Inefficient Building Electrification Will Require Massive Buildout of Renewable Energy and Seasonal Energy Storage

Jonathan J. Buonocore, Parichehr Salimifard, Zeyneb Magavi & Joseph G. Allen

Building electrification is essential to many full-economy decarbonization pathways. However, current decarbonization modeling in the United States (U.S.) does not incorporate seasonal fluctuations in building energy demand, seasonal fluctuations in electricity demand of electrified buildings, or the ramifications of this extra demand for electricity generation. Here, we examine historical energy data in the U.S. to evaluate current seasonal fluctuation in total energy demand and management of seasonal fluctuations. We then model additional electricity demand under different building electrification scenarios and the necessary increases in wind or solar PV to meet this demand. We found that U.S. monthly average total building energy consumption varies by a factor of 1.6×—lowest in May and highest in January. This is largely managed by fossil fuel systems with long-term storage capability. All of our building electrification scenarios resulted in substantial increases in winter electrical demand, enough to switch the grid from summer to winter peaking. Meeting this peak with renewables would require a 28× increase in January wind generation, or a 303× increase in January solar, with excess generation in other months. Highly efficient building electrification can shrink this winter peak—requiring 4.5× more generation from wind and 36× more from solar.

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