Electrify Everything?

Author photo: Rick Rys
By Rick Rys

Keywords: Transportation, Buildings, Industry, Green Power, Energy Transition, Electric Grid, CCUS, Wind, Solar, Hydrogen, ARC Advisory Group.


Why would we want to electrify everything if we already have working systems for transportation, buildings, and our commercial and industrial infrastructure? Electrification is expensive and we have already made huge investments in our existing energy infrastructure. It is easy to forget the energy source for this infrastructure was never the long-term solution and we will eventually run out of fossil-based resources. We have already seen that conventional oil & gas production peaked in 2016 and unconventional oil production (heavy oils like tar sands, enhanced oil production, hydrofracking and oil production moving offshore) has expanded to meet demand. Long before we run out of oil and other fossil fuels, the resulting greenhouse gases from consuming them at current rates would cause unacceptable damage to our economy and environment. Burning fossil fuels is roughly 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and this is driving the transition to electrify much of our infrastructure. As much as we want things to stay the same, they must change to ensure our continued well-being. 

Industry has learned to remove polluting emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, emissions like sulfur, NOx, unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, particulates, and other pollutants. The United States Supreme Court officially identified CO2 as a pollutant in 2007. Removing CO2 from exhaust gases is more difficult due to the large quantity of CO2. Will carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) be the answer? The Inflation Reduction Act includes a 45Q tax credit of $25 -$50 per tonne as an added incentive compared to Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). The number of Class VI CCUS applications has surged, but so far only Wyoming and North Dakota have approved class VI wells, so there is competition for pore space (storage locations with adequate porosity), pipelines, skilled resources, and commitments from CO2 generator sites. Early projects are associated with blue hydrogen, gas processing and ethanol. New power plants built with CCUS are 20-30 percent higher in cost than building a conventional gas power plant and they use 10-40 percent more fuel to operate and need incentives to compete.

Electrification Is the Key Strategy for the Energy Transition

The industrial revolution started with humans finding new energy sources for farming and manufacturing. It started with animal power, then wood and coal fired rail systems, but it was hydro power that first ran our factories. We learned: 


Plentiful and energy dense fossil fuels emerged over the last century to be our primary source of energy. Our cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, and aircraft have been based on fossil fuels. Building heat switched from wood to oil, gas, and propane, and fossil fuels power our industry and electric grid. This is where fossil fuels became ubiquitous with energy:


Many of the negative environmental impacts of fossil fuels have been addressed by technology. For example, sulfur removal or scrubbers to avoid acidic SO2, selective catalytic reduction (SCR) with urea or ammonia for NOx reduction, filters for toxic soot, reformulated fuels and sophisticated vehicle catalytic exhaust systems, and wastewater treatment for coal ash. We knew about CO2 and global warming even before Carl Sagan testified to Congress in 1985. Unfortunately, the world has been slow to act on this very inconvenient relationship that threatens to disrupt the energy systems we grew up with. Now we have reached over 420 ppm CO2 in our air.

FOSSIL FUELS = climate change 

Our near total dependance on fossil fuels has ended and new energy relationships are evolving. Initial denial and procrastination have been replaced with determination to eventually get to a net zero energy system that will see our atmospheric CO2 levels falling. It turns out that there are many clean energy options and engineers are figuring out how to make them work. We are at the beginning of the era of clean energy and a long-term sustainable economy. 


This means we are letting go of most of our favorite fossil burning devices. Our wellbeing now depends on clean energy and in this paper, we will describe how electrifying everything works.

Clean Power

The complication to electrifying everything is the need to make carbon free power. There are various policy and regulatory methods to make clean power happen and these vary by country, region, and state. In some areas we see a price on carbon emissions or carbon trading, other regulations have direct limits on the power portfolio of utilities. There are many new and extended subsidies and tax incentives in the Investment Recovery Act. We have subsidies that support clean power such as the production tax credit (PTC) for wind, tax credits for solar and battery energy storage, tax credits for hydrogen production and CCUS, grants for developing new nuclear and geothermal technology. 

There are many grants and programs to reduce the cost of EVs, manufacture EVs and batteries locally, reduce the cost of heat pumps, and improve building efficiency. These subsidies have kick started new lower cost technologies. In some locations internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are to be discontinued after a future date. ARC has covered this topic elsewhere and we all agree it is a fascinating and critically important journey. This topic will be discussed in more depth at the next ARC Forum in Orlando in February. 

Electrify Transportation 

The electrification of transportation will require more new power than the electrification of buildings or industry. Electric passenger cars and buses are quickly pushing out internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Trucks, trains, ships, and rail are also targets for electrification or e-fuels derived from clean power. 

Electrify Everything

Added by Chinese power company Southern Power Grid (SPG), the huge Shenzhen charging station is operated by SPG in collaboration with state-owned Potevio and BYD. In 2019 the station had 637 fast DC (Direct Current) charging points, which could charge 5,000 EVs (Electric Vehicles) per day and used on average 160MWh of power.

The city of Shenzhen has built more than 5,000 charging stations with a total of 83,000 charging points, which includes 30,000 High Power Chargers (HPC or fast DC) and 53,000 slow charging, while 7,900 and 16,500 HPCs are for buses and taxis, respectively. 



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