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Gas Appliance Phaseout

Ed Reid's picture
Vice President, Marketing (Retired) / Executive Director (Retired) / President (Retired) Columbia Gas Distribution Companies / American Gas Cooling Center / Fire to Ice, Inc.

Industry Participation: Natural Gas Industry Research, Development and Demonstration Initiative Chair, Cooling Committee (1996-1999)   American Gas Association Marketing Section...

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  • Feb 8, 2022
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Achieving Net Zero GHG emissions by 2050 would require a complete phaseout of residential and commercial gas appliances, including furnaces and boilers, water heaters, ranges and ovens, laundry dryers, grills, and standby generators.

US DOE, in cooperation with the US electric utility industry, has been attempting to eliminate gas end uses for decades. Initially, this effort was based on the ludicrous fantasy that electricity magically appeared at the customers’ meters at 100% efficiency. This fantasy ignored the primary energy losses during the generation processes as well as the secondary losses, including generating plant parasitic power consumption as well as transmission and distribution losses. This approach placed gas end uses at a disadvantage since gas parasitic losses and transmission and distribution losses are far lower than those in the electric system, and gas equipment losses occur downstream of the customer meter.

This fantasy rationalization has now been replaced by the fantasy of climate change as a “crisis”, “emergency” or “existential threat. The federal government has set Net Zero as a goal to be achieved by 2050, but with no published plan to achieve the goal. The Administration has taken several steps toward a gas phaseout, including a proposed ban on gas exploration and production both offshore and on federal lands. The Administration is also pressuring lenders to refuse to finance new gas system investment. Several state governments have banned hydraulic fracturing for natural gas production. Other states have refused to approve pipeline expansions to serve growing consumer demand. One state is attempting to halt operation of an existing pipeline that serves both US and Canadian markets. Several cities have banned or announced bans on new natural gas connections.

These actions have already driven significant increases in natural gas prices and have threatened supply shortages. The situation will only get worse as supply is restricted further.

Replacing existing gas end-use appliances and equipment with electric end-use equipment would often require electric service upgrades of 100 amperes in residential dwellings and of several hundred amperes in commercial buildings. The replacement appliances and equipment would add thousands of dollars to the cost. The replacement electric appliances would also increase consumer energy bills as electricity rates increase due to the transition to renewable energy sources plus electricity storage.

The realization that gas service would become unavailable in the future would cause builders and their customers to choose all-electric construction to avoid later conversion costs. It would also cause customers faced with appliance replacement decisions to choose electric appliances to replace worn-out gas equipment. Progressive appliance and equipment replacement would increase gas costs as the existing transmission and distribution infrastructure was used to deliver less and less gas over time. It is completely predictable that these cost increases would be blamed on the suppliers, rather than on the government actions which caused the increases.

The unavailability of gas standby generation systems would increase the vulnerability of customers which require an uninterruptible power supply, such as hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and some residential buildings including high-rise apartment and condominium complexes, to grid interruptions.

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Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Feb 9, 2022

Good article ED, Just look at the fires and explosions from home gas lines. My home is 100% Electric and Solar. I have saved a fortune and breath clean air all the time. Nothing to explode too. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 12, 2022

Ed, it's important to remember the concept of economic low-hanging fruit, and to think about air pollution.  Electricity is a value-added energy product and costs more: on a per kWh basis, it's usually quadruple the cost of gas.  Replacing gas for home heating with an electric heat pump is low hanging: the heat pump moves 3 kWh of heat for around 1 kWh of electricity, so the cost almost balances.

 

For other energy-hungry appliances such as water heaters and clothes dryers, each kWh of electricity will replace about one kWh of gas, so switching will cause their energy costs to quadruple!  For cook-tops, maybe the costs only triple, since electricity is probably more efficient at getting the heat into the pots (but my family prefers the quick and precise control of gas cooking).

 

The other issue is air pollution.  If your grid is half fossil gas and half non-emitting, you could break even.  But my state's grid is powered by a mix of windpower, fossil gas, and coal.  We all know coal is somewhat worse than gas for CO2 emission, but for the criteria air pollutants that cause the most harm to human health (particulates, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides; plus mercury which is separate), coal is between 23x and 2370x worse * (per kWh).   

 

So assuming 23x worse emissions (and correcting for power plant efficiency), the grid mix would need to be under 2% coal in order for an electric dryer or water-heater to be cleaner than gas; for the other listed pollutants coal would have to be much, much lower!

 

So I'm keeping my gas appliances for the foreseeable future; it's the cleaner option.

 

* According to this report from Argonne National Labs, the improvement in pollution emissions going to fossil gas from bituminous coal is (oil and biomass are roughly as bad as coal): 

Particulates PM10: 256x

Particulates PM2.5: 215x

Sulfur oxides SOx: 2370x

Nitrogen oxides NOx: 23x

 

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