Can energy-efficient appliances help lead to productive climate action beginning in the home?
On August 16, the Biden Administration passed the largest, and most comprehensive, largely climate-oriented bill into law.
The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), mandates that roughly $370 billion dollars be put towards subsidizing clean energy and reducing healthcare costs — two things that impact each and every American.
Medicare beneficiaries with diabetes can look forward to their monthly insulin supply being capped at $35. Households who can afford to invest in clean energy technology, like solar panels or an electric vehicle, can expect to benefit from things like tax credits and direct consumer rebates.
On paper, some might call such a legislative package monumental, in its effort to incentivize consumers to reduce their GHG emissions.
What’s included in the bill:
- $110 billion in funding for roads, bridges and other major infrastructure projects.
- The largest federal investment in public transit in U.S. history (eg. Yellow school buses will be replaced with zero-emission ones).
- Elimination of America’s pervasive lead pipe, and clean drinking water, issue.
- A host of other climate and public health-oriented initiatives, including the largest recorded investment in addressing legacy pollution.
Other benefits worth mentioning include a $7,500 tax credit when you purchase a new electric vehicle and $14,000 in consumer rebates for families to invest in energy efficient home appliances.
In this effort towards addressing climate change, Americans are encouraged to take a look at their own consumption patterns and enact change on a personal level.
Susan Gladwin is the CEO and founder of ReadySetReplace, a company that encourages their customers to use water more sustainably by replacing their traditional gas water heaters with the more environmentally friendly alternative, heat pump water heaters.
In an interview with Currently, she explains how clean energy, beginning in the home, is productive climate action.
Even something as simple as transitioning from a traditional gas water heater to a heat pump water heater helps push our society towards necessary electrification, she said.
“Gas water heaters produce up to half of the emissions in our homes,” said Gladwin.
“As we get more and more people attuned to the necessity of this, it will help cities meet their carbon goal [and] their climate goals.”
Her hope is that clean energy will become a lifestyle change that is more accessible to everyone, combatting the climate crisis one intentional decision at a time.
“This can become potentially more affordable, so that everybody has access to this. That’s really what our hope is,” she said.
“We’re migrating to less emissions produced by the grid. [Clean energy] becomes more accessible to us, as a society, as we move towards electrical use, rather than direct gas use.”
Companies like ReadySetReplace help exemplify the sort of progress that can be made when it comes to climate adaptation at the personal level. And, when combined with IRA rebates, families could save money — up to $350 a year when they install energy-efficient appliances, like heat pumps, in their home.
But what about accessibility?
Although low-income households face the brunt of disproportionate energy consumption, research shows that just 14 percent of residential homes using solar energy have annual incomes of less than $50,000.
Experts like Gladwin say, for low-income folks, it’s worth looking into things like community solar, and the potential benefits offered by climate initiatives like the IRA.
“There’s a lot of different entities that are really trying to lower the cost of entry. Lower the barriers, make it easier for everyone, because we definitely need to democratize electrification for everybody.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, for example, is encouraging those who live in subsidized housing to sign up for community solar. It’s worth noting, however, that residents who choose this path won’t be eligible to receive federal credits that go towards their household income, a clear drawback.
They will, however, through the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), qualify for lower heating and cooling bills and funding for weatherizing their home, thereby also lowering energy costs.
Overall, the bill mostly targets wealthy, white, English-speaking folk. Those who cannot afford to invest in clean energy, will continue to face the brunt of climate change effects, while not being able to benefit from the same governmental benefits as their more privileged neighbors.
It does, however, clear a path for, at least, some sort of tangible, and traceable, federal regulation aimed at addressing this climate crisis, which is worth paying attention to.