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De-gasification is a smart investment – let’s incentivise that

As published on The Fifth Estate, 31 October 2023.
Written by Bruce Easton, Ecovantage

Two of Bruce Easton’s neighbours recently installed new gas appliances. There are several challenges to degasifying households and more than a few ideas of how to deal with that but surely stopping the sale of appliances is an easy place to start, he argues.

Getting households off gas is a very popular idea right now and for good reasons:

    • Technological improvements in heat pumps (air and water) and induction cooktops have allowed the householder to heat, cool and cook more efficiently with electricity than gas
    • Gas is expensive to use and likely to become more so
    • Gas is unhealthy, polluting both in the house when used and in our suburbs as it leaks into the air from old corroded and cracked pipes
    • The provision and maintenance of the gas infrastructure is expensive and will become more so (per house) as the number of connections reduce
    • Reducing gas use will reduce the need to frack and drill

The Victorian government’s recent decision to ban gas from all new development is both bold and correct. However, new development only accounts for a small percentage of the building stock each year. Well over 90 per cent of our housing stock is existing and will continue to exist for many years.

To avoid 50+ years of not just mining and pumping, but also maintaining reticulated gas networks up and down our tens of thousands of residential streets, we need to degasify – not just through not building with gas, but focusing on removing the gas appliances from the existing houses.

We also need to stop making and selling new gas appliances.

This is a huge job, a capital intensive and expensive one, but well worth it in the long run. We will cut our energy use and cost, improve specific health outcomes and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

There are over 9 million households in Australia. Most of these are connected to gas, with the greatest penetration in Victoria.  Based on the estimated 2 million Victorian houses on gas as an example, the capital outlay would be in the region of $10 billion to replace hot water services, gas ducted or wall heating, ovens and cooktops with the highly efficient electric alternatives.

Workforce capacity will be stretched. A team of two to three skilled tradies can install about five hot water systems a day, 30 in a good week, and 1500 in a year of solid work.

We have several million installations to carryout, which would take several hundred dedicated teams well past 2030 to complete. Then there’s the work to replace gas heating and cooking and recycle all the old appliances being removed.

It is such a big job – it would take years and a fortune to complete.

But this provides an opportunity to build capacity and plan an optimal approach.

Incentives are available for solar PV, a hot water changeover, and more recently the move to efficient electrical heating and cooling. The fuel switching rebates are not enough and there are no rebates as yet to install an induction cooktop or remove the gas meter. The incentives to fuel switch and complete the degas will need to improve in the near future.

Those designing the incentive schemes need to consider the opportunity to deliver the ideal of an all electric home, powered by rooftop solar in a suburb or town without reticulated gas.

“Low hanging fruit”, by coupling an incentive to remove the gas meter to the existence of solar PV on the house, (over 3 million and growing in both number and capacity), will immediately encourage the solar household to complete the transition from gas and achieve the goal and decouple.

The task previously delivered by gas is now electric and much of it delivered from the roof.

Self consumption will be increased, and the infamous duck will be slightly less curvy as more is used rather than pumped out to the grid.

The main benefit is that gas usage is reduced, and self-consumption of solar PV increased. Whilst some solar houses are fully electric already, the additional capital cost to complete the degasification remains a barrier. An incentive will tip the scales.

A focus on solar houses will also reduce the demand on the poles and wires of the electrical network which often struggles to meet local demand.

Many networks still need to be upgraded to handle the additional load of houses switching from gas, and cars from petrol. It may be necessary to focus first on areas that can handle the additional load, (Queensland style).

The longer-term goal of removing the gas reticulation pipes will be easier as more people complete their own part of the transition and the cost is shared evenly. This avoids what has happened in some European countries such as the Netherlands, where it is costing a fortune to move households over en masse and then dismantle the gas networks.

Whilst it makes total sense to incentivise electrification in the most effective way possible, it makes little sense to still sell and install new gas appliances.

A further plan is required to phase out the gas appliances themselves. Two of my neighbours have recently renovated and installed new gas appliances. With each new gas appliance installed the ultimate goal of removing reticulated gas from our cities becomes more difficult. Is this even being discussed?

We need a clear plan to provide a reasonable lead time for business to move current stock and for manufacturers to retool – in two years, maybe three years.

As a priority, we need the right mix of incentives to replace old gas appliances and then complete the degas of as many houses as we can as soon as we can.

We need to maximise the recycling of the old gas appliances and ducting and minimise the harmful effect of the components that cannot.

We need to help business switch across to building, stocking, selling and installing highly efficient electric appliances rather than gas.

This will require leadership and coordination (plus a lot of money), but the benefits are hugely significant and very real!

Bruce Easton

Bruce Easton | CEO
Bruce is the founder of Ecovantage and has extensive knowledge in energy efficiency schemes, certificates and technologies in Australia.

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