Why we love heat pumps and induction stoves, and you should, too.

June 15, 2022

Slowly but surely, the American electric grid is getting cleaner. In fact, we’ve added so much renewable energy that this summer, the biggest power generation boosts will come from wind turbines and solar panels. Just last week, President Biden announced an an Executive Order that will spur clean energy adoption, including help to expand manufacturing of heat pumps.

As growing amounts of clean energy come online, the electric grid becomes a key to unlock more climate benefits, because it can power a boatload of other products that historically have run on fossil fuels. This is why the idea to “electrify everything” is a major, common-sense solution for runaway climate change. Even better, it’s one we all have the power to deploy. 

“For the most part, we decide what we drive, how we heat our water, what heats our homes, what cooks our food, what dries our laundry, and even what cuts our grass,” explains electrification advocate Saul Griffith. “This constitutes our ‘personal infrastructure,’ and it is swapping out that infrastructure that will be a key driver of the global transition from fossil fuels to green energy.”

Altogether, tens of millions of homes could be slashing their greenhouse gas pollution by switching out everyday equipment. Griffith’s nonprofit group, Rewiring America, estimates that a big part of reaching net-zero emissions comes down to replacing or installing 1 billion machines.

There are many ways you can put this into practice—Griffith names a lot of them above—but we’ll focus on two here: heat pumps and induction stoves. Why these? First, because more than half of a home’s energy use goes toward space heating and cooling. When it comes to heating, more than half of U.S. homes use some kind of fossil fuel. Second, at least 43% of us are using fossil fuels (again) in our kitchens. Mostly, “some kind of fossil fuel” means methane or “natural” gas, though in some cases, people are using propane and fuel oil.

Heat pumps… or… ‘clean green comfort machines’?

Some have argued that heat pumps need a rebrand, though great alternative names seem few and far between (we could be wrong, but guessing the ideas “Heaty McPumpface” and “Clean Green Comfort Machine,” from the Canary Media team aren’t likely to catch on anytime soon).The name is indeed misleading, since heat pumps aren’t just for heat. Whatever you call them, these magical machines work year-round by capitalizing on the difference in temperature between outside and inside your home. In winter, heat pumps harvest heat energy from outside (yes, even though it’s cold) and move it indoors. In summer, the heat pump funnels warm air out, cooling it with a refrigerant coil and sending it back inside.

Of the three different types of heat pumps, air-source heat pumps tend to be the most common. They’ve been in use for years in areas of the U.S. with mild winters, but the technology has gotten so good that they’re newly viable even in cold climes. And as the U.S. Department of Energy notes, in summer they also dehumidify the air better than standard central air conditioners. 

Because heat pumps are more efficient, they tend to save money on utility bills. In colder climates, one study found, they will save an average of $300 a year. If you’re heating with oil, as millions of homes do, especially in the Northeast, heat pumps could save you close to $1,000. The cost to install one is comparable to that for a furnace: The national average runs $5,676, according to one estimate. (See other handy guides here and here.)

While you save money, you’re making a big difference for the planet. By switching from a gas-fired furnace to an all-electric heat pump, a typical U.S. home could cut its pollution from heating between 45 and 72%, according to a study released earlier this year.  

Heat pumps are hot right now, almost as hot as George Clooney. For a laugh, check out the story behind this viral Twitter thread of heat pumps that resemble Mr. Clooney.

Instant heat, cleaner air with induction

Let’s give credit where credit is due: The fossil gas industry has done an awesome job of marketing gas stoves to us for decades, (laugh along with Samantha Bee and learn how), despite the fact that gas ranges come with dangerous indoor air pollution, potential fire or injury, and explosion risk from leaks. The conventional wisdom for home cooks has been that gas stoves deliver more immediate and precise heat than electric ones. 

Not so fast! Like heat pumps, induction cooktops have been around for a while but haven’t had the same promotional push behind them as gas stoves. That’s changing. As the hazards of cooking with gas become harder to ignore, it’s easy to find chefs and home cooks extolling the virtues of induction cooking, which works by transferring electromagnetically produced heat to the pan you’re using.

