Mounting research suggests that aggressive electrification of energy end uses—such as space heating, water heating, and transportation—is needed if the United States and the world are to achieve ambitious emissions reduction goals for carbon dioxide. This concept, the electrification of energy end uses that have been powered by fossil fuels (natural gas, propane, gasoline, diesel, or fuel oil) in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is called “environmentally beneficial electrification.”

Achieving the greenhouse gas emissions reductions possible through environmentally beneficial electrification will require routinely revisiting and updating prevailing energy efficiency metrics and accounting methodologies in order to maximize gains. Specifically, it is timely to consider whether reduced electricity consumption (i.e., kWh) is the optimal compass with which to navigate the path to a low-carbon future when, in fact, substitution of electricity for fossil fuels may in some cases increase electricity consumption.

Policy goals are shifting from the simple energy conservation focus of yesteryear toward achieving greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. Therefore, we need to assess the GHG emissions associated with various ways to power end uses, as opposed to simply the number of kilowatt-hours consumed. To that end, the authors submit that “emissions efficiency” may be as or more important than “energy efficiency” moving forward.

This article, published in The Electricity Journal, revisits traditional energy efficiency as a metric to drive emissions reductions and recommends no regrets strategies that policymakers can use to implement and account for environmentally beneficial electrification.