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Surviving Ice Storms with Natural Gas

Just three weeks ago in February, Oregon’s Willamette Valley was pummeled by a 50-year ice storm.  Hundreds of thousands of homes lost electricity, as well as phone, cable, and cell service – and many neighborhoods went 10 days or more without electric service. It is important to remember what an electrified home loses without electricity: heat (no baseboard heat, no heat pump), no stove or oven for cooking, no appliances (most importantly, no coffeemaker), no lights, and no hot water. But there were no natural gas interruptions during this time. Homes with natural gas could still use their gas fireplaces for heat, their gas stoves to cook, and had hot water from their gas water heaters (think hot showers in a cold house). Why is this? The natural gas system is inherently reliable AND resilient.

It’s important to understand the difference between resilience and reliability. The terms are often referenced together or even used interchangeably, but they are very different. As described in a recent report by the American Gas Foundation, “resilience is defined as a system’s ability to prevent, withstand, adapt to, and quickly recover from a high-impact, low-likelihood event such as a major disruption in a transmission pipeline. In comparison, reliability refers to a systems’ ability to maintain energy delivery under standard operating conditions, such as the standard fluctuations in demand and supply.” So, when we are discussing how the natural gas system performs during a severe ice storm, we are discussing resilience.

The natural gas industry’s resilience can be tested by its ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions, as well as withstand and recover from deliberate attacks, accidents, or naturally occurring threats or incidents.

Ultimately, the greatest test of resilience is whether a utility’s commitments to customers can be met regardless of the degree of stress that is caused by a weather event.

Despite some of nature’s harshest conditions, during the Oregon Ice Storm of 2021, the natural gas industry passed this test with flying colors, proving both exceedingly reliable and resilient.

Resilience was demonstrated through the continued service and availability of natural gas despite threatening weather and outages on the electric grid.

It is exactly this resilience that makes natural gas the perfect complement to electricity in providing warmth and light to homes and businesses in the Pacific Northwest.  And gas is a natural part of the region’s move to decarbonize, providing stability, reliability, and resilience.

Renewable is Doable

 

Renewable is Doable

By Alex Schay

In North America, we rely on natural gas to provide the majority of our space and process heat. It is also safe to assert that, in most cases, the next MegaWatt hour will be generated through the combustion of natural gas. For example, 80% of the heat used for food processing is derived from natural gas.

In order to make meaningful progress toward addressing climate change, gas utilities are taking steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their fuel mix. Gas utilities have five tools that will enable them to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuel, including:

  • Energy efficiency;
  • Reduce gas flaring and fugitive methane emissions;
  • Tighten up pipeline infrastructure to minimize methane leakage;
  • Surplus renewable electricity may be used to convert water into Renewable Hydrogen (RH2); and,
  • Decomposition of organic waste may be used to produce Renewable Natural Gas (RNG), e.g., at landfills, at commercial & municipal wastewater treatment plants, as well as on dairies and confined animal feeding operations.

What is Renewable Natural Gas?

Both Conventional Natural Gas and Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) contain an identical CH4 molecule. RNG is a green fuel that comes from waste material, such as garbage, human waste, and animal manure. As such, RNG uses waste streams that are part of the current lifecycle to create a useful product that burns cleanly and significantly reduces Greenhouse Gas emissions as compared with gasoline or Diesel.

 

GHG reductions accrue when using CNG and RNG as opposed to gasoline or Diesel
Conventional (fossil) Natural Gas (CNG) 5% – 15%
Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) sourced from a landfill 40% – 50%
RNG sourced from a municipal wastewater treatment plant 75% – 85%
RNG generated from animal manure Ø  > than 100%

Food processing plants may offer a special opportunity for the production of RNG. Many food-processing facilities have their own wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). Often times, gas generated at commercial WWTPs is captured in covered lagoons and then sent to a flare. These types of waste-management scenarios offer significant opportunities to improve the gas collection, production, and utilization.

Because the Federal Renewable Fuel Standard classifies biogas generated at food-processing facilities as an “Advanced Biofuel,” RNG generated at such projects will only earn D5 Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) when used as a transportation fuel. More valuable D3 RINs, however, are generated at landfills, municipal WWTPs, as well, as from animal manure. As such, RNG from food-processing facilities will not deliver as much economic benefit as RNG from landfills or municipal WWTPs when used as a transportation fuel.

To that end, RNG produced at food-processing plants may offer a cost-competitive resource that gas utilities may use to reduce their fuel mix’s carbon footprint. For example, a recent analysis of anthropogenic GHG emissions associated with RNG that will be produced at a dairy-processing plant in Washington State revealed that this fuel will have a carbon footprint that is more than 95% lower than conventional natural gas. In this way, food processors may help gas utilities reduce their fuel mix’s carbon intensity in a cost-effective manner.

