Households continue to select natural gas as a preferred source for home heating and cooking

New data from the federal government and appliance manufacturers show that consumers continue to choose natural gas.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that the number of residential natural gas consumers grew by 1.5 million between 2019 and 2021. The additions reflect new construction, existing market conversions, and retirements.

Residential natural gas consumer annual additions reached a 15-year high in 2020. The downtick in consumer additions in 2021 is likely attributable to delayed disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. The additions in 2020 and 2021 reflect a long-term trend of growing new consumer additions, which have increased at an annual rate of 0.9 percent since 2011.

As of 2021, there are more than 71.9 million residential natural gas consumers in the United States. EIA defines a natural gas “consumer” as an individually metered dwelling, building, plant, or establishment. The residential natural gas consumer count represents households that use natural gas in private dwellings including apartments for heating, air conditioning, cooking, water heating, and other household uses.

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Texas and California are the number one and number two states regarding aggregate additions between 2019 and 2021, adding 224,000 and 120,000 new residential gas customers respectively. Also near the top of the list are North Carolina, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, and Colorado, where the additions in these states reflect both population growth and consumer preferences.

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After adjusting for weather-related effects, the total natural gas consumption in the residential sector has been flat for the past fifty years as the average gas use per customer has dropped by half, a result of continual improvements in energy efficiency and consumer conservation.

We see similar growth in gas furnace shipments. Shipments of gas furnaces in 2021 exceeded 4 million units, which is the highest level since at least 2002 according to data from the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI). Gas furnace shipments in 2021 grew by 19.6 percent compared with 2020.

Natural gas furnaces are an efficient way to heat homes directly, providing comfort and affordability during the winter.

By comparison, shipments of electric heat pumps totaled 3.9 million in 2021, an increase of 14.6 percent. AHRI does not publicly report shipments of less efficient electric furnaces, which remain a sizeable portion of the existing market.

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In addition, shipments of residential storage gas water heaters totaled 4.97 million in 2021, an 8.3% increase over 2020. By comparison, residential storage electric water heater shipments totaled 4.88 million in 2021, an increase of 4.9 percent.

This winter, natural gas will be the most affordable home heating fuel and represents a low-cost and low-emissions resource. Consumers recognize the long-term value of natural gas and gas infrastructure. Moreover, natural gas is a low-carbon resource, and end-uses continue to get more efficient every year. As companies work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions along the supply chain and integrate renewable and low-carbon fuels like renewable natural gas and hydrogen, the emissions profile of natural gas end-uses will continue to improve.