Save Me Money with Natural Gas? Now You’re Talking!
Natural gas is not only good for our regional economy because of the leasing revenues and royalties it generates for landowners, but also due the serious benefits it provides consumers both in and out of the area. As natural gas is further developed throughout the United States, we are taking steps as a country to finally regain energy independence. I have taken a close look at consumer savings realized from the development of natural gas as one of our primary consumer energy sources and what I learned is pretty astounding.
Driving into Savings
Compressed natural gas or CNG vehicles are one place not only consumers, but also municipalities, are saving real money. According to CNG Now:
Natural gas powers more than 12 million vehicles on the road today. Unfortunately, only 112,000 of these are being used in the U.S today. The average growth rate in the U.S. shows a 3.7% increase per year since 2000, as contrasted with a booming global growth rate of 30.6% per year.
The All About CNG Vehicles website offers a few more comparisons:
In most cases, CNG costs fifteen to forty percent less than the regular gasoline. However, the cost of CNG-powered vehicles are discovered to be about $3,500 more than the gasoline-powered ones. This is due to the high price of CNG fuel cylinders.
In terms of miles per gallon, a regular gasoline-powered car averages thirty two miles per gallon while a CNG-powered car averages forty three miles per gallon.
Buying the vehicles is somewhat more expensive, but it pays off in the long run due to the fuel efficiencies gained, indicating natural gas must be a big part of our national energy mix. It also pays off environmentally. Here are some facts from the U.S. Department of Energy:
Transit buses equipped with model year 2004 CNG engines produced 49% lower nitrogen oxides emissions and 84% lower particulate matter emissions versus transit buses equipped with model year 2004 diesel engines. Nitrogen oxides and particulate matter are the primary emissions of concern for heavy-duty vehicles. For detailed results, see Emission Testing of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Natural Gas and Diesel Transit Buses .
In a study of CNG and diesel United Parcel Service (UPS) delivery trucks, CNG trucks produced 75% lower carbon monoxide emissions, 49% lower nitrogen oxides emissions, and 95% lower particulate matter emissions than diesel trucks of similar age. See United Parcel Service (UPS) CNG Truck Fleet: Final Results .
City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation LNG Heavy-Duty Trucks recorded a 23% reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions from dual-fuel LNG refuse trucks compared with diesel trucks. In an evaluation of freight trucks, CNG trucks produced 24%-45% lower nitrogen oxides emissions and more than 90% lower particulate matter emissions compared with diesel trucks. See An Emission and Performance Comparison of the Natural Gas C-Gas Plus Engine in Heavy-Duty Trucks: Final Report .
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calculated the potential benefits of LNG versus diesel based on the inherently cleaner-burning characteristics of natural gas, summarized in Clean Alternative Fuels: Liquefied Natural Gas .
• Produce half the particulate matter of average diesel vehicles
• Significantly reduce carbon monoxide emissions
• Reduce nitrogen oxide and volatile organic hydrocarbon emissions by 50% or more
• Potentially reduce carbon dioxide emissions 25% depending on the source of the natural gas
• Drastically reduce toxic and carcinogenic pollutants
• Increase methane emissions (not a benefit)
These facts indicate that, while natural gas is only one of the many energy sources we need to develop, it’s one of the better ones. We’ll always need gasoline and diesel as well and we know things are getting better all the time in regard to emissions, but the benefits of natural gas are too important to ignore. Let’s break it down a little further with some numbers.
Natural Gas Vehicles at the Municipal Level
Here’s what some local officials say:
“Plains Township Commissioner Jerry Yozwiak explained the process his municipality underwent in obtaining a $149,000 grant to purchase a natural gas-powered recycling truck and refueling station. That truck now saves the township approximately $1,500 per month in fuel, he said.” (Matt Hughes, theabingtonjournal.com)
“A garbage truck that gets only 5 miles to the gallon, by contrast, and drives 40,000 miles per year would pay off its $75,000 conversion kit in just over 4 years, making it a much more attractive option, Westbrook said.” (Matt Hughes, theabingtonjournal.com)
In our region, Williamsport is in the process of converting their River Valley Transit bus fleet to natural gas. This conversion will save the company over $400,000 in fuel costs, a savings that can then be passed down to consumers.
Public transportation across the country has been using CNG for decades. Currently, about 12-15% of public transit buses in the U.S. run on natural gas (either CNG or LNG – liquefied natural gas). That number is growing, with nearly one in five buses on order today slated to run on natural gas. States with the highest consumption of natural gas for transportation are California, New York, Texas, Georgia, Massachusetts and D.C. http://www.cngnow.com/vehicles/Pages/information.aspx
Natural Gas Vehicles at the Consumer Level
In the United States, California and New York are the two highest consumers of natural gas with the most natural gas vehicles.
