AGA often points out that per customer residential natural gas consumption has declined significantly since 1970, an impressive accomplishment brought about by a number of factors (gas LDC efforts, efficiency standards, innovative rate design, and changes in household energy consumption patterns, to name a few).
This got me thinking about what residential natural gas consumption would have been if not for those efficiency gains. The year 1987 is the first year that the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports both total residential customers and residential consumption of natural gas. Using EIA’s data, if you take the average natural gas use per customer from 1987-1989 and multiply that by the number of residential customers in each year from 1987-2007, the result is what consumption would have been in each year, all else being equal, had the residential sector not gotten more efficient. Subtract what was actually consumed in those years and you get consumption savings. Add up the individual years and you get a 20 year total.
Using that method, the United States avoided 11.7 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of residential natural gas consumption from 1987-2007. Put another way, if natural gas consumption per residential customer had remained at its late 1980s level through 2007, the residential sector would have consumed 11.7 Tcf more gas during those 20 years than it actually consumed.
To be fair, there is certainly a difference between avoided consumption in the residential sector and avoided consumption overall. Some of the gas not consumed by individual homes was likely consumed by the commercial, industrial or electric power sectors in those 20 years. Furthermore, higher residential consumption would have probably increased prices, which would tend to limit consumption increases. Still, with those caveats, 11.7 Tcf seems like a reasonable enough rough estimate of avoided residential natural gas consumption in the 20 years from 1987-2007.
What’s the big deal about 11.7 Tcf?
- In the context of consumption, 11.7 Tcf could provide for 100% of the 2008 residential natural gas consumption (4.87 Tcf) for almost two and a half years, or provide for 100% of 2008 natural gas consumption for power plants (6.66 Tcf) for almost two full years.
- In the context of production, 11.7 Tcf is more than half a year of total U.S. dry natural gas production (20.7 Tcf)
- In the context of carbon, 11.7 Tcf of avoided natural gas consumption is equal to 640 million metric tons of avoided CO2 emissions using EIA’s conversion factor. As it happens, 640 million metric tons is more than Canada’s total 2006 emissions from energy (the latest year available from EIA). If you priced that carbon at $20 per metric ton it would be worth almost $13 billion.
Since these efficiency savings occurred in the past they do not get the credit or attention they deserve. But when you think about what the natural gas distribution industry should do regarding energy efficiency, keep in mind what it has already done.