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Ask An Energy Pro: Commercial Electrification

June 15, 2022

We have briefly discussed electrification in our ES blog and how it can benefit the everyday lives of consumers, such as changes in daily-use appliances such as stoves or clothes dryers and even transportation. So how does this apply when our team is considering our commercial client base? We chatted with one of our Energy Managers, Sari Mira, to find out more!

ES: Thanks for talking to us, Sari! Let’s start with how you would describe commercial electrification.

SM: Commercial electrification is converting fossil-fuel-consuming machinery and equipment to electrically powered ones. It’s an essential strategy to combat climate change as it eliminates greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) on the user end (Scopes 1 & 3 in the EPA emissions scopes (EPA-ES) and help commercial industries work towards “Net-Zero” status.

ES: OK, so the same concept for the home, switching from fossil fuel-powered equipment to electric-powered equipment. So, what would electrification look like for commercial businesses?

SM: Commercial electrification would consist of two major components: transportation and space and water conditioning. Each of those components encompasses many sub-components that have their unique benefits and challenges.

ES: Can you describe the major components? What are some ways commercial facilities can shift their usage?

The first component that is crucial to address is transportation, as well as commuting employees’ transportation, as mentioned in Scopes 1 & 3 in the EPA-ES. Converting an organization’s vehicles to an entirely electric fleet offers excellent operational and maintenance savings! Some states and utilities have developed programs to quantify those benefits and incentivize the conversion process.

The second component of commercial electrification, heating and cooling, entails replacing absorption chillers with electric chillers or roof-top units (RTUs) on the cooling side. On the heating side, on the other hand, the solution is not quite as simple. The challenge applies to both space and water heating (note: electric resistance water heating is more common due to its small scale compared to space heating loads). The alternative approach to electrifying space and water heating equipment is variable refrigerant flow heat pumps (VRF HPs).

Heat pumps are, essentially, air conditioners that can reverse the direction of heat transfer. In the summer, they remove heat from the building and transfer it to the environment. In the winter, they remove heat from the environment and transfer it to the building. Heat pumps have been utilized in commercial buildings in moderate climate zones via VRF HPs, as the VRF design allows for the commercial need to condition different spaces individually based on their heating demands.

ES: Earlier, you mentioned climate change, which is a significant factor being considered in commercial industries. Do you have any insight into where our country stands with its current consumption? Where does electrification factor?

With an increased rate of electrification efforts, electric utilities must be equipped to handle the additional demand on the grid. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), implementing an economy-wide electrification strategy could increase U.S. electricity consumption by up to 38% by 2050. The implications inferred by this increase span the power generation end, as well as the transmission of that additional power.

Categories: Ask An Energy Pro, Blog, Industry Insights