Grist discusses whether renewable natural gas is a serious alternative to ‘electrify everything’.
While wind and solar power and electric vehicles tend to dominate the conversation around preventing catastrophic climate change, electricity and transportation aren’t the whole picture. The world also needs to act quickly to reduce emissions from other sources, like the fuels burned in buildings for heating, hot water, and cooking. In colder climates where people rely on fossil fuel heating to survive frigid winters, the carbon footprint of those systems is especially large.
There are two ways to decarbonize buildings. One is to replace all the appliances that run on natural gas or other fossil fuels with electric appliances — no small task in many existing buildings. The other is to replace the fossil fuels delivered to buildings to power those appliances with “renewable” fuels.
There’s ongoing disagreement about which of these options should prevail, or whether there’s room for both. Gas utilities, eager to remain in business, assert that renewable natural gas (RNG) has a future in buildings. A new report out on Wednesday by Earthjustice and the Sierra Club criticizes the industry’s aggressive marketing of RNG for buildings, arguing that it’s too expensive, there’s not enough of it, and it does not solve the health and safety risks of pipelines carrying methane or burning gas indoors.