Embracing a new reality of natural gas use

New realities for domestic natural gas use are now possible because of a dramatic change in the U.S. energy landscape. Today, thanks to advanced technologies that have unlocked previously unavailable resources, natural gas is abundant, affordable and available for greater use in American homes and businesses in clean and efficient ways.

But in order to take advantage of these benefits, we need to match the growing supply with demand, by encouraging businesses and consumers to make the switch to natural gas and updating policies surrounding its use. A study released by IHS CERA and the American Gas Foundation entitled, “Fueling the Future with Natural Gas: Bringing it Home” outlines the many opportunities across the economy to increase natural gas use – and they are all too significant to ignore.

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For homeowners, the options to use more natural gas are as vast as the resource base. From traditional uses of natural gas for heating and cooking, to natural gas-powered automobiles—refueled at home—and even small-scale power generation through the use of microgrids, new appliances and technologies are being created every day to take advantage of our natural gas supply.

These are not fantasies from a science fiction movie, but instead are current and real consumer uses for natural gas.  

Just using traditional natural gas appliances provides significant cost savings for consumers. Households that use natural gas appliances for heating, water heating, cooking and clothes-drying spend an average of $600 less annually than homes using comparable appliances.

For industry, it has been well documented that increased domestic natural gas has led to a manufacturing resurgence in the United States—strengthening our economy and making us more competitive—as companies move operations previously located abroad back stateside to take advantage of natural gas’ accessibility and lower price. IHS CERA estimates that cheaper natural gas would create 300,000 jobs and $500 billion in investment by 2025 in the chemical sector alone.

Communities, cities and states are recognizing the advantages as well. In the northeast, particularly New York City, oil based heating is being replaced by natural gas heat due to its price, and environmental benefits.

And the environmental benefits are just as significant as the end uses. Natural gas is 92 percent efficient when the full-fuel-cycle is calculated, making the fuel more efficient than other energy sources. Instead of having to transport the resource from production to power plants and then distributing that electricity to the end-user, natural gas is transported directly to homes and businesses, dramatically reducing energy lost during the journey to the end-user. Natural gas’s 92 percent full-fuel-cycle efficiency compares to an average of about 40 percent for energy that goes through a power plant. This energy savings helps reduce customers’ utility bills and appliance life-cycle costs, while also lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

To fully realize these benefits, utilities and policymakers must work together to realign our policies with today’s energy realities. Many of today’s policies were developed at a time of perceived scarcity.  In just the last few years, we have entered a new era of energy abundance because of the shale gas revolution.  New policies are needed to expand access to natural gas for more homes and businesses, and to enable our nation to capture the full benefits of the resource, including greater energy efficiency, reduced emissions, and economic growth. 

Our nation’s growing abundance of clean and affordable natural gas requires a visionary approach focused on increasing its daily use throughout the economy. Natural gas utilities stand ready to play a leading role in making this possible by encouraging market expansion through collaboration with policymakers, communities and customers. All Americans stand to gain if we make investments and update our policies now to realize the full potential of a natural gas-fueled future.

McCurdy is president and CEO of the American Gas Association and a board member of the American Gas Foundation; More information about the study can be found at www.fuelingthefuture.org. McCurdy represented Oklahoma's 4th Congressional District from 1981 to 1995.