City’s program to switch homes from gas to electric water heaters off to a slow start

Daily Post Staff Writer

When Palo Alto City Council approved a program to make it easier for residents to switch from natural gas to electric water heaters, the city set a goal of replacing 1,000 water heaters by the end of the year.

Six months in, and the city has installed 13 electric water heaters, with 27 more installations scheduled, according to Jonathan Abendschein, the city’s assistant director of resource management. That means the city is less than 4% of the way to its goal.

Or, put another way, the city is 987 homes away from its goal.

Council approved the water heater program in October, allowing residents to call the city and replace their water heater for either $2,800 up front or $1,500, plus $20 a month for the next five years.

The idea was to make it easier for the 90% of homes in Palo Alto with gas-powered water heaters to make the switch to electric, moving Palo Alto toward its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
By hiring a pre-approved contract and offering on-bill financing, the city would save residents time and money. Council signed a three-year, $7.7 million contract with Synergy Companies to run the program.

Labor shortage

But Synergy Companies has struggled to find workers who can go to homes and assess their electric and plumbing systems, Abendschein said.

These assessors ideally have completed a trade school and can do electrical load calculations — skills that are in high demand and short supply in the Bay Area right now, Abendschein said.

The city’s goal is to ramp up to 20 installations a week in the coming months, he said.

Citywide goal

The city spent the first few months of the year promoting the program and getting people to sign up, and the first installation was done in early April.

“We’re trying to create a set of partnerships and processes that will not only be able to handle 1,000 heat pump water heater installations this year but will be capable of working through all the water heaters in Palo Alto by 2030 if the community approves a program expansion,” Abendschein said in an email to Matt Schlegel, a climate activist who was pushing the city to move faster.


  1. If this were a private business, they’d shutdown because of the poor sales rate. But since this “business” is funded with our taxes, they can keep on going and going, regardless of whether this is a popular product or not. When does the city council decide that it’s time to close this business?

  2. If this “voluntary” program fails, will the city go to mandatory conversion to electric? What will that look like? Police and utility workers going to homes to remove gas appliances?

  3. Banning natural gas is one of the worst decisions the Bay Area government is dictating. The electrical grid cannot handle the current load. Electricity is terribly inefficient at creating heat. Natural gas is clean burning and incredibly efficient at heating water or air for homes. This decision is either extreme incompetence or it’s a grift. Follow the money.

  4. I signed up in early June to see what it would take to replace my gas water heater with a hybrid model. They sent me a form to fill out, after submitting it I was told on June 6 someone would be back in touch in a few weeks. Still waiting….

    I do hope that the $7.7 million contract with Synergy Companies was performance based (for example, per water heater installed).

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