They heat-up fast—faster than gas or electric—and they offer the temperature precision you want. The cooking surface stays cool, and no methane-produced fumes end up in your lungs.  Most models on the market cost less than $200—start cooking with magnets by visiting this handy guide on induction stoves.

Choosing an efficient electric heat pump or induction stove will guarantee years of avoided emissions—getting us closer to the clean energy future we want while saving money and making your home healthier. 

Want to go a step further? Find out when you should go solar or buy an EV.


Solar and storage can help hospitals save money, and lives

October 27, 2021

It may not surprise you to learn that the healthcare sector is one of the largest carbon emitters in the country. It accounts for 10% of the nation’s carbon emissions and 9% of the nation’s non-greenhouse air pollutants that harm health. And that’s ironic for community assets focused on health. More frequent and intense climate-related disasters threaten the ability of hospitals, in particular, to take care of their patients. 

We don’t have to look to the future to imagine what those threats would look like. Several hospitals across the country and U.S. territories have already lived through dire situations during wildfires and hurricanes in places such as California, Louisiana, and Puerto Rico

Some hospitals had to evacuate. Other healthcare workers had to pump ventilators by hand to keep their patients alive. During Hurricane Maria, blocked roads prevented doctors and people who needed care from getting to hospitals. If it was difficult for doctors to get to hospitals, you can imagine that transporting diesel in the middle of a crisis would also be tough, expensive and unsafe. These disasters underscore the risks of relying on fossil-fuel backup generators and the need to increase the energy resilience of hospitals.

These disasters underscore the risks of relying on fossil-fuel backup generators and the need to increase the energy resilience of hospitals. 

Renewables = Resilience

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Health care systems can bear the brunt better by enhancing their resilience with solar power and large capacity battery storage. (In case you missed it, we wrote about the promise of battery storage earlier this year). 

More and more hospital administrators recognize the big role hospitals could play in reducing emissions. With solar power, hospitals reduce their direct emissions generated by fossil fuels – and the social cost of carbon along with it. “Eliminating our carbon footprint is one of the most effective ways we can contribute to a healthier environment and improve conditions for health and equity,” said Yvette Radford, vice president of External and Community Affairs at Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

A rooftop solar panel array on a Kaiser Permanente building in Santa Clara, CA.

In 2020, Kaiser Permanente became the first health system in the United States to become carbon neutral. It achieved this goal through a combination of different investments, including in solar power. The U.S. Department of Energy noted in a 2015 report that one of the largest technical barriers for hospitals to install solar panels is insufficient roof space due to medical equipment. Kaiser worked around this challenge by installing solar panels over building garages, which created “carports” with EV-charging stations. 

Hospitals have some of the largest energy demands because they run critical, high-tech equipment around the clock. According to the DOE, that means they are more vulnerable to rising fuel prices and price volatility than other commercial sectors. Investing in solar can protect against those rising or volatile prices. 

The DOE also recommends improving energy efficiency before or in conjunction with investments in renewable energy. As of September 2020, Kaiser also reduced its demand for energy by 8% since 2013 by improving energy efficiency throughout its facilities. In all, renewable energy powers Kaiser for about half of its energy needs, saving the healthcare system millions of dollars. 

Pairing solar with battery storage is critical to boosting resilience. Together they supply power during power outages or in the midst of natural disasters when the power grid goes down. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, for example, a children’s hospital and several fire stations continue to rely on solar panels and battery storage to run its critical equipment any time the power grid is down. These solar panels and battery storage were installed within a couple of weeks after Hurricane Maria struck the country in 2017. Solar power and battery storage allow the fire stations and children’s hospital to keep life-saving equipment powered on when it most needs it. 

Solar power and battery storage allow the fire stations and children’s hospital to keep life-saving equipment powered on when it most needs it. 

But would solar panels hold up during severe weather? In North Carolina, solar farms were put to the test during Hurricane Florence. They survived the hurricane’s power wind and rainfall with minimal damage. This is a significant finding in the state with the second largest capacity of solar power in the country. 

As climate related disasters increase in frequency and intensity, hospitals can position themselves to save money, be more resilient and reduce emissions that threaten our collective health. 


What’s the deal with these “100% clean energy days”?

