Adoption of new natural gas technologies for home heating could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the residential sector, according to a study commissioned by the American Gas Association.
The study found that the U.S. could cut greenhouse gas emissions from the homes by 24% to 40% through 2050 by implementing policies that encourage the use of advanced space heating and water heating systems. Many of the technologies are available or will hit the market in the coming years, according to the report. The report was prepared for the American Gas Foundation, or AGF,by consulting firm Enovation Partners.
"[The technologies are] low hanging fruit that should be a core element considered for any responsible emissions reduction plan," the study authors concluded.
The report also found that adopting these technologies would have certain advantages over electrifying buildings.
The AGF released the study as local governments advance measures that encourage building electrification and prohibit natural gas in new structures.
"By incorporating new, highly efficient natural gas appliances and using renewable natural gas, America's natural gas utilities will reduce emissions along their systems and American homes can drastically cut emissions while maintaining the warmth and comfort they have grown to love from natural gas," American Gas Association President and CEO Karen Harbert said.
The analysis focused on space and water heating, which account for 91% of gas consumption in U.S. homes, and clothes drying, which represents less than 1%.
In a scenario where advanced gas heating technology achieves modest market penetration, U.S. residential carbon dioxide emissions could fall by 60 million tonnes per annum by 2050, or a 24% drop from the 2020 baseline. Emissions could fall by 101 mtpa, a 40% reduction, over the same period assuming more robust adoption.
The technologies identified in the report came in a wide variety and spanned a range of cost and energy efficiency, from currently available condensing gas furnaces to a thermal compression gas heat pump boiler expected to enter the market around 2030. The report acknowledged that consumers will need financial incentives to adopt some of the new systems but said policymakers can repeal subsidies once the technologies reach economic scale and prices become competitive.
The authors said incentives would provide a greater number of low-cost options to policymakers than other emissions reductions programs.
The strategy could also provide a quicker pathway to emissions reductions because unlike building electrification, it would not require costly, time-consuming construction of electric power generation, transmission and distribution assets, the authors said. However, many utilities are already investing in renewable power generation and grid modernization.
Finally, the report's authors said the gas technologies could provide deeper emissions reductions in places that will continue to rely substantially on coal- and gas-fired electric power generation through 2040. Building electrification would increase emissions in these places, while adopting advanced gas systems would reduce overall gas consumption and associated emissions, the authors said.
Those advantages can be further augmented by increased use of renewable natural gas, the study found. A separate AGF study released Dec. 18 found that renewable natural gas deployment could yield 101 mtpa to 235 mtpa of emissions reductions by 2040.
The Sierra Club criticized the AGF report for basing its analysis on technology that is costly and not readily available while ignoring electric appliances that are more efficient. The report also overlooked the planet-warming impact of methane leaks in gas production and transportation, the environmental group said.
"Robust independent analysis has demonstrated that electric appliances are more affordable, safer and healthier, and communities around the nation have started recognizing that it's time to move beyond gas," said Rachel Golden, deputy director of the Sierra Club's building electrification program. "This study is part of an escalating effort by the [AGF-affiliated American Gas Association] to confuse and push back against the public's desire for real clean energy."
Mark Silberg, senior associate at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on low-carbon energy, said the emissions reductions in the report would require subsidies of up to $3,300 for technology that is not yet available.
"We know that today in most states electrifying heating and cooling in buildings with heat pumps will reduce carbon emissions on day one," Silberg said. "Electric heat pumps, electric clothes drying, and electric induction cooking are all commercially available and in many cases cost-effective without any subsidy at all."