- Mummy, you have to vote for the right lizard. Otherwise the wrong lizard will get in.
- Has Daddy been reading you 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' again?
Politics, lizard people and all that gas
In 'So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish', Douglas Adams explains democracy. The people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people. Every election, the people vote for a lizard, because otherwise the wrong lizard might get in.
Today I'm depressed. The wrong lizard got in. We just lost another three years of climate action. Ah well. Let's talk about how to degas the system.
What's wrong with natural gas?
Natural gas is a fossil fuel made up mostly of methane. It generates around 8% of grid electricity. It's also used directly by around 65% of Australian households for heating, hot water and cooking.
Natural gas used to be touted as a clean, climate-friendly fuel to replace coal. When burned efficiently for power, it emits less carbon dioxide and equivalent emissions (CO2e) than coal. But it's no longer the best alternative.
Electric appliances and electric heating systems have become much more efficient. Renewable electricity has stepped up to become cheaper, so as well as using less electricity, you can use cleaner electricity. This makes natural gas a poor choice. Many governments used to see gas as a pathway towards fixing the climate, but most are now transitioning away from gas (like the ACT).
Gas is no longer cheap, either. This study found it costs less to build and run a new home that's not connected to the mains at all. In most cases, you also save money if you replace end-of-life gas appliances and gas systems with electric versions. Costs drop even further if you install solar.
Gas is great to cook on, but it heats the climate as well as your dinner.
How much CO2e does household gas generate?
On a per-person basis, the average ACT household generates just over 1 tonne of CO2e each year directly from natural gas (heating, hot water and cooking). My household only uses gas for heating and cooking, not hot water, and we generate just under half a tonne of CO2e from gas.
Gas usage varies by region. Canberra uses more gas than the warmer states because most of us use gas heating during our cold winters. I'm using an ACT rather than an Australian average on usage.
How much CO2e will you save switching from household gas?
If you switch from gas appliances, gas hot water and gas heating to electric, your gas emissions will drop to zero. But obviously, your electricity usage will rise. What's the net effect?
According to slightly outdated ABS figures, the average Australian gets a carbon saving of around 250 kilograms CO2e per person per year by switching to electricity. BUT the average Canberran saves 1,083 kilograms CO2e per person per year. Why the difference? The ACT now gets100% renewable electricity from the grid, so switching from gas to electricity drops grid emissions to 0.
This is a great example of the power of switching over to electricity in our cars and houses, and then switching to renewable electricity. It slashes emissions without compromising comfort.
How much CO2e did I save this week by switching from gas?
I didn't actually replace my gas cooker and heater this week but I have decided to go electric when they next need replacing. I'm not taking any cuts yet, but when I do they'll be big because of our 100% renewable grid. My earlier winter heating experiments led me to set my heater to 14 degrees during the day and 10 degrees overnight and keep out the draughts. Switching from gas to electric saves more CO2e than all those measures put together.
Fracking and fugitives
Gas may be even worse for the climate than we think. I've used standard government emission factors which are based on conventional gas extraction methods. But Australia is increasingly using unconventional methods to get gas, like fracking and coal seam extraction. These methods leak unknown amounts of methane into the atmosphere, which means they're emitting a lot more CO2e than the estimates show. And if you want another reason to get out of gas, fracking is linked with water contamination, earthquakes and air pollution.
And now for something completely different - the Federal Election Result 2019.
Spreadsheet calculations, data sources and references in 'Notes' section, Week Twenty-Five.
Author's note: Post and calculations updated to reflect ACT 100% renewable grid in 2020.