According to independent federal MP Allegra Spender, the difficulties people face when trying to electrify their homes is one of the most common issues her inner-suburban Sydney constituents raise with her.
“The difficulties people in apartments face in installing EV chargers ….are the same difficulties they face when trying to electrify their homes more generally,” Spender told the Smart Energy Council annual conference in May.
“Whether that be installing solar, getting a heat-pump, or replacing the gas stovetop.”
Spender has a point. While the case for quitting gas, installing solar (where possible), and going all-electric in homes (and garages) becomes ever more clear-cut – cheaper to run, cleaner, smarter, healthier – the up-front costs and logistics are another matter, particularly when you have an existing home with network-connected gas appliances.
Spender suggests – as have others – setting up “one-stop-shops” for household electrification that provide families with bespoke information on how and when and what to install.
But while we wait for these useful sounding places to establish themselves [get cracking, rooftop solar industry!], the next best thing is asking a lot of questions.
We did just that on this week’s Solar Insiders podcast with engineer, electrician and energy industry veteran Ty Christopher, who has had an all-electric house in NSW for decades and reckons it hasn’t hurt a bit.
“My own home I’ve built myself 25 years ago… it’s been all-electric for the entirety of that time …And as I say, my kids… they don’t think their life has been Amish or any different to any of their friends. It’s been zero change to lifestyle as a result.”
But as Christopher himself concedes, he would say that, being an electrical engineer with a career in the power industry.
For those with less qualifications and some work to do, here are a few choice pointers on going all-electric. (For all of them, listen to the podcast here.)
Some costs are unavoidable
“The bottom line is the newer your home, the cheaper it’s going to be to go all electric and the older your home, the more expensive that’s going to be – and unfortunately, that applies to everything (in home ownership).
“If you’re in a very old home, brace yourself. This is this is never going to be cheap. It’s the same as if you wanted to replace the entire kitchen or bathroom.”
In an old home, one of the big costs might be a switchboard upgrade
“Particularly if it’s an ‘and’ situation; an induction cooktop and a heat pump, and perhaps larger-sized reverse cycle air conditioning.
“If a person is wanting to do all of those things at once or simultaneously with a home that’s in the … 40, 50, 60-year range, the reality is the electrical system in that home … was never designed to cope with that sort of electrical load. So there are going to be unfortunately, substantial upgrade costs to do the retrofit.”
A three-phase electrical system is not an essential ingredient
“I mean, if you want a honking big [induction stove top] … if you’re Gordon Ramsay …then yes, a 40 amp induction heater …[is] right at the upper end of a single phase circuit’s capacity, sure. But the majority of induction cooktops are in the 20 to 30 amp range… [and able to be accommodated on a single phase].
“So saying that, hey, you definitely need three-phase to go all electric in your home – that is a myth. That’s not the case at all.
“If you have a very, very large home, and you’re going to want to put in place a large amount of electrical load and even a large amount of solar generation, perhaps, then three phase does make a lot of sense. But it’s not correct to say that it’s absolutely necessary or compulsory.”
Heat pump hot water systems are great – but they need room to breathe
“The best thing that I’d say to anyone … [installing] a heat pump or air conditioning unit is give it some room to breathe, let it have enough air and room around it circulating for it to operate efficiently. That will actually allow the fans and the cooling units to cycle on and off, rather than running 100% of the time.”
“It’d be twee of me in the current skills shortage environment to say, ‘Oh, get more than one quote.’ …I know what it’s like, if you can get someone out there to give you a quote, you’ve won the lottery a lot of the time in the current environment.
“[Instead] perhaps tap into some of those informal networks and local social networks to find out who’s good and who’s worth talking to. You’ll usually find there will be somebody who’s local or semi local who has done the right thing by enough people. And that word of mouth reputation is really, I would suggest, … the best thing to tap into.”
Note: One Step’s sister site RenewEconomy is launching a special series on electrification next week. Please so watch out for some fascinating podcasts, explainers, how to articles and myth-busters.