Perhaps you have heard about the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES), which the House of Representatives passed by a 219 – 212 vote on June 26, and which now goes to the Senate for its consideration. At more than 1,000 pages long, it contains a lot of provisions that most House members probably neither read nor understood, but for America’s natural gas utility industry there were several very positive provisions. One in particular would expand the existing Federal Trade Commission EnergyGuide labeling program for home appliances — hot water heaters, for example — to include energy efficiency/carbon footprint information that is based on a “full-fuel-cycle analysis.”
Right now, if a consumer walks into a store to buy a hot water heater, be it electric- or natural gas-powered, and wants to know how energy efficient and environmentally friendly that water heater is, he or she can look at an EnergyGuide label on the appliance, which will say that the appliance is XX percent efficient. Usually that label will show that the electric water heater is more efficient than the natural gas water heater.
But that label only tells the potential customer how efficient that appliance is at the end-use — in other words how efficiently that appliance uses the energy it got from the electric outlet in the case of an electric water heater, or the burner tip in the case of a natural gas water heater. That completely ignores how efficient, and environmentally friendly, was the process by which that energy, be it electricity or natural gas, traveled from its original source to the electric outlet or natural gas burner tip in the home or business.
So let’s factor in the efficiency of getting natural gas from the wellhead to the burner tip, compared to the efficiency of getting coal from a coal mine, or even natural gas from a wellhead, and then sending either that coal or gas to a generation plant to be turned into electricity, and finally delivering that electricity to the electric outlet.
Doing so, we find that from both an efficiency and environmental standpoint, the natural gas water heater is the clear winner. Natural gas only loses about 10 percent of its useable energy in the journey from wellhead to burner tip. By contrast, in the journey from the original source — the coal mine or wellhead — to the generation plant, and then on to the home as electricity, almost 70 percent of the useable energy is lost. What is more, in the generation process a lot of carbon dioxide is released into the air, especially when coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, is used to generate that electricity.
This far more accurate way of measuring energy efficiency is called “full-fuel-cycle analysis,” so labeling home appliances based on its determination of their energy efficiency and environmental superiority will allow consumers to make better informed and smarter choices about which home appliances they should purchase, thereby saving money, saving energy and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from the National Academies of Sciences, which recently issued a report confirming the above and recommending that full-fuel-cycle analysis be used to determine the true efficiency of an end-use appliance, be it gas or electric.
Sounds like a good idea to me. What do you think?