The World’s Largest Battery
The natural gas distribution system delivers three times as much energy on the coldest day of the year as the (largely also natural gas fueled) electrical distribution system delivers on the hottest day. This is enabled by the gas system’s unique ability to store energy for months at a time.
Throughout the shoulder season, April – October, natural gas is injected into salt caves for storage in preparation for higher demand during the winter heating season. The ability for natural gas to be stored for long periods of time allows natural gas to meet the winter demand peaks which far surpass summer demand. The ability to store natural gas in these salt caves acts as a natural battery which can decrease the carbon intensity of America’s energy system. This natural battery is available, viable, and already in use without needing to triple electrical generation or needlessly upgrade customer homes who may not be able to afford the toll it will take to upgrade the grid.
The United States alone has more than 2.6 million miles of pipelines. These pipelines are the safest, most affordable and environmentally friendly way to transport gas. These pipes also act as a component of our energy storage system, containing incredible amounts of potential energy. The flexibility of this energy storage system is further enhanced by liquid natural gas (LNG), which can be compressed down to 1/500th the volume of its gaseous state. Electricity cannot be exported to, or imported from, allies overseas; gas molecules can.
The potential the gas distribution system offers for decarbonization is tremendous. Renewable natural gas (RNG) offers immediate decarbonization compatible with all existing systems and appliances. A 2019 report by the American Gas Foundation identified 13,963 trillion BTUs per year of technical resource potential for RNG. Improvements in efficiency over the current natural gas usage of less than 16,000 trillion BTUs per year, in addition to proper exploitation, these carbon-neutral feedstocks could meet a large percentage of heating demand.
Carbon-neutral energy storage doesn’t end with RNG. Green hydrogen can be produced with excess renewable energy during the warmer months and shoulder seasons. This hydrogen can then be injected into storage facilities and salt caves to be used during the winter heating seasons. Like RNG, green hydrogen is carbon neutral.
The gas distribution system is a valuable tool for ensuring that America’s energy system can continue to provide safe, affordable and reliable energy throughout and beyond the energy transition. America’s gas utilities have fueled innovation for decades and will remain at the leading edge of innovation in safety and environmental responsibility into the future.