Electrifying proposal sparks renewables debate

Could this Australian inventor’s idea be the low-carbon solution we’re looking for?

Key Points

  • Experts say the cheapest, fastest route to emissions cuts is to "electrify everything"
  • Households would replace petrol cars, gas heaters and other items with electric alternatives
  • These changes would be minimally disruptive, but provide large emission reductions

There’s no shortage of solutions to transitioning world economies from depending on fossil fuels to renewables. Many of these require costly and time-consuming rollouts of new networks and infrastructure – but Sydney-born inventor, Dr. Saul Griffith, proposes that Australia could rapidly achieve net zero emissions by turning to a technology that’s already commonplace – electricity.  

Dr. Griffith – who has also worked on US election campaigns – estimates that making the switch to electric would enable Australia to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2035.  

“Makers already know this in their guts. Electric machines are so much more efficient than their fossil fuel-burning counterparts that we’ll end up with more, not less, without even thinking about ‘efficiency’, but just by committing to electrification and infrastructure renewal,” Dr. Griffith said. 


When you drive a petrol or diesel car, more than two-thirds of the energy is lost in burning the fuel. Electric cars powered by renewables or nuclear, require less than a third of the energy of their fossil-fuel-powered counterparts to run, so it makes sense. 


Electric heat pumps only need a third of the energy to heat a home compared to an equivalent natural gas-powered furnace. Using fossil fuels to make electricity results in about 60 per cent of the energy input to the grid being wasted as heat. 


Electrifying transportation, building heating and cooling, and powering the grid on renewables (and nuclear) would allow energy usage to be reduced by about half. 

It’s a big call, but Doctor Griffith believes the only efficiency measure you need is electrification.  

“Our cars could be just as big, only electric. Our homes just as large, only electric. Our economy just as big, only electrified. In fact, the electrification of everything will allow us so much extra productivity in the economy that we’ll probably be able to have more of some things,” he said. 

Better tech in every home

With the average age of cars being 13 years, furnaces 20 years and asphalt shingle roofs 15 years, Dr. Griffith believes there is plenty of opportunity for people to upgrade their ageing technology to more efficient electric solutions.  

“We do need to start replacing them all immediately, and every one of those replacement opportunities needs to switch to electric, as opposed to natural gas or gasoline,” said Dr. Griffith.  

The kitchen table

Not only does the grid need to be upgraded, but the infrastructure in our households as well – and Dr. Griffith said the benefits sell themselves.  

“Your house will be warmer and more comfortable when we shift to heat pumps and hydronic heating. Your cars will be faster and safer when they’re electric. Household air quality will improve, as will our health – natural gas in homes is known to be a respiratory problem for children and pets. At the scale of the whole economy, costs will come down and every family will save thousands of dollars a year,” he says. 

What would this cost households?

Here’s the rub – Dr Griffith estimates transitioning to electric would cost about $100,000 per household, which across Australia's 10 million households equates to $1 trillion. 

Don’t be scared by the numbers – he says a lot of this is money that households would have spent replacing their ageing cars and heaters anyway. The only difference is they're buying an electrical version.  

"We need to make sure that the next time every one of those machines is replaced, it's replaced with a better electric," he said. 

Source: ABC News

Source: Saul Griffith