talks about how the way we generate electricity has grown by leaps and bounds, making it much more sustainable. Renewable resources like solar and wind help make electricity a whole lot greener than it was in the 80s when everyone was heating their houses electrically. As an added bonus, electrical heat requires less maintenance. Baseboard electric heaters are virtually maintenance free and forced air furnaces really only need to be maintained yearly.

But again, don’t take our word for it! Take a look at what Steve Maxwell has to say on the subject:

The reputation of electric heat is changing, and that’s nothing new.

My first memories of electric heat go back to the early 1970s, when more than a few of my neighbours enthusiastically scrapped perfectly good oil furnaces in favour of electric baseboard heaters. It was the way of the future, they told us, and that seemed good. But by the time we actually got to the future in the 1980s, everyone hated electric heat because it cost so much.

That prompted lots of Canadians to turn off perfectly good baseboard heaters, installing natural gas or oil furnaces again. Depending on where you live these days, we’re coming around full circle once more. Electric heat is gaining in popularity for several surprising and legitimate reasons.

When it comes to energy, people love or hate it based on price. That said, there’s a problem. It’s actually quite difficult to accurately compare the price of different forms of home heating energy ahead of time because the different options are expressed in different units and different prices.

Oil and propane are sold by the litre, though a litre of oil has much more energy in it than a litre of propane. Natural gas is sold by cents per cubic metre, and electricity by cents per kilowatt hour — two entirely different units of measure. Oil and propane usually have delivery charges built into the price, while natural gas and electricity rates don’t always include delivery fees. The cost of electricity varies depending on when you use it, too. And if all this weren’t enough, different kinds of furnaces convert fuel into heat with differing levels of efficiency.

All these factors mean that public perception of the cost of various heating options is highly susceptible to prejudice and mistaken information. I’ve taken the time to run the numbers, and assuming furnace oil at $1.20 per litre, it costs about the same to heat with as electricity at 0.14 cents per kWh. Heating with propane is about 10 per cent cheaper than this, assuming a price of 79 cents per litre. At the moment, natural gas is way cheaper than anything — about 75 per cent less than all these other options — but natural gas prices are also volatile and have been much higher in the past. Natural gas is also simply unavailable to millions of Canadians.

Based on the numbers, electric heat doesn’t deserve its current and long-standing reputation as an expensive way to heat. And while it’s really no more costly than many other options, electricity actually has two hidden advantages that can make it more attractive. The first is the way that generation of electricity is changing.

It used to be that every time I turned on a light switch, took an electrically-heated shower, or ate some electrically-cooked food, I felt guilty. That’s because I knew that somewhere out there I was personally responsible for the formation of a little bit more CANDU nuclear waste or another belch of new carbon dioxide from some coal-fired electrical generating station. Today, however, I’m feeling less guilty.

Wind generation and photovoltaics are significantly greening up the reality of grid-delivered electricity. Once upon a time, electricity looked clean but wasn’t; today, electricity actually is becoming greener all the time. And if you’re the kind of person who wants to step on the planet as lightly as possible, you can always sign up and pay more for completely green electric power from specialty suppliers.

Another hidden advantage of electric heat is the possibility of very efficient control of temperature in various rooms, and new technology is making it easier. Thermostats that allow room temperatures to be set differently for different times of the day have been around for a while, but wireless operation of time-based heating controls is quite new and worthwhile.

… Electric heat isn’t the best option for every situation, but it’s certainly making more sense as the world changes. A revolution in technology, coupled with smart heaters and control systems are making sure of that.

– Read the entire Toronto Star article.

Picture from: Thomas Net

One of the items Maxwell talks about in his full article is the programmable thermostat as a great way to save money on electrical bills. If programmable thermostats are something you’re interested in, check out our post “Do Programmable Thermostats Really Save Energy?