Certified ‘genius’ Sol Griffiths has a plan to decarbonise Australia – and it only needs 101 million machines

Over the next two decades, Australia will race to achieve net zero emissions.

There are different theories on how to get there, but one of the most prominent is the idea known as “Electrifying Everything.”

This idea may determine how you stay warm, how you heat your water, and how you drive from one place to another.

So, here’s what it’s about — and what it’s about.

Nationwide Home Improvement Program

Sol Griffiths is a rising star in the field of energy and climate policy.

Sol Griffith.(Provided by: Clayton Boyd)

The Australian entrepreneur and inventor has founded companies, received MacArthur “genius” grants, mapped the incredibly complex U.S. energy system, advised the president and is now celebrating the passage of landmark U.S. climate legislation.

He’s also an advocate for electrifying everything – recently launching a not-for-profit organisation Rewiring Australia to push this.

Dr Griffith believes that decarbonisation is largely due to the use of the wrong machinery.

He calculates that there are about 101 million people in Australia.

Various machines including hot water systems, cars, ovens and stoves
There are millions of fossil fuel-burning machines in Australian households.(ABC: Cecilia Humphrey)

If it can simply swap them out, it will be heading towards net zero by 2050.

Simple, right?

It makes the seemingly complicated process of decarbonization sound like something you could accomplish at a suburban hardware store.

To work, most of these 101 million machines will need to be replaced with electric versions at the end of their useful lives.

Among other things, Net Zero is the equivalent of a nationwide collective home improvement program.

What are these machines?

They are usually the cars and appliances that most Australians use every day.

Things like gas heaters and gas drinkers. Small everyday machines owned by homes and small businesses that burn fossil fuels.

Then there are the larger, often company-owned machines used in industries such as manufacturing, construction and mining.

Some of these generate or supply energy for domestic and commercial purposes – they are machines such as coal-fired power plants or diesel-electric trains.

According to Dr. Griffiths, there are about 1 million of these large machines and about 100 million of the small machines.

We focus on smaller machines because they are easier to electrify.

Below is the total number of machines of each type.

Grid showing gas water systems, cars, gas cooktops and ovens make up a large number of machines
Australia’s 10 million households have a large number of fossil fuel-burning machines.(ABC: Cecilia Humphrey)

There are many different types of “miscellaneous” machines (i.e. lawn mower icons). Don’t worry about them just yet.

Let’s focus on the machines at the top: gas space heaters, gas hot water systems, gas cooktops and light vehicles.

If six million gas heaters were lined up, they would stretch from Sydney to Wagga Wagga all the way to Adelaide.

Map showing a range of gas heaters extending from Sydney to Adelaide
The line will extend over 1,400 kilometers.(ABC: Cecilia Humphrey)

If 2.6 million gas stoves were stacked on St Kilda Beach, the tower would soar into space.

A tower of gas stoves stretches from above Mount Everest into space
A stack of millions of gas stoves would extend into space (if it hadn’t been knocked down by a meteorite).(ABC: Cecilia Humphrey)

If the gas distribution lines that power these devices were unraveled and connected, a single pipe could circle the globe twice.

The gas distribution line circles the earth twice
About 100,000 kilometers of gas distribution lines(ABC: Cecilia Humphrey)

You get the idea: there are a lot of machines to replace.

These meandering gas heaters and leaning-tower gas stoves are a legacy of decades of cheap fossil fuels and unlimited emissions.

But, of course, we’re not really interested in the physical size of the machines, but in the emissions associated with each type.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Three types of machines are responsible for most of the emissions.

What machine emits the most?

If we ignore electricity-related emissions, home machines that typically emit the most are gasoline or diesel cars, gas hot water systems, and gas space heaters.

Together, they account for about 95 per cent of the average household’s emissions, said Professor Andrew Blakers from the Australian National University.

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