October 20, 2021

Contrary to what your doomscroll-prone social media algorithms may be feeding you, there was a heartening glimmer of good climate news earlier this year. California’s electric grid reached almost 95% renewable energy: a record. The April 24 achievement came with a few asterisks—it lasted only a few seconds, and it didn’t cover the whole state. Still, it was a glimpse of this 100% clean energy future that we keep hearing about, one that sometimes feels more like shaky pledges than an imminent reality.

Happily, California’s renewable energy milestone is not that unique. Germany set a similar record a few years ago, maintaining a clean energy peak for several hours. China’s Qinghai province powered itself entirely on renewables for a week in 2017. South Australia has proven it can generate more than enough solar power to meet residents’ demands on a regular basis. Costa Rica has been running on nearly all clean electricity for years now, and so has the city of Burlington, Vermont. It’s gotten to be kind of a thing.

But why can’t California and other places do this all day, every day?

When you read about a place running on 100% clean energy, typically this refers to electricity. Which makes sense— If you want to make a big dent in planet-warming emissions, after all, the power sector is a good place to start. Forty percent of the world’s greenhouse gases come from burning coal, gas, and oil to keep the lights on, essentially.

Forty percent of the world’s greenhouse gases come from burning coal, gas, and oil to keep the lights on

So when California approached 95% percent renewable power last spring, it’s not as if its grid suddenly transformed from a pumpkin (with all due respect to lovers of pumpkin spice everything) to a green stagecoach, vanquishing fossil fuels along the way. California “was also burning a bunch of natural gas and exporting electricity to its Western neighbors,” noted a column in the Los Angeles Times. “It’s impossible to say exactly how much of the Golden State’s own supply was coming from renewables.”

Then what does it mean to be running entirely, or almost entirely, on clean energy? In California’s case, it simply meant the amount of renewable electricity (mostly from wind and solar) being generated was nearly enough to meet the amount of electricity needed to serve customers on that April 24 afternoon. On a recent October day, the figure was more like 56%.

It’s easy to imagine why this number fluctuates so much. If you have a sunny, breezy day with relatively mild temperatures, you’re going to have abundant wind and solar output—more than enough to meet the modest demand from customers who don’t need to crank the AC that day. On a cloudy, freezing day, not so much. Maybe there’s less output from renewables and more demand for heating.

You’ll remember from our newsletter a few weeks ago that wonderfully simple supply and demand graph? We want rising supplies of clean energy to meet demand as often and as soon as possible. The many states and cities pledging to achieve 100% clean energy need to achieve this balance, ensuring that zero-emissions sources can meet demand 24-7. How any given location achieves this depends on a variety of factors, including geographical location and the right policies. Iceland, for example, is able to rely on a wealth of underground heat to produce lots of geothermal energy. Costa Rica has a bunch of hydropower built into its clean energy win. California has geothermal and hydropower plants, too, but it also has a much bigger population. 

The Ready for 100 campaign shows the cities in the U.S. that have committed too 100% clean energy. See what city near you has committed:

For U.S. states, getting to 100% clean electricity is going to take a combination of actions. We will need to build out renewable energy projects and the transmission network to carry power from, say, outlying wind farms to cities. Energy storage will be needed for times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. Utility programs will help manage highs and lows of demand by rewarding customers for shifting their energy use to off-peak times—something increasingly possible, thanks to smart and programmable appliances. Power markets must be redesigned to reward zero-emissions sources.

It sounds complicated—and it is. But what we do know is that it’s achievable. After all, more than 100 cities around the world already get at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources. And climate scientists have produced multiple studies showing how country after country could be running on clean energy. This research, along with the many real-world examples, shows us that with investment and political will, the U.S. and other countries can make good on their 100% clean energy pledges, at least as far as the grid goes. 


Energy & Education: A Climate Plan for K-12 Schools

September 22, 2021

We talk a lot about the role we all must play in tackling the climate crisis. There’s no shortage of work to be done, and no time for anyone to sit out—including the education sector. 

K-12 schools have a hefty environmental footprint. Approximately 100,000 public K-12 schools sit on 2 million acres of land and are one of the largest public energy consumers. They also operate the largest mass transit fleet in the country, using 480,000 school buses. Schools also serve over 7 billion meals each year and generate 530,000 tons of food waste.

