Yes, we can (eventually) electrify (almost) everything!

Saul Griffith
5 min readOct 24, 2023

Saul Griffith, PhD

There’s a chorus of people who say that since we can’t electrify everything, all at once, the project of electrification is doomed. They point out hard-to-electrify areas of our economy as a justification to keep burning fossil fuels, building methane pipelines, and advancing the myth that we can capture all the carbon we burn and sequester it someplace.

The nay-sayers use a small number of exceptions to try to undermine an overriding truth: electrification is the most efficient, cost-effective, and money-saving solution to not only our carbon dioxide problem but our economic woes. They are yielding economic opportunity to other countries and artificially slowing down the advantages and savings of electrification to our own.

In my book Electrify, I point out that currently, we can electrify almost everything — and with our spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, we’re working on the rest. Let’s take a look at some of the hard-to-electrify areas that people bring up as obstacles.

Short-haul flights are ripe for electrification. All drawings by Saul Griffith.

Long-haul aviation

It’s true that long-haul aviation can’t (yet, and maybe never) be achieved through electrification. But aviation is only 2% of global emissions and long haul is less than 1%. Long-haul flights will likely use biofuels to get enough range, which the US can easily produce.

Short-haul flights under 500 miles look ripe for electrification, enabled by increases in the power density of motors and batteries.

Flying is energy-intensive per minute but not per mile. Per passenger-mile traveled, it requires approximately the same energy as driving in a car with a passenger. Still, reducing the number of flights taken is one of the most effective ways for individuals to reduce their energy footprints.

Electric-powered long-hau trucks will cost half as much to drive.

Long-haul trucking

With long-haul trucking, the price differential between electricity and diesel is already tipped in favor of electrification. A typical 7mpg big rig gulping $3/gallon gas will cost 43 cents per mile. At 20 cents and one mile per kilowatt hour, it will cost less than half to drive the same rig the same mile powered by electricity, and it’ll be even cheaper with the closer-to-wholesale prices of electricity that should be available at scale. Big rigs aren’t allowed to drive 24 hours per day for safety reasons. A 10-hour driving shift is 550–650 miles, only about double what existing batteries can do economically; recent announcements from companies such as CATL tease batteries with double the energy density. Trucking will be a slam-dunk win for electrification, but because the US has been ignoring the physics of electrification and trying to shore up the fossil industry, it has yielded this technological advantage to China. China will now have a trucking cost advantage over us.

With both long-haul aviation and trucking, people propose hydrogen as an alternative fuel. Hydrogen looks good on paper but the weight of the tanks you need to store it quickly drowns out its advantages. Clean hydrogen is an electrification strategy, but a hopelessly inefficient one. Clean hydrogen has to start with electricity. If you use a battery, 90% of that original electricity moves the truck. If you use hydrogen as the battery (hydrogen is a storage medium, not an energy source) only 30–40% of that electricity moves the truck. Hydrogen will never move the truck as cheaply as direct electrification. Hydrogen might fill important niches, but only niches.

Heavy industry and steel

Heavy industry and the high heat it requires, such as in making steel, are often cited as impossible to electrify. I’m a metallurgist as well as an energy nerd. There are electrochemical pathways to many of our “high heat” needs. Look at technologies and companies like Boston Metals and new ARPA-e programs in (electric) steel making. As many energy analysts will tell you, most of these high heat industries are yielding to electrification.

Land use

People fret that renewable energy — wind and solar — will require too much land and will be eyesores. Yes, solar and wind take up a lot of space, but so did telephone lines and oil rigs, and we made do. We have to adjust our eyes and our landscapes to the needs of our electrified future.

Solar panels and windmills will become more pervasive in our cities, suburbs, and rural areas. To power all of America on solar, for example, would require about 1% of the land area dedicated to solar collection — about the same area we currently dedicate to roads or rooftops. To electrify everything in the US, we’ll need to generate around 1,500–2,000 GW of energy. To electrify all that with solar would take about 1.5 million acres of solar panels. Rooftops, parking space, and commercial and industrial buildings can do double duty as solar collectors. Similarly, we can farm wind on the same land used to farm crops (and farmers will be paid more).

People discuss nuclear as an alternative solution, but nuclear energy is already a critical part of “electrifying everything”. Nuclear isn’t universally loved, however; nor is it cheap.

The Australian miracle

I relocated from the US to Australia recently and there is a revolution underfoot here. Australian rooftop solar installs at $0.60 US/W. After financing, that is delivering 3c/kWh electricity to Australian households– the cheapest retail energy humans have ever experienced. Driving your electric car with Australian rooftop solar costs around 2 cents per mile, 10 times cheaper than gas.

I hope we stop finding artificial reasons to slow-run the electrification of everything, and turn our attention to the regulatory barriers that prevent America from having nice things, such as the cheapest energy ever available.

Dr. Griffith is an engineer, inventor, and founder and chief scientist of Rewiring America. He is the author of Electrify (MIT Press, 2022).



Saul Griffith

Founder / Principal Scientist at Otherlab, an energy R&D lab, and co-founder/Principal Scientist at Rewiring America, a coalition to electrify everything.