If there is any lesson we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that planning secures better outcomes.

We know from the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that GHG emissions reductions in the next 10 years are critical—that’s all the time we have to reduce emissions sufficiently to keep temperature increases below 1.5 degrees. So while many states and countries have set GHG reduction goals for mid-century, plans to achieve those goals must prioritize reductions in the short-term, between now and 2030.

That’s why GHG reduction plans and policies need to focus on solutions available today. We can’t wait for technological breakthroughs that may not come to fruition or rely on narrow views of decarbonization that don’t include a role for the existing natural gas pipeline system.

Natural gas appliances are used in 90% of homes in SoCalGas’ service territory in California and in more than 55% of homes (69 million homes) nationwide. Focusing on electrification as a primary tool to decarbonize buildings does little to meet our short-term goals, in part because the grid won’t be clean enough in ten years, and in part because it will take decades to switch out gas appliances in most homes. While going all-electric may make sense for new or newer homes, we need a variety of options that work for unique situations. The best option in many instances is using renewable natural gas (RNG).

For example, my 96-year-old house near downtown Los Angeles will require a different decarbonization solution than the completely rebuilt house next door that meets current building codes, or my sister-in-law’s house in the mountains with a high heating load and low air conditioning requirements.

My old house would likely require tens of thousands of dollars in wiring and panel upgrades to accommodate an electric heat pump water heater. And I have a new high-efficiency gas furnace, so I don’t want to replace it. In my case, energy efficiency measures such as a building envelope upgrade together with RNG to replace some or all of the traditional gas used to fuel my gas furnace, water heater, clothes dryer, stove, and barbecue would be a more realistic and cost-effective option. Such an option would allow me to keep using my existing appliances and decarbonize my home.

Should my neighbor choose to do so, she could install new electric appliances for heating, cooling, water heating and cooking in her home for not much more than the cost of the appliances and installation. While RNG may still be the most cost-effective decarbonization option and eliminate the need to retire her gas appliances before the end of their useful life, electrical upgrades would not be cost prohibitive.

If there is any lesson we can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that planning secures better outcomes.

And the best solution for my sister’s house in the mountains would be energy efficiency measures together with RNG to meet its wintertime high heating load. A heat pump would not be recommended for a home that needs mostly heat and little air conditioning.

These are just a few examples in California. Across North America, different circumstances require different decarbonization solutions. Many statesincluding Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Hawaii, Colorado, and Oklahoma—have passed or introduced policies that allow gas utilities to provide RNG to customers. In California, a renewable gas standard is a top priority for SoCalGas because we want to provide a renewable product and a viable decarbonization solution for our customers.

A recent study showed that if SoCalGas replaces 16 to 20 percent of our traditional natural gas supply with renewable natural gas by 2030, we can achieve greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to converting 100 percent of buildings to electric-only energy. That same study also found that, if we use a mix of both in- and out-of-California renewable gas resources, a renewable natural gas solution is up to two to three times more cost effective in reducing greenhouse gases than getting rid of gas appliances in homes and commercial buildings.

We know many customers like gas-powered appliances, HVAC and water heaters because they perform better, so they need a solution that can make a significant difference without significant disruption. RNG can increase people’s use of renewable energy and combat climate change—and we can’t become carbon neutral without it. RNG can be easily stored in existing pipelines and provide a complementary way to deliver renewable energy that will be more reliable and resilient than using the electric grid alone.

For all these reasons, a decarbonization plan that includes the use of RNG will help achieve carbon neutrality faster and more effectively.

Tanya Peacock

Policy Manager, SoCalGas