4 Natural Gas Alternatives and When to Consider Them
Natural gas is one of the most popular energy sources in households today. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, more than 35 percent of Americans use natural gas as a source of fuel in their homes. Despite its popularity, not everyone is a fan.
Actually, there are several drawbacks to natural gas, that have homeowners considering alternative fuel sources for their primary energy. For example:
- Natural gas is not renewable, which means we will eventually run out of natural gas reserves.
- Natural gas is primarily made of methane, and is toxic in its natural state. When compared to carbon dioxide, unburned natural gas is almost 70 times more potent.
- Processed natural gas is also explosive, which can result in fatal leaks. In fact, natural gas explosions have long been a problem throughout history and are responsible for many severe injuries and fatalities.
- If your home doesn’t already have piping for natural gas, it is costly to bring into your home. Outfitting your home with new equipment can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000.
To find a safer, more cost-effective and more environmentally-friendly fuel sources, homeowners are increasingly considering the following four types of fuel.
What are natural gas alternatives?
The Cost of Propane
Propane, which comes from both natural gas processing and crude oil refining, is the most common alternative to natural gas. Propane is abundant, and also, when compared to natural gas, is a more cost-effective and efficient option. Even though consumers pay a higher price per unit for propane ($26.99 per gallon) than natural gas ($6.23 per cubic foot) by volume, one cubic foot of propane equals 2,516 BTUs, while one cubic foot of natural gas equals 1,030 BTUs. This means propane provides more than twice the energy of natural gas, which makes it a far less expensive alternative to natural gas because you get more for your buck.
The Safety of Propane
Though propane is a flammable substance and should be handled carefully, it’s not common for propane tanks to explode. Propane tanks are rarely connected or used in gas pipelines, which make this energy source less risky than natural gas. In comparison, natural gas lines pose a greater threat to leaking and causing potentially deadly accidents. Take, for instance, the 2010 PG&E natural gas explosion in San Bruno, Ca that left eight people dead.
When to Use Propane
Just like natural gas, propane is best used for everyday appliances like:
- Water heaters
- Portable Stoves
- Laundry dryers
Propane is also an excellent fuel source for outdoor cooking as die-hard barbequers prefer the taste of food cooked over a propane grill to one fueled by natural gas.
If you’re looking for a cost-effective and familiar alternative to heat your everyday uses, propane is a good choice to replace natural gas.
2. Solar Energy
The Cost of Solar Energy
Many homeowners are hesitant to install solar in their home because the upfront costs feel extreme. At the time this article was written, the average nationwide solar panel cost is $3.05 per watt. And, the average solar panel system size in the U.S is around 6 kilowatts (6000 watts). That means outfitting a home with solar will cost about $18,300. Even with the 30 percent tax credit the U.S. government offers, homeowners can still expect to pay roughly $12,810 for new equipment. The installation costs are similar to installing a natural gas pipeline into your home.
Safety of Solar Energy
Solar power is energy derived from the sun then is converted into electric or thermal energy. Because of this process, the Solar Energy Industries Association, claims it is one of cleanest and most bountiful renewable energy source available. And while solar is much more eco-friendly and safe than natural gas, it’s worth mentioning solar panels pose small safety hazards and risks for technicians constructing, installing, and maintaining the panels, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
When to Use Solar Energy
Solar energy is versatile in its many uses and is used to generate electricity, provide lighting, and water heating. However, if you have many utilities powered by gas, solar energy may not be your best alternative, as there is no gaseous form of solar power.
Compared to natural gas, solar power is cleaner, safer, and cheaper and can be a great source of electricity. However, the upfront costs to install new equipment may deter many homeowners from converting to solar.
The Cost of Biomass
Biomass is an attractive fuel source because it’s renewable and easy to grow. Still, even for an easily accessed fuel, when compared to natural gas, biomass is a bit more expensive for residential use. Small-scale biomass electric plants have calculated the cost of biomass energy can reach $0.15 per kilowatt-hour (kWh), whereas natural gas is around $0.12. Though the difference is pennies, the costs will add up over the year. For example, a single, 500-watt halogen lightbulb, that you use for .25 hours a day, every day will cost you roughly $6.84 per year with biomass $5.48 per year with natural gas.
The Safety of Biomass
Biomass is a low carbon, low emission fuel, which is great for the environment. However, there have been concerns about biomass’ effect on human health. In 2016, numerous health organizations wrote a letter to Congress denoting that biomass negatively impacts human health, and contributes to asthma attacks, cancer, heart attacks, and poorer quality of health. The jury is still out on the overall safety of biomass, makes many homeowners reluctant to introduce it in their home.
When to Use Biomass
If you are in search of a gaseous replacement for natural gas, biomass is an option. Specifically, biomass is a great alternative if you live in a rural area and it’s difficult to access natural gas or propane. Biomass can heat appliances and act as a portable cooking source if you’re a camper. Furthermore, biomass can also great for power generators and mechanical engines.
Depending on your geographic location, biomass may be a viable alternative for natural gas. However, its potential health risks may make it a riskier choice than other options on the market.
4. Wind Energy
The Cost of Wind Energy
For those with access to a company selling wind energy, the cost of this alternative fuel is unbeatable. The current price per kilowatt hour averages a mere $0.02, compared to natural gas’ $6.23 per unit price. However, if you’re unable to purchase energy from a company, you’ll need a wind turbine that converts 100 kilowatts of energy to power your home, and that’s an expensive investment. Specifically, the initial cost and preparation of installing wind turbines can range from $50,000 to $80,000. Not to mention the space required to house such a large piece of equipment.
The Safety of Wind Energy
Wind energy is a clean and renewable energy source. It does not pollute toxins into the air or contribute to greenhouse gases as natural gas does. However, like solar energy, wind turbines do pose a safety threat to maintenance and installation workers. Wind turbines also have led to the increase in bird and bat deaths due to the aerial space they occupy, which has pushed some groups to work toward the creation of ‘no-blade’ turbines.
When to Use Wind Energy
Wind energy is versatile and can produce both mechanical energy and electricity. That means, it’s great for all aspects of residential and commercial energy — from heating and cooling to everyday appliances.
When it comes to wind energy, if you have access to an energy company that provides the resource, or space, money, and proper climate to install your own wind turbines, it could have huge returns on your investment.
Other alternative fuels are on the horizon as well. For instance, syngas, which is typically reserved gas-fueled engines and generators, has started to become a viable replacement for the generation of heat and power on a small scale. Though the cost of syngas directly correlates to the prices of natural gas, it could eventually become a cost-effective way for homeowners to fuel their appliances.
At the end of the day, the alternate fuel you select will depend on your preferences and accessibility to new options.