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What the Future Looks Like for Natural Gas

Posted to Questline in the Utility Management Group
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Brian Olsen's picture
Senior Energy Analyst Questline Inc

Former DOE Industrial and Commercial Energy Project Manager, DSM advocate, solar power and air/land/water pollution control post secondary instructor.

  • Member since 2022
  • 3 items added with 1,634 views
  • Jan 18, 2022
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On December 15, 2021, the New York City Council voted to ban natural gas heating and cooking appliances in some new construction buildings under seven stories in 2023, while others determined to be unfeasible by permitting authorities as well as taller buildings will need to comply in 2027. Hospitals, commercial kitchens and laundromats will be exempt from the ban.

This makes New York the largest city in the country to pass such a ban, and the governor of New York state has already expressed interest in extending the ban state-wide.

While many have expressed the opinion that this might be the bellwether signifying the eventual end of gas-fueled appliances in homes (which are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions), others consider it premature to make such drastic decisions, and that the laws will merely shift the use of natural gas to power plants instead of residential buildings.

The ban is designed to minimize impacts on individuals, but new construction dwellings will most likely carry a slightly higher price tag for electric appliances, barring the absence of financial assistance or sharp decreases in costs.

According to a study by sustainability think tank RMI, about 2.1 million tons of carbon emissions would be saved by 2040 under the New York ban, equivalent to the annual emissions of 450,000 cars. The change could also yield several hundred million dollars in ratepayer savings by 2040, due to cost avoidance on new gas connections.

Some of the other impacts of phasing out on-site natural gas use include additional electricity production and transmission to operate these new electric appliances. At least in the short term, this will force utility power plants to generate more electricity, some of which will be from renewables/nuclear power (about 40% of current generation).

However, without significant infrastructure changes, natural gas (which also accounts for about 40% of electrical production) remains the most readily available energy source to add generation capacity. The positive takeaway in this situation is that gas-fired power plants using the latest technology in cogeneration and heat recovery steam generators (or HRSGs) are much more efficient at converting natural gas to an electrical product (75 to 80%) as home appliances are at generating heat (40%), and with much better emission controls.

New York joins at least a half-dozen major cities that have passed similar restrictions. In response, 20 states have advanced legislation to prevent the ban of natural gas since 2020, citing that it should be up to the consumer to make their own energy choices.

“This is not really a climate solution,” said Daniel Lapato, senior director of state affairs with the American Gas Association, an advocacy group for the natural gas industry. “When you start eliminating these options, you have to look at the cost implications to the homeowner.”

Part of Lapato’s contention is the capture of natural gas from sources like farms or landfills, which can be arguably less harmful than the process of extracting it from the ground through fracking and other methods.

In addition, advocates in food industry have pushed back on electric cooking equipment, saying their capabilities do not allow them to replicate their dishes made over an open flame. Some of the aforementioned laws prohibit the banning of kitchen appliances which use gas at the current time.

One thing remains clear, and that is the debate about the future of natural gas is only beginning.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 18, 2022

Brian, though the debate about natural gas has been raging for a long, long time, here you bring to it some environmental perspective - that's been sorely lacking. That "the laws [banning natural gas for consumers] will merely shift the use of natural gas to power plants instead of residential buildings", there can be no doubt.

What many don't realize is that it will undoubtedly raise CO2 emissions. Using a gas stove to boil a pot of water is far more energy-efficient than burning gas in a power plant, to spin a turbine, to generate electricity, then transmitting that electricity over power lines, then heating a resistive element in an electric stove, to boil a pot of water.

"But only in the short term", critics say. "In the bright renewables future, all of our electricity will be generated by spinning wind turbines, and hundreds of square miles of solar panels glistening in the afternoon sun." Without drifting too far afield, those with some historical perspective will recognize these claims as the same they've heard for half a century - ones that never, ever pan out.

