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Study: Electrification Is a Misguided Approach to Tackle Climate Change

A recently published peer-reviewed study from UCLA argues that energy efficiency through electrification in the residential sector – including energy efficiency actions, renewable generation systems and electric vehicles –faces significant constraints, questioning its overall efficacy to tackle climate change as a policy.

Portrayed as the ultimate climate change panacea, electrification is increasingly appearing in energy transition policies at the state level. However, researchers at UCLA argue that these policies, aimed to removing the choice of natural gas and driving electrification, actually encourage households to consume more energy and segregate those who cannot join the electrification bandwagon.

First, the study reports that states have implemented electrification-related policies to address climate change and reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of the energy services/devices, instead of halting energy demand. However, by urging households to move forward with electrification, assuming this measure would effectively decarbonize societies, more energy is consumed:

“Worldwide, wealthier groups lead more materially and energetically intensive lives than the less affluent, consuming in excess of what they require to meet their essential needs.”

Naturally, this creates an energy efficiency paradox. Despite having households adopting multiple pro-electrification programs, the fact that ultimately more energy is consumed is at odds with energy efficiency policies to reduce GHGs.

Simply put, ‘electrify everything’ policies incentivize consumers – particularly privileged ones – to demand more energy based on the false assumption that their energy intensity would diminish.

Second, ‘electrify everything’ policies are actually disadvantageous for the most vulnerable groups. Researchers argue that state policies designed to reduce GHG emissions through these cure-all electrification programs only benefit the wealthier households who can afford switching to new energy efficient appliances, installing solar panels or even buying a new electric vehicle. This limits the participation of disadvantaged communities, unveiling the inequality of this programs.

In fact, researchers note that these policies exacerbate energy access inequality among disadvantage communities. Despite existing redistributive policy measures aimed at increasing the participation of these communities, according to the study, the programs are:

“Consistently under-utilized by lower-income and minority cohorts due to financial barriers, limited awareness of such programs, and lower rates of property ownership.”

For instance, a California solar panel program geared at low-income homeowners presents significant eligibility restrictions for applicants, including “own and live in their home” or “live in a home defined as affordable housing.” Thus, it creates a “skewed distribution of benefits towards those who utilize the most energy.”

The assumption imbedded in these electrification policies – that everyone has the equal opportunity to access these efficiency programs – is simply untrue. The result? Unequal participation in these programs generates implicit subsidies for the rich, while the poor and middle-class ratepayers shoulder the energy burden. In other words, electrification is the anti-Robin Hood.

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