Recognizing that K-12 schools can play a key role in large-scale climate solutions, the Aspen Institute launched the K12 Climate Action initiative last fall. The project brings together education, environment, youth, civil rights leaders, and others to help elevate climate as a priority issue and create a comprehensive action plan to address climate change in the U.S. by leveraging the power of the education sector. Generation180 was one of the organizations in the coalition supporting this work.

Four Pillars of Climate Action

The K12 Climate Action Plan identifies four pillars of climate action: mitigation, adaptation, education, and advancement of equity.


There are many strategies highlighted in the action plan that schools can use to lower their environmental footprints and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These include reducing energy consumption from buildings, switching to electric school buses, minimizing and composting food waste, and improving water efficiency. 

Aspen’s K12 action plan featured Generation180 data about the collective potential of schools to reduce their impact by using solar energy. Our research found that by the start of 2020, there were 6,839 solar public K-12 schools in the U.S., with a 144% growth rate in the last five years. Yet, only 7% of public schools currently use solar energy. About half of all states allow power purchase agreements, which enable third-party ownership and minimize upfront costs, enabling schools to reinvest into teacher pay and their students. Generation180 is beginning to broaden our work to help schools address the largest source of carbon emissions in this country: transportation. Ninety-four percent of school buses are powered by diesel engines, which create air pollution, harm student health, and impact academic performance and absenteeism. Students of color are disproportionately exposed to air pollution, contributing to higher rates of asthma and other health issues. Electrifying school buses saves schools money (a whopping $170,000 in lifetime savings), and helps students breathe cleaner air.


The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear how school disruptions affect all communities. The increasingly widespread impacts of climate change are also interrupting student learning and harming student health. Schools can play a pivotal role in helping our communities adapt. Schools that adopt more resilient infrastructure — such as solar + battery storage microgrids,  which allow schools to retain key functions when other buildings lose power — can be critical community hubs for providing shelter and other services during an emergency.


Educators have an opportunity to prepare the next generation to be better equipped to address climate change and succeed in the clean energy economy. All subjects can be connected to climate change to support teaching and learning about sustainability, the environment, and green jobs,—and to empower students to advance climate solutions.

For example, the NYC DOE, the largest school system in the nation, prepares its 1.1 million students for a future powered by clean energy through more than 250 solar projects that allow for hands-on, STEM learning opportunities for students.

Advancing Equity

The action plan recommends that school districts develop and implement comprehensive K-12 climate action plans. To keep equity in focus, the action plans must ensure the voices of communities most impacted by climate change are central to decision-making, including students. 

Many districts around the country have already worked to prioritize sustainability and serve as models for climate action, such as Stockton Unified School District and Middlesex County Public Schools.

All Hands on Deck

Just like group projects in school require collaboration in order to succeed, so does this action plan.

The K-12 plan outlines policy recommendations at the local, state, and federal levels, including proposing that governments at all levels help schools create and implement their own individual climate action plans. Governments can also provide financial and technical support to help schools invest in clean energy solutions, like solar and electric buses. Interagency coordination is a critical piece of the K-12 climate action puzzle.

By mobilizing the education sector to prioritize and implement climate solutions, we can build lasting change to advance a more equitable, sustainable future for today’s students.

Want to learn more about how we seize this opportunity to transform our energy system and education system? Read the full K-12 action report here.


Stronger, Faster, Cheaper: Clean energy makes the military better

September 15, 2021

Thinking about going electric on your next vehicle purchase? So is the American military. Recently, the Army kicked the tires on an all-electric version of its Infantry Squad Vehicle, and it’s investing $50 million  over the next year on ways to get around without fossil fuel.

Beyond electric vehicles, a move to clean energy is underway across the U.S. Armed Forces, including solar installations, microgrids, and alternative fuels. Military leaders have long recognized that dependence on fossil fuels is a security risk at home and a deadly liability on the battlefield. Thousands  of casualties, for example, have been attributed to attacks on fuel convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We also happen to have an administration that recognizes the climate crisis as a national security risk. As he took office in January, President Biden signed an executive order declaring that “climate considerations shall be an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security.”

