Pruning the Gas Tree – A Great Idea!

A decade ago, zero net energy (ZNE) was barely on the radar of the building industry – even barely on the radar of many in the energy efficiency community. And electrification (read: getting rid of gas) was even less a topic of discussion. That has changed in a VERY big way in the last year or so. Increasingly, the ZNE community is of the mind that natural gas and propane don’t fit into our clean energy future; we have to eliminate their combustion footprint.

If anything, the State of California’s recent giant step backwards re new home energy performance – from ZNE by 2020 to zero net electricity by 2020 – has served to heat up this conversation. I’m not going into all the details of that now, suffice to say that ZNE requires offsetting all household energy – both gas and electricity – and thus sets a considerably higher bar than zero net electricity. Granted, there are legislative obstacles to ZNE by 2020, but nevertheless, this shift has been extremely disappointing to many of us in the ZNE community. Essentially, it sweeps gas under the rug for at least one more code cycle (3 years), along with all of its downsides.

As you’ll see if you follow the “downsides” link, Massachusetts-based Home Energy Efficiency Team ( is all over this, and they’ve come up with a genius idea for a pilot: Pruning the Gas “Tree.” The essence of it is a competition calling for residents on stub streets to agree to invest utility funds that otherwise would be spent on pipe upgrades, to electrify their homes and shut off the gas line to their street. They’ve figured out the costs, and it’s a total win-win. Let’s replicate this in every utility territory in the country!