Sacramento Utility Employee’s Pro-Electrification Argument Doesn’t Hold Up To the Facts
A recent Utility Dive opinion piece published disparaging natural gas appliances in buildings ignores the many benefits the fuel provides to American households.
The author, Richard Oberg, an energy efficiency implementer with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, asserts that electrification in buildings is cheaper, more efficient, and safer than natural gas. But these broad generalizations leave out a lot of important information, creating a misleading portrayal of natural gas appliances and heated buildings.
Let’s shed some light on the facts of using natural gas in buildings.
Oberg asserts that buildings save money by using electrical appliances instead of natural gas-powered ones, arguing:
“By helping our customers go all electric, we can dramatically improve a building’s efficiency and lower monthly utility bills. That’s why we offer a number of incentives and rebates for electric vehicles and appliances.”
Yet, Oberg himself admits that the city subsidizes electrification, undermining his argument that electrification in itself lowers costs.
In reality, studies have found that natural gas is affordable and helps families save money. The American Gas Association found that households that use natural gas appliances save, on average, $874 annually compared to homes using electricity for the same appliances. According to Consumer Affairs, homes with all natural gas appliances save up to 30 percent on utility bills compared to all-electric homes. Similarly, a study by Shale Crescent USA and the Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program concluded that natural gas households saved more than $4,000 over 10 years.
These savings make a big difference, especially to low-income and minority communities. In fact, civil rights leaders support natural gas for cost-savings reasons. In a recent interview with Axios, National Urban League President Marc Morial pointed out that people of color usually have little say in the conversation:
“Generally speaking, people are debating these issues in some instances without consultation with the leaders of the African-American communities and neighborhoods affected by these issues.”
Oberg also argues that electric appliances are more efficient than natural gas appliances, writing:
“It turns out an electric heat pump, which can both heat and cool a building, is three to four times as efficient as a gas heater or space heater. Induction stoves and electric clothes washers and dryers are also much more efficient than their gas-powered counterparts.”
This is not the whole picture. Natural gas-powered dryers, for example, use 30 percent less energy than electric dryers. And taken as a whole, households that use natural gas systems are more efficient due to the realities of the grid. An AGA study concluded that natural gas households consumed less total energy than electrical households because the natural gas grid and distribution system is more efficient than its electric counterpart. That’s because 91.5 percent of all natural gas at the wellhead makes it to end use for the consumer, while 68 percent of electrical energy is lost between production and end use. This means that three times more natural gas energy than electric energy ultimately reaches the consumer.
Electrification “help[s] make buildings healthier and safer for our customers,” writes Oberg, “with every home or business we switch from gas to electricity, we dramatically reduce carbon emissions.” This assertion disregards recent significant air quality and emissions reductions gains driven by natural gas.
For example, U.S. emissions reductions over the past decade are “the largest in the history of energy,” according to International Energy Agency Director Fatih Birol. The use of natural gas for cooking has drastically improved indoor air quality around the world. This includes some parts of the United States that use wood to heat homes during the winter.
For example, Pembroke Township, a low-income community near Chicago, is pursuing a natural gas line to replace the woodburning stoves and propane heat that are common in the community’s homes. Replacing these fuels with natural gas would not only decrease indoor pollutants, but also save many residents money.
Natural gas-powered appliances are safe, efficient, and cost-effective – and this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits. There are many reasons why consumers frequently choose natural gas appliances over electric ones. In fact, natural gas appliances have so much support that forced electrification measures are facing lawsuits.
Despite these clear benefits, proponents of all-electrification strategies and natural gas bans continue to ignore the real cost savings, improvement in air quality, and efficiency benefits associated with natural gas appliances.