But even back when the election of Donald Trump sent a dark cloud over the world of clean energy, the military was soldiering on with projects such as solar arrays on U.S. bases and an all-electric warship, the USS Zumwalt. After all, the Department of Defense (DoD) accounts for more than three-quarters of the entire federal government’s energy consumption, and it has a goal to reach 25% renewable energy by 2025. Judging from its most recent report on energy, the agency is a little more than halfway there.

The USS Zumwalt, the U.S. Navy’s largest and most advanced stealth destroyer.

And like the rest of us, the DoD is looking for ways to save on energy—its annual energy budget exceeds $3 billion—and be more resilient in the face of power disruptions. The department saw more utility outages lasting longer than eight hours in fiscal year 2019 compared to the year before, according to its energy management report, and outages of all lengths cost the agency more than $4 million .

Given these large bills, installing renewable energy makes both strategic and financial sense. At Fort Hood in Texas, switching to solar and wind power—which now supply about 45% of the site’s energy—saved $2.5 million in the first year alone. And DoD is testing microgrids backed up by robust batteries on a replica base at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory dubbed Fort Renewable.

Switching to solar and wind power saved Fort Hood $2.5 million in the first year alone.

So, when it comes to remaking its energy supply, DoD is working on it… but more needs to be done.

“Let’s be clear. We’re behind,” Army Lt. Gen. Eric Wesley told DefenseNews last year, referring specifically to the electric vehicle transition. “All of the various nations that we work with, they’re all going to electric power with their automotive fleet, and right now, although we do [science and technology] and we’ve got some research and development going on and we can build prototypes, in terms of a transition plan, we are not there.”

U.S. Marine Corps Corporal Robert G. Sutton (L) and Corporal Moses E. Perez, field wireman with Combat Logistics Regiment 15 install new solar panels on Combat Outpost Shukvani, Helmand province, Afghanistan, November 19, 2012. U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Alexander Quiles/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS

With hundreds  of bases operating worldwide and many tactical and security considerations, it’s not surprising that the DoD isn’t converting to clean energy at warp speed. But with an annual budget exceeding $705 billion and more than a million troops, few organizations are better positioned to push the envelope on energy. Former military energy advisers Michael Wu and Jon Powers argue the agency should, among other things, establish an Office of Energy Innovation that would focus on “electrifying the tactical edge,” which could include ships and aircraft. 

This last bit—the tough-to-electrify sectors like flight and marine transport—is where the military could really help move the world away from dirty fuels. Military innovation tends to make its way into the civilian realm. (Duct tape? Who knew!)  Yes, that includes the Humvee, which begat the gas-guzzling Hummer.

But in the future, our armed forces could be a seedbed for cleaner travel and more resilient electricity strategies that benefit all of us.


Is battery storage ready for prime time?

January 13, 2021

This article is from the January 13, 2021, issue of Flip the Script, a weekly newsletter moving you from climate stress to clean energy action. Sign up here to get it in your inbox (and share the link with a friend).

In case you haven’t heard, battery storage is entering the big leagues. Thanks to high-profile projects in places like California and Australia, we’re seeing a lot more buzz about this “game changer” for our clean energy future. Amidst the high expectations, the emerging arrival of battery storage serves as another occasion to remind ourselves of a critical truth: there’s no silver bullet when it comes to tackling the all-hands-on-deck transition to renewables. If you’re not sure what all the commotion is about, read on for a quick primer on the state of this technology.

What is battery storage?

Battery storage (lithium-ion technology is what we’re focused on here) simply stores and discharges electricity. These batteries are in everything from cell phones and medical equipment to luxury yachts and power plants. When paired with renewable energy sources, batteries store excess electricity generated by wind and solar farms at times of low demand and then discharge this power back to the grid when it’s needed: during peak demand periods, when the sun isn’t shining, or when the wind isn’t blowing. Battery storage systems are essential to enabling power grids to handle lots of wind and solar power in a stable way. (Wondering what the heck a “power grid” is? Learn more here).

