California must make use of ‘renewable’ natural gas. Here’s how
California law makers are taking major steps towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These steps will help California replace its dependence of fossil fuel with renewable energies, solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars. Also discussions on decarbonizing the heating in homes, businesses and industrial applications have been taking place.
By Sam Wade, Special to CALmatters
After significant success in other sectors, California is getting serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions from one of the hardest areas to decarbonize: heating in homes, businesses and industrial applications.
Experts agree on the universe of options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from these sources. We can cut the use of fuel—through efficiency upgrades or changes in behavior, including smart thermostats and improved process controls—or change the type of fuel used to create the heat.
One proven option available today is the use of renewable natural gas, or biogas-derived biomethane. Unlike fossil natural gas, renewable natural gas production does not utilize technologies like hydraulic fracturing.
Experts at UC Davis say we could use renewable natural gas to replace up to 20 percent of the fossil natural gas in California. Renewable natural gas takes advantage of and decarbonizes existing infrastructure built for fossil gas, without the need for costly upgrades or retrofits.
Renewable natural gas and other viable technologies—such as deep building electrification and solar thermal—should be allowed to compete to minimize consumer costs. Studies show that when renewable natural gas is used in tandem with electrification the outcome is more cost effective than getting rid of all gas appliances in homes and commercial buildings.
Fortunately, California already knows how to set up flexible policies that create competition across a variety of greenhouse gas reduction options. For example, the California Air Resources Board’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard is a fuel-neutral, market-based program that reduces the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of transportation fuels.
Using a policy similar to the low carbon fuel standard for heating would ensure the lowest cost outcome and facilitate consumer choice so that individuals, families and businesses would be able to select the type of renewable heat they prefer to use.
To set the stage for such a comprehensive policy, voluntary programs for renewable natural gas—such as the one recently proposed by Southern California Gas Company—should be encouraged.
Read more at calmatters.org