This article was posted on Friday, Sep 01, 2023

In the rush to phase out fossil fuels to reduce the impacts of climate change, California’s state and city governments are ramping up a large number of mandated changes and phase-outs around fossil-fuel-based equipment, appliances and vehicles, used in homes, buildings, transportation and everyday living and business activity. This article specifically addresses recent permit and planning processes, along with the issues and impacts that apply to homeowners, small property owners (five units or fewer, a significant portion of rental housing in San Francisco), and small businesses in San Francisco.


Why California Won’t Be Ready to Convert to 

All Electric Furnaces and Water Heaters By 2030

The capacity of the state’s electric grid would need to be increased to handle the additional load. This would require substantial investments in infrastructure, including construction of new power plants, transmission lines and substations. The grid would also need to be upgraded to ensure that it can handle the increased demand without causing reliability issues or overloading.

We are hearing this directly from PG&E managers on the ground, and seeing it in more and more

overloaded utility pole transformers and system outages of all kinds. Meanwhile, the interconnection processes and approvals for new power lines, hook-ups, and generation and solar array inputs have gotten progressively slower, more expensive and fraught with extreme regulatory delays. 

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  • The grid will be even more taxed with the advent of EV chargers. This is a huge aspect to add to the electric demand mix, with any basic-level 2-EV charger requiring 50 amps, and 80 to 100 amps for some of the Tesla and other rapid chargers. More and more property owners will be wanting to add rental or home EV chargers. A small rental building with just two EV chargers will need another 100 amps or more just for this, which has to be reflected in local utility feed, panel upgrades, and available power on the street. This is above and beyond the additional electric needs of all-electric appliance upgrades.


  • San Francisco, with a majority of rental housing being old (often more than 100 years old), will require extensive retrofitting to carry the extra load. This includes in many cases, a complete new main panel to modern codes and local regulatory approval, new heavy-duty wiring running from the panel through the building to each of these new high-amperage electric appliances, and installation of the appliances themselves.


Electric Usage, Current and Projected

  • Typical small apartment/flat usage with standard 50/50 mix of gas/electric, modern energy-efficient appliances, LED lighting, etc.: 50–100 amps
  • Projected small apartment/flat usage with new electric appliances (minimums per most NEC codes):
  • Electric water heater: 15–30 amps
  • Electric heating or furnace: 20–50 amps
  • Electric range/oven: 30–50 amps
  • Electric dryer: 30–40 amps
  • Min. power needed at panel for water heater/heat upgrade only: 100–150 amps
  • Add on an EV charger: 50–80 amps


The question is: will there be enough electric capacity from the street to handle this load? And this doesn’t take into account the eventual banning of gas ranges/stoves and dryers.


Cost Estimates

The cost of retrofitting will be prohibitive for most small property owners, even with rebates. With the increased demand, qualified electricians will be at a premium, and costs will rise. We’re seeing 50% or more inflation in electrical contracting costs of materials and labor in just the past 5 to 6 years. Following are “ballpark” cost estimates that may vary widely depending on building location, age, and access:


  • Electric meter and wiring upgrades for older 4-unit SF building: $25,000–$50,000
  • Electric water heater + install: $2,000–$2,500/unit
  • Electric furnace + install: $4,000–$5,000/unit
  • Total (in today’s dollars): 50,000–$80,000
  • Phasing out of California’s solar panel rebates makes conversion to electric more expensive for consumers. YES, with that much amperage and electric use with the all-electric house, your monthly kw/hrs measured at the meter WILL go up by at least 50% to 100% or more.


In April, California’s Public Utility Commission dramatically lowered the grid feed credits for personal rooftop solar. And utility rates will keep increasing to pay for all the utility upgrades and all the leftover liabilities from the fires we experienced over the last few years.  

We’ll be at the mercy of power outages, which with climate change will become more frequent and much harder and expensive to protect against.


Backup Power Systems

There is a definite movement towards backup power systems of all kinds, including whole-house natural gas generators, but the climate change trend will likely be phasing this option out over the next several years, which makes only the battery-plus-solar option viable.

Unfortunately, the battery-backup model is still within reach for maybe 50 to 100 amps of electric power, but to get a whole house backup for the all-electric house will take a huge and very expensive system. In a grid outage, all these new “clean appliances“ will not work.


More Costs and Pushback

Anyone who has bought new appliances lately can see the slow degradation of quality and longevity in the new globally-sourced high-tech equipment that breaks down more quickly and is, in most cases, unrepairable, thus ending up in the dump again. The older gas appliances manufactured before global sourcing and high tech might last 30-40 years, and were easily fixable. So we have to ask: “what is the real carbon footprint of new appliances that last about eight years and are then trashed?

There is increasing pushback, especially from the restaurant industry and chefs, who are loath to give up their flame-based gas ranges and barbecues. There are also more and more legal challenges claiming “regulatory overreach,” including the successful lawsuit against Berkeley’s gas ban. A federal appeals court ruled that “the city of Berkeley cannot enforce a ban on natural gas hookups in new buildings, saying a U.S. federal law preempts the city’s regulation.”

Clearly, the road to an all-electric future is fraught with serious questions of feasibility, readiness, cost and time frames. 



To ease the process, local, state, and federal government will need to offer property owners,

especially rental property owners, with multiple units, more robust support, financial assistance via incentives like tax credits and rebates, and financing to help with major conversion expenses. Local governments can also help by easing the permitting process. But most of all, regulators need to realize that the 2030 deadline for conversion to electric furnaces and water heaters is unrealistic, given the rapidly-growing demand and the state of our electric grid. Experts agree that widespread implementation by 2030 simply won’t happen.


Chaz Peling is a long-time environmentalist and professional in the consult-design, solar, electrical, energy efficiency, and back-up power space. He is CEO of Sol-Solutions LLC, and may be reached at [email protected].

Reprinted with permission of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute (SPOSFI) News.  For more information on becoming a member of SPOSFI or to send a tax-deductible donation, please visit their website at or call (415) 647-2419.