Introducing the Falcon Curve

The “Falcon Curve” - If 100% of building energy demands were converted to electricity using technologies with a COP of 1 (COP is coefficient of performance – the higher the number, the more efficient the technology). Source: HEET and Harvard University.
November 23, 2022

Sometimes, you need to define a challenge in order to communicate how you are solving it. 

To reach carbon reduction goals nationally, we must transition our buildings—a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions—off of fossil fuels. In carrying out this energy transition to electricity powered by renewable energy, we need a plan that minimizes cost and maximizes our ability to rapidly achieve our climate goals. 

That means we need to keep our electric grid peaks as low as possible, while considering safety, reliability, affordability, emissions, equity, and security at multiple scales, from building to neighborhood to region to national. That’s a lot to take into account! 

In a paper published in Scientific Reports, researchers from HEET, Harvard University and Boston University illustrate how technology efficiency is a key factor that will affect the affordability, speed and equity of emissions reductions. Meet the Falcon Curve. 

“The Falcon Curve draws our attention to a key relationship between the choice of building electrification technology and the impacts on our power grid,” said study coauthor Zeyneb Magavi, Co-Executive Director of HEET. “This is one of the challenges that a gas to networked geothermal transition helps solve.” 

If we move our fossil fuel heating to electric baseboard heating, the least efficient heating electrification technology, we will have a winter peak that looks like a falcon flying. This will require a costly buildout of the electric grid. If we use air source heat pumps, much more efficient than baseboard, the falcon begins to land—but still is likely to drive electricity costs up with the large winter peak on the electric grid. 

Networked geothermal is the most efficient method we know of. This pathway has the lowest impact on the electric grid, therefore minimizing cost over time and increasing the speed of transition. 

“Our research makes clear that, when accounting for seasonal fluctuations in energy consumption apparent in the Falcon Curve, the drive to electrify our buildings must be coupled with a commitment to energy-efficient technologies to ensure building decarbonization efforts maximize climate and health benefits,” says study senior author Dr. Joseph G. Allen, Associate Professor and Director of the Healthy Buildings program at The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

To learn more, check out this Washington Post article and Harvard University's blog post on three key takeaways from the study. Read out the full study here.