Battery storage systems are essential to enabling power grids to handle lots of wind and solar power…

Just how massive are these batteries? As recently as five years ago, a 20-megawatt battery storage project was considered a big deal. But now, the race is on to build new lithium-ion batteries in the hundreds of megawatts that can hold enough renewable electricity to power hundreds of thousands of homes. These days, battery systems can range in size from 100 megawatts (like this 2017 project in Australia) to 300 megawatts (like the brand new project in Moss Landing, CA). Things are getting much bigger, quickly, however, as planned projects in Saudi Arabia and the ASEAN region attest. Utility-scale battery storage is also being deployed in Chile, Japan, Germany, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom (including a 320-megawatt system in London), among other countries.

This record expansion is expected to continue, with an estimated annual growth of 3040 percent over the coming decade. The U.S. could account for nearly half of the global cumulative capacity by 2030, led by huge new deployments in California. Once phase 2 is completed later this year, the Moss Landing project, developed by Tesla, will be able to run for four hours before a recharge, making it possible to power roughly 300,000 homes during evenings, heatwaves, and other times when electricity demand outstrips supply. Pacific Gas & Electric ultimately envisions the system being able to power every home in San Francisco for at least six hours.

Battery storage installation under construction in California
The Moss Landing, CA project under construction in October 2020 (credit: EKM metering/YouTube)

The need for speed

A key promise of energy storage is speeding the transition to a carbon-free power grid. The batteries are reaching a size where they’re becoming an economically viable alternative to replace fossil fuel (usually natural gas) “peaker” plants, smaller generating plants that kick in for a few hours a day to balance the grid when energy demands soar.

Combining battery storage with large solar arrays is especially promising, given the generally predictable pattern of sunshine. A 409-megawatt battery storage project linked to a nearby solar plant is slated to go online later this year in South Florida, replacing two aging natural gas-fired units. In New York City, the recently approved 316-megawatt Ravenswood project, designed to power more than 250,000 homes emissions-free for up to eight hours, will replace 16 natural gas peaker units in Queens. With most fossil fuel power plants in the U.S. expected to reach the end of their working life by 2035, utility-scale battery storage will play a growing role in shifting the power grid to cleaner and less expensive alternatives.

Add to this the rapidly falling prices for lithium-ion batteries, and it’s clear why the outlook for energy storage is bright. Overall, the cost for utility-scale battery storage in the U.S. declined nearly 70 percent between 2015 and 2018, and lithium-ion battery costs could fall another 45 percent between 2018 and 2030.

What’s ahead

Speculation remains high for the potential of battery storage. On the lithium-ion front, companies are working to improve the technology even further, including by using a solid material (rather than a liquid) to conduct electricity, which could lead to benefits like quicker charging and longer battery range. Developers are exploring alternatives to lithium-ion including designs that use more widely available materials (like zinc) and can last longer (like sulfur-based tech). A company in Massachusetts is testing a huge water-based design that can run for up to 150 hours on a charge.

The cost for utility-scale battery storage in the U.S. declined nearly 70 percent between 2015 and 2018.

While most of the growth of battery storage has come from large-scale projects of the sort used by utilities, the little guys are getting in on it too—and their collective impact could exceed that of large-scale projects. Smaller uses, ranging from home battery systems like Tesla’s Powerwall to electric vehicle batteries, are expected to expand rapidly. In Germany, for example, nearly half of recent home solar installations include batteries. Meanwhile Hawaii and California lead the way for solar + storage here in the U.S.

Without question, battery storage will be an important part of our future, and 2021 is shaping up to be a big year in making storage an essential part of the grid. “I feel like we have crossed a threshold… a signpost that we’re moving into a new era,” said Eric Gimon with Energy Innovation. Investing in battery storage could be a key element of post-COVID “green recovery” efforts across all applications, including both stationary and vehicle batteries. As a NREL energy analyst recently put it, “We see storage being a large player across effectively every future we look at. And not just one or two gigawatts… but tens to hundreds of gigawatts.” That’s a lot of juice.


Understanding Energy Storage

August 2, 2019

Learn about the power of solar energy storage for your home and school with Corey Ramsden of United Solar Neighbors. The presentation takes a consumer’s perspective on how the technology works, what the economics look like for homeowners, and how large, grid-scale storage is beginning to impact your utility and the power industry as a whole.