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Photo at the bottom of one of the Holland Energy Park stacks.

The math on electrification adds up

As a savvy local utility customer, you may have wondered about the environmental benefits of switching from natural gas appliances to electric appliances, especially if most of our local electricity comes from a natural gas power plant.

Taking a residential heat pump, for example. Let’s walk through why “electrifying” reduces your carbon footprint as a customer of Holland BPW.

The average Michigan home needs around 72 million BTUs of heat to get through the winter, regardless of the heating system you have. If you have a high efficiency gas furnace with a 95% efficiency rating, you need to buy and burn around 76 million BTUs of natural gas to get 72 million BTUs of heat output from your furnace.

Drone photo of Holland Energy Park on a sunny day.

If you have an electric heat pump, your heating load is still the same 72 million BTUs. But because heat pumps can capture existing heat from the surrounding air, even in cold winters thanks to chemical refrigerants, they can be more than 100% efficient in turning fuel, or in this case electricity, into heat.

In fact, heat pumps can be more than 300% efficient, meaning they can turn one unit of electric energy into three units of heat energy. So, for a heat pump to generate 72 million BTUs of heating, it only needs to use 24 million BTUs of electric energy, compared to the 76 million BTUs of gas the traditional furnace needs.

Now consider the source of that electricity.

Heat pump

Most of your electricity here in Holland comes from HBPW’s Holland Energy Park, a “combined cycle” natural gas power plant. It’s called combined cycle because it burns natural gas to spin turbines and make electricity, and then waste heat from that process is used to make steam to spin a second generator, making even more electricity.

This process is normally around 50% efficient, but it can be up to 60% efficient in the winter when the system is dispelling additional waste heat into the downtown snowmelt system. This efficiency rating is less than your home’s furnace because a furnace’s thermal efficiency measures how much useful heat you get per unit of fuel put in, while a power plant’s efficiency rating measures its ability to make electricity — that is, converting thermal energy into mechanical energy to spin a turbine.

The 60% efficiency of Holland Energy Park means that, to make the 24 million BTUs of energy needed for your heat pump, the plant would need to burn about 40 million BTUs of natural gas. But since a portion of your local electricity comes from renewable sources, you actually need less than 40 million BTUs.

At Holland BPW’s current level of providing around 16% renewable energy, your heat pump only used around 34 million BTUs from Holland Energy Park with the other 6 million BTUs coming from clean renewable sources. As we work to meet the state’s new renewable energy standards over the next five to 10 years, the amount of natural gas needed to make each unit of electricity will continue to drop.

So, compare 34 million BTUs to power a heat pump with the 76 million BTUs needed to power an efficient gas furnace, and you'll see the gas furnace is responsible for more than twice the carbon emissions than when using a heat pump. To learn about other ways to reduce your carbon footprint, visit