Ontario’s second greatest source of carbon emissions are those created to operate residential, commercial and institutional buildings. Within the province’s largest cities buildings are the top source of emissions.
Virtually all of Ontario’s building emissions are generated by heating space and water. The energy required to heat space and water is most commonly generated from natural gas, which is a historically cheap but carbon-intensive fuel.
Until relatively recently, the only way to do electric space heating was through baseboard heating that would cost about eight times more than natural gas. However, with the development of far more efficient air- and ground-source heat pumps, the cost of shifting from gas to electric has narrowed. And, with the introduction of Canada’s carbon tax, which will increase over time, gas and electric heating should be comparable within about a decade.
Though switching to electric heating will likely reap long-term financial benefits, it requires steep upfront costs. For example, a residential heat pump costs between $14,000 and $40,000 (depending on the area to be heated and efficiency of the pump), which is out of reach to all but the most motivated and affluent homeowners.
The Ontario government can help homeowners be part of the climate solution by:
- Matching the federal government’s Canada Greener Homes Grant, which provides homeowners up to $5,000 to replace oil or gas furnaces with a heat pump
- Creating a program available all across the province modeled on the City of Toronto’s Energy Retrofit Loan. The ERL provides 100% financing for energy retrofits at the City’s cost of borrowing over terms up to 20 years. Homeowners repay these loans using the savings they realize on their monthly hydro and gas bills.
While some people are already making the switch to heat their homes with clean electricity, Ontario needs everyone to get on board to reach net-zero carbon emissions. That, in turn, will require the province to generate a lot more electricity. Experts estimate that, if all natural gas heating was replaced by efficient heat pumps, Ontario would need to generate an additional 27TWh of electricity per year. That’s more electricity than the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station produces in a full year. Though not all of the 27TWh of electricity would need to come from nuclear, it must be free of carbon emissions. That means using some combination of nuclear, hydro, and intermittent renewables like wind and solar power.