Technology, not subsidies, is the key to electrification » Albuquerque Journal

As with most other proponents of electrification, US Senator Martin Heinrich (Journal, July 30) also argues unilaterally in favor of electrification. With concerns about climate change growing, politicians, policymakers, energy providers and environmentalists are advocating the idea of electrification: replacing fossil fuels with electricity for direct end uses such as transport, water and space heating.

Proponents like Heinrich want electrification to happen sooner or later, accelerated by subsidies and other government incentives. Some even advocate mandatory electrification and natural gas bans in order to avoid an alleged climate catastrophe. Others point to the less ambitious goal of revitalizing the electrical industry, although electrification could cripple the natural gas and oil industries with significant job losses. Another group argues that electrification is already economical for end uses such as water and space heating. If that’s true, may I ask, why do we need subsidies to encourage energy consumers to switch to electric vehicles and heat pumps?

How many of the arguments in support of aggressive climate action does Heinrich, DN.M., present these measures as free lunch. How could a sane person resist them? Are we not facing a climate apocalypse and must we do everything to prevent it? Anyone who speaks out against electrification must be a climate denier or just think wrongly. Heinrich’s problem is that he sees electrification at an altitude of 12,000 feet, along with the fiction that electrification can have more than a nominal effect on climate change.

Well, Senator, there are always two sides to an issue, and electrification is no exception.

Instead of artificially promoting electrification with discounts and other subsidies, as Heinrich demands of us, we should wait and see where electrical engineering leads us. The ultimate success of electrification will be determined by technology – not subsidies and other government measures that are largely politically driven.

The challenges for electric vehicles are still enormous: Infrastructure investments – chargers, upgrades by customers and utilities in their distribution systems, fast charging with direct current, education and range, range fears – limited battery storage capacity, availability of charging stations across the country and requirements for the power grid.

When it comes to heating, economy seems to be the biggest hurdle, as most electric heat pumps are only economical in areas with low electricity prices and moderate winters, at least compared to natural gas. Further technological improvements will make heat pumps more economically viable and markets, not government handouts, can best achieve this.

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Whether energy consumers rely on fossil fuels or electricity for their transport or space heating needs depends on a rational choice of the energy source that would best meet these needs. With a few exceptions, consumers are expressing their choices and making the best choices for themselves.

We can say with confidence that accelerating electrification with government subsidies is a win-win for utilities and environmentalists, but a loser for society as a whole.

The problem of new electrical technologies, which are subsidized by utility customers and taxpayers, from which only a significant minority benefit, is difficult to ignore, both politically and economically. It would likely have a regressive effect, disproportionately benefiting higher-income households while being funded by all income groups.

Politicians like Heinrich and other proponents must do their homework before promoting the wonders of electrification. In particular, they should be more confident in markets to ensure that electrification, when it happens, is for the good of society – not just for specific interests.