With the growing cost of energy and concerns about climate change looming, one has to wonder what our available options are. It’s common knowledge by now that the conventional methods of energy (namely coal, which is used to produce the majority of the electricity in the US) simply may not be sustainable for much longer. The demand for more environmentally friendly and renewable energy is growing every day, and in the meantime we must combat both the hole in the ozone layer and the growing hole in our wallets. For many homeowners, the current solution is natural gas—what was once simply used in our stoves, ovens, radiators, and water heaters is becoming a viable option to power our entire home.
This increased interest is a result of natural gas prices steadily declining in recent years, dropping close to the numbers we saw in 2002, and coming in at approximately half the price they were in 2008. Many are crediting the plentiful extraction from the Marcellus Shale as the reason behind the decreasing natural gas prices. On the upswing, though, are electricity prices, which averaged an increase of nearly 30 cents per kilowatt hour in all sectors between June 2014 and June 2013 (according to the Energy Information Administration).
These two factors alone should be enough to have anyone questioning their use of traditional coal-powered electricity in their homes. Many homeowners in states where the energy market is deregulated, like New York, Nevada, and Ohio, are choosing to work with electricity providers that instead utilize natural gas to create electricity (click here for more info). The switch makes sense from an environmental standpoint too, especially when you factor in that, per megawatt hour, electricity produced by coal creates roughly twice as much carbon dioxide emissions than electricity which is generated with natural gas (approximately 2,000 pounds vs. 1,100).
While the ability to simply switch your energy provider is an easy and convenient option for those living in deregulated states, those who live elsewhere have fewer options. Luckily, there is some hope to be found by following models like the Houston couple who built a home that’s run almost entirely off of natural gas and the solar power harvested from panels on their roof. Steve and Brenda Norwood’s new home features a “micro-trigeneration system” from Texan power generation system makers M-CoGen, which could reduce their electricity use by 70% and provides them with their own power source, making them immune to things like down power lines and outages. While the system the Norwood’s have isn’t available for purchase from M-CoGen just yet, it shows a promising future for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint and lower monthly bills.
Of course, there are downsides to using natural gas for power as well. While it may produce less carbon emissions than coal powered electricity, it’s the subject of many environmentalists’ scorn due to the hydraulic fracking process which is used to retrieve it. Despite the EPA’s insistence that fracking poses limited risk of contaminating our air and water supplies, there have been instances where it has happened (such as Wyoming and Colorado). In addition to that risk, there is a widely accepted belief that fracking can cause seismic activity and earthquakes, even in places with no history of them before. This is according to a study from the Journal of Geophysical Research which showed the town of Youngstown, Ohio (located near a fracking location) went from having no history of earthquakes to having over 109 small quakes in just a 14-month period. This information fuels the claims that relying on natural gas for power will become just as unsustainable as fossil fuel, and that our methods of doing so can have serious ramifications in the future.
There is hope for a more efficient way to produce power through natural gas though, making the process much more effective than coal generated power. Last year a research team at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory began their study of how using solar power could increase the power of natural gas, thus taking less of it to do the same task. It’s a promising idea for those who aren’t fully convinced in the viability of solar power or want to lower their carbon emissions from even natural gas. While it’s not likely to be a method available to the masses for a while, it shows a promising future for a cheaper, greener source of energy.
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