4 min read

Electrifying everything [Nexus Newsletter #117]

This is possible. Yes, it is heroic. Yes, the timeline is now. A good climate outcome is, we do this in 15 to 20 years, a terrible climate outcome is, we drag our feet and we take 40 or 50.
Saul Griffith

Hey friends,

In the last few weeks, I've started exploring the replacement of my 18-year-old gas-fired hot water heater.

She's a real beauty

Sounds boring, right? It's not... bear with me.

Turns out, our collective fight to mitigate climate change is buried in these seemingly mundane device replacements.

Why? How? That's the focus of Saul Griffith's new book Electrify. I finished it this weekend and recommend you check it out too. He's mostly talking about our homes—but the same logic applies to our commercial buildings

As explained in the book, the most important unknown metric in a building's road to Zero Carbon is its total Committed Emissions. That is the sum total of the emissions that all machines inside it will emit while it they live out their lifetime.

For example, if you bought a natural gas burning boiler last year, it'll keep burning gas for another 20 years. We now know that if all of the machines that exist on the planet today live out their natural life, the committed emissions of those machines take us to about 1.8 degrees Celsius, over three degrees Fahrenheit of warming.

The practical reality is every time any of our machines fails or needs to be replaced, we need to upgrade it with a zero carbon option. And the only real zero-carbon option that has emerged is electrification. That means we need to make the following shifts:

  • Boilers → Heat Pumps
  • Furnaces & Packaged RTUs → Heat Pumps
  • Water Heaters → Heat Pumps
  • Combustion Engines → EVs
  • Gas cooking → Induction
  • Clothes Dryers → Heat Pumps

Everything that burns fossil fuels must go. Saul calls this "end-game decarbonization". We don't have time for another round of like-for-like replacements... sorry.

And this requires a shift in focus for us building technology nerds. Monitoring and data analytics and small tweaks are still important, but it's the capital projects where the climate fight will be won or lost. And this fight ain't easy.

Back to my water heater as an example: It's anything but a simple, no-brainer, like-for like replacement despite my commitment to do the right thing:

  • The local plumbers are uneducated and scared of new technology.
  • The local utility has rebates but they're not going to cover my extra costs.
  • My wife is skeptical about the extra costs because she's (legitimately) skeptical that our partially-decarbonized home will be worth more when we sell it.

In our commercial buildings, it's even more complex:

  • We need building owners to set new electric-only standards in their portfolios.
  • We need them allocate capital budgets and plan ahead.
  • We need them to work with their tenants to navigate split incentives.
  • We need consulting engineers that will be their guide to the technical side.
  • We need the supply chain to smooth away the complexity in doing new things.
  • We need electric utilities to lead the transition.
  • We need low interest financing to cover the extra costs.
  • We need permits and regulations and paperwork to make the right decision easier, not harder.
  • We need Committed Emissions to be reflected in our real estate transactions.

The good news? We don't need to invent anything new. The technology is already here.

—James Dice, Founder of Nexus Labs

P.S. The doors open tomorrow for Cohort 4 of our Foundations Course. Catch up here if you missed the deets.


✖ At the Nexus

Here’s everything worth sharing from Nexus HQ this week:

★ PODCAST: 🎧 #090: The democratization of building controlsEpisode 90 is a conversation with Alex Rohweder, CEO of J2 Innovations, a building controls and integration software company out of California and owned by Siemens. We talked about the democratization of controls technology, Alex’s definition of a true platform, and whether or not he sees the app store concept taking off in the buildings space.

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★ MEMBERS-ONLY EVENTS THIS MONTH:

  • Subject Matter Expert Workshop: Pro member Pete Swanson, Digital Technology Lead (AUS) at Mott MacDonald, will present on his experience in navigating how to brief with clients, how to understand what they really want, how to convert that into something a contractor can practically implement, the best ways to address the inevitable value engineering / cost management process and 3 key ways to ensure that when you deliver an Elephant your client isn’t expecting a Giraffe.
  • Member Gathering: Pro member Lee Hodgkinson, Head of Sustainability & Technical Services at Dream Unlimited (one of Canada’s leading real estate companies with approximately $10 billion of assets under management), will chat with the group about Dream's plans for Net Zero and the technology involved.

Join Nexus Pro now to get the invites.

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Meme by David Blanch

★ MEMBERS-ONLY MARKET ANALYSIS: Reactions to JCI's lawsuitsSince I sent out the news about JCI suing upstarts, I’ve received 35 email replies and our LinkedIn post has been viewed over 25,000 times. I even learned about a third lawsuit—this time versus KMC Controls. It’s an understatement to say this has struck a nerve within our community.

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★ ON LINKEDIN:

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★ LONG READ OF THE WEEK: Electrifying Space Heating in Existing Commercial Buildings: Opportunities and Challenges (ACEEE)

Given these realities, electrification of commercial space heating is likely to proceed slowly without policy support.

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👋 That's all for this week. See you next Tuesday!