But just for fun, let's imagine a future where people don't mind spending 4-5 times their current rates for electricity to save the planet, a future where transmission lines criss-cross the sky, when the mayor's office in New York City, after dark, can be powered by solar power in California. Pinning all of our hopes on such a remote fantasy would be the height of irresponsibility, would it not? Far more likely, those new gas plants will still be burning gas in 2060, and then it will be too late.

Though Senior Director of State Affairs with the American Gas Association Daniel Lovato would never consider a proposal to expand nuclear power - to clean up electricity first, then ban gas - that would be the most responsible option of all.

Brian Olsen's picture
Brian Olsen on Jan 21, 2022

Thank you for your response, and you raise some good points. Given that this is only new construction being regulated and that we aren't completely getting rid of natural gas in existing buildings just yet, We may have more time to plan and adjust than many might think. A much more pressing issue which I don't see many people mentioning is the state of our existing T&D systems, and the dire need for smart grid and infrastructure updating. Were that to occur, I would be very interested to see if your stated dramatic increase in the cost of electricity would actually happen.

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Jan 25, 2022

As you are no doubt aware wind plants and solar with storage plants are being built and contracted under long term PPAs at prices for $25~$45/MWh including provision for maintenance and eventual decommissioning. As this is 1/3rd the cost of all in cost of energy from plant Vogtle and on average less than just the operating cost of existing nuclear plants which the EIA has determined to be $40/MWh why would power cost 5 times as much in an all-renewables scenario? In New York of all places, wind and hydro will easily keep the mayor's office lights on at night. Atlanta not so much if Plant Vogtle pops a valve 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 27, 2022

There are no solar with storage plants, Peter. The storage next to solar farms is storing electricity from a grid mix - it's placed there just to look "green". If there's any gas in the mix (there always is), resistance losses in the battery make it 20-30% dirtier than the electricity with which it was charged.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Jan 24, 2022

Yet another example of the arrogance, foolishness and incompetence of those running New York City. The policy inflicts even more economic misery on the poor and middle class unable to flee the tyranny of New York democratic politicians. All this so the liberal elite can feel good about themselves while not suffering the economic pain they inflict. Utterly disgusting.

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Jan 25, 2022

More facts less polemics would be good.

1. In the depths of winter heat pump heating is not very efficient for hot water or space heating but in temperatures above 5C i.e. most of the time a CC gas plant feeding heat pump heating has a system wide efficiency of about 0.58-0.6 x .9 x 3-4 = 1.5 to 2.6 far better than a gas boiler in a basement with gas leaks through the distribution system and thermal losses all over the place which would be extremely unlikely to exceed 0.7.

2. This policy will apply to about 2% on New York housing per year, residential gas use is 1/3rd of New York State gas consumption so assuming that there is no increase in building efficiency, the swap to electricity heating will increase electricity demand by about 0.1%. Renewable generation in New York is increasing at about 10% per year, easily supplying more energy than the extra demand caused by gas disconnection.

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 26, 2022

"More facts less polemics would be good."

Agree, Peter. More facts are always good.

"Renewable generation in New York is increasing at about 10% per year, easily supplying more energy than the extra demand caused by gas disconnection."

Unfortunately, no. Gas is increasing twice as fast in NY as all wind and solar combined.

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Jan 27, 2022

I won't argue with that Bob because New York has been cutting coal (good) nuclear (not good). However, coal is now very low and no more nuclear plants will be closed for the next decade or so hopefully any further renewable generation is at the expense of fossil fuels. 

I don't particularly care whether it is coal or gas 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 27, 2022

"no more nuclear plants will be closed for the next decade or so..."

 


 

"hopefully any further renewable generation is at the expense of fossil fuels..."

 

Peter, besides nuclear, what do you think will provide power at night when the wind isn't blowing? Gas, of course, and until the sun shines all night long, adding more renewable energy to the grid is only increasing gas consumption (in New York and throughout the U.S.). Worse, we're becoming dependent on it:
 

 

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