The role of gas in climate change and global warming
Climate change and global warming refer to the long-term rise of Earth’s average temperature. Burning fossil fuels can be major contributors to climate change energy challenges, and natural gas, when burned, accounts for around one-fifth of global carbon dioxide emissions.
When burned, natural gas releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases directly into atmosphere. These gases trap heat and can lead to the planet warming over time. The more we rely on gas and other fossil fuels, the more these emissions accumulate and increase the risks of extreme weather through climate change.
The impact of natural gas on the environment does produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than oil or coal. However, compared to burning fossil coal power, the environmental impact natural gas usage has still harms the environment substantially. Transitioning to renewable energy sources demonstrates that natural gas cleaner alternatives like wind and solar can drastically cut emissions and limit the impacts of climate change.
Greenhouse gas emissions from gas consumption
Burning natural gas, an oil gas source, releases several greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, with carbon dioxide CO2 and methane CH4 being most notable. These gases contribute to the greenhouse effect, trapping heat in the atmosphere and leading to a rise in global temperature over time.
Natural gas emits around the stated percent less carbon dioxide than coal when burned for electricity generation. However, methane leaks during gas oil extraction, transport, and with every power plant consumption can offset these emission reductions. Methane is distinctly times more powerful than CO2, with an emission factor being 84 times more potent in trapping heat over a 20 year period.
In 2019, when comes to CO2 emissions, those from natural gas consumption in the United States totalled nearly 1.5 billion metric tonnes – the second highest of all fossil fuels after petroleum. Tackling carbon emissions from gas is vital to limiting climate change and adhering to the goals set out by united nations in the Paris Agreement.
Transitioning to solar wind energy sources, along with the implementation of gas cleanest practices, can drastically cut greenhouse gas output from the power sector while still meeting our energy needs.
Methane leaks exacerbating climate impact
Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, trapping heat in the atmosphere much more effectively than carbon dioxide. Pound for pound, methane has an emission factor 84 times more powerful at trapping heat than dioxide co2 over a 20 year period.
Recent studies indicate methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing, with the use of fracking fluid, and other oil and gas operations are significantly underreported. Leaks, contributing to water pollution, occur throughout the natural gas industry supply chain - from extraction and processing to storage and distribution.
These fugitive methane emissions can offset much of the climate benefits gained by burning gas instead of coal for electricity. Plugging leaks, improving infrastructure and combating acid rain by switching to renewable energy sources can help mitigate methane’s impact.
Methane also contributes to air pollution and air pollutants can harm human health when released into the atmosphere. Minimising leaks is crucial to ensuring environmental protection against methane’s detrimental health effects and accelerating climate change.
Transitioning from gas to renewable energy
Transitioning from natural gas to renewable energy sources is crucial for building a sustainable future and achieving reductions in carbon. Solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power emit little to no greenhouse gases when generating electricity.
In contrast, gas-fired power plants produce significant emissions over their lifespan. Phasing out natural gas power stations with clean renewables can drastically reduce carbon dioxide and methane output, combating the escalating climate crisis.
Energy efficiency upgrades can also decrease gas demand in the interim. Installing better insulation, high-efficiency heating systems, and smart thermostats can serve to reduce energy consumption and requires less fuel. Reducing our overall fuel use mitigates the climate impact of natural gas.
Government incentives, public engagement and corporate commitments to sustainability will also smooth the shift to renewables while meeting our power needs. An "all of the above" strategy - combining solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, efficiency and consumption reduction - is key to a stable transition.
Evaluating sustainability of gas vs electric appliances
When choosing between gas or electric appliances, sustainability considerations should weigh heavily in any purchasing decision.
On average, electric appliances like ovens, cooktops, dryers and water heaters, critical to power generation, have a lower carbon footprint over their lifetime compared to gas models. This is because electricity generation from renewable sources like solar and wind is rapidly expanding.
Gas fuel appliances combust natural gas directly in the home, leading to indoor and outdoor air pollution and the potential release of sulfur dioxide. Nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, particulate matter and formaldehyde are released, negatively impacting air quality and health.
However, concern about natural gas appliances tend to have lower upfront costs and can be more energy efficient. Modern electric models are catching up in efficiency though, while costs are offset by lower fuel bills over time.
Ultimately, it’s important to note that electric appliances paired with renewable energy plans are the most sustainable domestic option. But gas remains entrenched, so improving efficiency and considering cleaner hybrid heat pump technology during upgrades can also help lower environmental impact.
Best practices for reducing emissions from gas use
There are several practical steps households and industries can take to minimise greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas use:
- Conduct regular maintenance on appliances and repair any natural gas can leaks promptly
- Install high-efficiency ENERGY STAR certified gas furnaces, water heaters, stoves and driers
- Improve home insulation to reduce gas required for heating
- Adjust thermostats to appropriate temperatures and utilise smart technology
- Replace old gas appliances with electric models paired with renewable energy
- Reduce overall energy consumption through behavioural changes
- Support government policies and incentives that check fossil fuel companies while encouraging renewable energy growth
- Invest in on-site solar, wind or geothermal to offset gas use where possible
Regular maintenance, equipment upgrades, and proactive measures can do much to assist in the energy transition to clean energy alternatives and substantially cut emissions. But fully transitioning from gas to renewable electricity remains the most impactful climate change mitigation strategy.
Detecting and repairing gas leaks
Detecting and repairing natural gas leaks quickly is crucial for safety, reducing greenhouse emissions and preventing pollution.
Signs of a potential issue when you use natural gas include:
- A strong gas or rotten egg smell
- An unusual hissing sound coming from gas appliances or pipes
- Dead vegetation or discoloured soil in areas like those near gas equipment
- Dirt being blown into the air from a hole in the ground
- Bubbling water vapor on the ground near a gas line
If a leak is suspected, evacuate the area immediately and contact the gas company or a licenced plumber. Do not use phones, switch lights or electronics on or off, or operate any other ignition sources that could cause an explosion.
Minor leaks can often be resolved by tightening fittings or replacing worn seals. More significant leaks usually require pipe replacement. Proactive annual inspections and upgrades of older pipe infrastructure also help prevent leaks.
Addressing even small leaks swiftly eliminates safety hazards for households and prevents significant volumes of methane from reaching the atmosphere where it accelerates climate change.
Improving efficiency of older gas appliances
Upgrading ageing gas appliances away from traditional coal oil models to more efficient options can significantly lower fuel consumption, costs, and emissions:
- Replace furnaces older than 10 years with modern high-efficiency condensing units rated over 90% AFUE
- Upgrade water heaters more than 8-12 years old to new ENERGY STAR heat pump or condensing units
- Consider new ENERGY STAR boilers, dryers, ovens, and stoves exceeding mandatory efficiency standards
- Install programmable and smart Wi-Fi connected thermostats optimising heating/cooling runtimes
- Ensure regular professional servicing, tune-ups and maintenance to improve performance
- Check seals, fittings, pipes and flues for leaks or blockages impacting efficiency
While new efficient gas appliances emit less greenhouse gases, electric heat pump alternatives paired with renewable energy provide the most sustainable heating and cooling option long-term.