At present, 32% of US energy consumption is fueled by natural gas. Unlike electricity, which must be used immediately or lost forever, RNG and RH2 can be stored for use when needed. A diversified decarbonization strategy will embrace all technologies, including cleaning up both the electricity grid and natural gas pipeline network. With this context in mind, we encourage an “All-of-the-Above” strategy as we work to decarbonize our energy future.

 

Cooking with Gas

The American Gas Association recently announced a partnership with Food Network star Amber Kelley to highlight natural gas as the tool of choice for chefs everywhere. 

The simple turn of a knob on a gas range gives chefs the control they need to make anything they can imagine. There is no other technology that allows the control and high heat content that natural gas offers, and chefs around the world rely on our resource as a critical tool in the cooking craft. 

The value of natural gas does not stop in professional kitchens. Homeowners across the world prefer natural gas as their go-to cooking resource. Aside from providing a superior cooking experience, a study by Market Strategies International showed that 90% of homebuyers say they’d pay $50,000 more for a home with natural gas appliances.

Sixteen-year-old Amber Kelley is a cookbook author, speaker, winner of Food Network Star Kids, and the host of her popular Youtube series Cook With Amber. From her appearances on The Disney Channel, E!, and the Today Show, to her endorsement from Jamie Oliver, Amber is inspiring a whole new generation of eaters to get in the kitchen and have fun. We are excited to hear from Amber on how natural gas supports her budding cooking career.

Keeping warm and safe in the Pacific Northwest

Last year at this time, the Pacific Northwest was experiencing its coldest winter in 24 years; this year the East coast is experiencing the cold “bomb cyclone.” Luckily, we can observe from our warm, safe homes. Safety is the top priority of your natural gas company, and like the tango, it takes a partner to be safe. You are our safety partner.

As your partner, we want to give you the facts on carbon monoxide (CO) and prepare you should you ever experience a CO incident. Fact: CO is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is produced by burning wood, propane, charcoal, natural gas or by letting a gasoline engine or generator run in an enclosed space.

Fact: CO poisoning is caused by improperly ventilated appliances or engines. The enclosed space may allow carbon monoxide to accumulate to dangerous levels. That’s why you should never operate a gas or briquette grill, a generator or propane heater indoors.

Fact: Warning signs are similar to having the flu, such as dull headaches, weakness, dizziness, confusion, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting. A clue would be if more than one person is becoming ill at the same time since the flu takes a few days to be passed from one to another. If symptoms begin in one space and go away soon after leaving the area, that may be carbon monoxide poisoning.

Prevention: Install a carbon monoxide detector according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Keep vents and chimneys open when burning, and make sure they are properly vented, especially if you have had any construction or roofing done. Start your car only after you open the garage door and move into the driveway before closing the door.

Prevention: Just like with your fire alarm, you need to make sure things are maintained and ready to serve you. Once a year, maybe when you replace the batteries in the fire alarm, ask your utility about getting a check-up on all your fuel-burning appliances. Keep your fireplace in good repair and get the flue cleaned once a year.

Action: If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, remove everyone including pets from the area and head to fresh air immediately. Contact your gas utility, call 911 and wait for clearance before entering your home.

GUEST BLOG: Coming Solar Eclipse Further Proves that Renewables Need Natural Gas

Anti-fossil fuel activists like 350.org’s Bill McKibben often pretend the United States can run on 100 percent renewable energy without the use of any traditional fuel sources. McKibben recently wrote in Rolling Stone that “the sundown problem is being solved fast, as batteries are able to store the energy from the morning sun and the wind from a gusty evening to keep the power running overnight.”

McKibben’s claims simply aren’t true though, and preparations for next week’s total solar eclipse illustrate this cold, hard fact.

Because storage technology to allow for solar power to stand alone — even during a brief loss of sunlight — doesn’t currently exist, the solar industry has been actively preparing for how to mitigate the issue in places like sunny California where that industry thrives. The solution? Natural gas.

Benefits of Direct Use of Natural Gas

For many years, energy agencies have alerted Americans to the importance of energy efficiency. A variety of tags and certifications, backed by financial incentives, encourage us to understand our equipment buying options. We know that it makes sense to spend a little more on a product so that we can save money and energy throughout its useful life.

These efforts continue to reduce per capita energy use for both natural gas and electric customers. And the more energy we save, the lower our impact on the environment.