“According to Westbrook, the Honda Civic GX – the only out-of-factory natural-gas vehicle on the U.S. market today – will pay off its $9,500 higher cost at 120,000 miles, or in six years if driven an average of 20,000 miles per year.” (Matt Hughes, theabingtonjournal.com)
Not all of us, will drive more than 20,000 miles per year but many do, and that’s why we need a mix of fuel availability. The federal average is 15,000 miles driven per year per person and this chart from U.S. Energy Information Administration shows a trend of increased energy consumption for travel through 2035. The point is we are a mobile society and with the cost at the pump on the rise, a conversion to a dual-fuel vehicle or all natural gas will pay off in the long-term for many drivers. For others diesel, gasoline and electric fuel sources are all appropriate in various circumstances but, remember, much of that electric is produced from natural gas fired plants.
For New Yorkers, where this trend is already one of the highest in the country, the costs associated with natural gas fueling could be even lower when Marcellus Shale development occurs.
Other Energy Comparisons
America’s energy plan is going to require a combination of all of our energy resources. Here’s how our usage currently breaks down.
Now let’s take a moment to look at how natural gas holds up against traditional energy sources when it comes to heating a home. There is no doubt natural gas will play a major role in the future of American energy alongside new innovations and more traditional players.
Propane101.com has a great analysis of natural gas vs. propane. In essence is concludes as follows.
“The cost comparison between propane and natural gas is much easier due to the fact that unlike electricity, natural gas and propane can be directly compared based on their individual BTU ratings. Seeing that natural gas contains approximately 1,030 BTU per cubic foot and propane contains 2,490 BTU per cubic foot, we can easily derive each fuel’s cost per BTU and compare their differences in price for more realistic volumes.
Let’s assume the cost for natural gas is $15.00 per 1,000 cubic feet. This means that $15.00 will purchase approximately 1.03 million BTU’s of energy. This would be equivalent to 11.26 gallons of propane. At $2.50 per gallon of propane, natural gas would be a more cost effective energy solution. Breaking it down even further, natural gas needs to be more than $28.00 per 1,000 cubic feet for propane to be a more cost effective energy solution (provided the cost for propane is $2.50 per gallon.” (http://www.propane101.com/)
Once again, we see that different fuels are appropriate in different circumstances, but natural gas is nearly always a good bargain where available.
Take a look at the National Grid website. Here is a section highlighting some differences between oil and natural gas:
A typical home that converts to natural gas heating will emit up to 40% less CO2 and up to 99.9% less sulfur dioxide – two major contributors to climate change and acid rain. Converting also reduces emissions that deplete the ozone and contribute to respiratory illnesses like asthma. One home converting to natural gas will take up to 183,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from the environment. That’s like taking six cars off the street for a year.
Most natural gas – 97.3% of it – comes from North America. Today the Northeast relies on foreign oil for 90% of its energy needs. If every community converted to natural gas we could reduce our country’s use of petroleum products by up to seven billion gallons per year!
This illustrates, environmentally speaking, that natural gas has some distinct advantages that accompany the typically its lower costs. Are they critical differences? Well, it depends upon the circumstances. The one constant, however, is that natural gas is usually the better deal for multiple reasons. Is it the answer in every circumstance? No, it is not, but it’s a part of any energy solution – that much we know.
Wind and Solar
Wind and solar have long been touted as the energy of the future, but at this point they can’t stand alone. Take a look at this excerpt from 2GreenEnergy.com:
Needless to say, renewables aren’t trouble-free. Two of the major renewable sources, wind and solar both cost more than gas or coal. Prices are coming down with advances in technology, but intermittent nature of the energy production from renewable sources adds another dimension to the problem and puts the total cost of generating one unit of energy way compared with the fossil fuels. Wind speed becomes optimum for operating turbines at the height of around 800 meters, but creating a tower that high isn’t feasible. Furthermore, current wind turbine installations require around ten times concrete and steel that is required for generating the same amount of nuclear power.
Similarly, solar energy isn’t always available and the solar energy to electricity conversion ratio is just around 25 percent in most efficient crystalline silicon technology. Thus, instead of just focusing on renewables, options including a blend of fossil fuels with renewable sources or less polluting fossil fuels are being considered.
Natural gas turbines can accommodate round the clock electricity generation unlike renewable thus helping in bridging the supply and demand gaps.
It’s going to take all of our American-made energy sources to create a practical, comprehensive energy plan for our future. Natural gas will continue to be a major player moving forward as its usage saves people hard-earned money in a cleaner, more environmentally friendly way than other energy sources. And, those of us here in the Marcellus Shale regionare excited to be a part of that trend. Here’s hoping New York will be on board soon to contribute to production and lead the way in natural gas usage.