Old Electrical Panels Hinder Full Residential Electrification

Residential Solar Panels Image by Charlie Wilde from Pixabay
Published On
Sep 7, 2021

According to an August 2021 report from Pecan Street, a residential electricity research firm based in Austin, Texas, electric service panels in up to 48 million U.S. single-family homes will need to be upgraded to fully transition away from fossil fuels and use electricity for space and water heating, cooking, vehicle charging and other applications. “Addressing an Electrification Roadblock: Residential Electric Panel Capacity” notes that with an average cost of $2,000 for an upgraded panel, that represents a nearly $100 billion impediment to residential electrification.

“Further, we estimate that more than half of the new homes being built today have electric panels that will not allow for full home electrification,” according to the report. That’s approximately 550,000 homes built in 2020 alone that face what the report calls “a needless roadblock to transitioning away from natural gas.”

The report took a closer look at how the existing electric panel capacity in most homes could be a roadblock to electrification unless three things happen. First, panel sizing needs to be addressed. Second, building and energy codes need to be updated. Third, utilities need to introduce targeted incentive programs.

“If electric panel upgrades are not managed proactively through policy and incentive programs, the cost and hassle have the potential to be an obstacle for millions of consumers trying to electrify their homes,” the report stated.

Electric panel upgrade costs for a home can range from $1,000 to $5,000, and, the report noted, it can take weeks to navigate the electrical permitting process and hire a licensed electrician.

To overcome these hurdles, the report stated that incentives should be offered for upgrading electric panels in existing residential buildings. In addition, state and local governments should update their codes for construction of new homes to require that their panel capacity be sufficient for full electrification of buildings and transportation (i.e., electric vehicle charging at home).

The report noted that most all-electric homes will require at least a 200A electric service panel.

“This minimum panel size could be a requirement for new construction written into municipal, state or national electric, building or energy codes,” said the report. “These policy changes would remove critical roadblocks to full electrification and avoid combustion fuel technology lock-in, which would result in continued GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions from these fuels for decades to come.”

The report further noted that there is also an issue of energy transition equity involved, with lower-income customers often unable to make investments in newer, more efficient panels. To address this, the report suggested that utilities can play a role in helping make upgrades possible through rebates or incentives.

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