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Week Twenty-Five - No Gas

Choose electric over gas to save 250 kilograms CO2e per person per year

· Weekly experiments

My kindergartner

- 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.

A gas hotplate is great to cook on but it cooks the climate as well

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 because it's more directly comparable to my household. I also found more up-to-date ACT data.

How much CO2e will can 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 emissions will rise because you will use more electricity. What's the net effect?

According to slightly outdated ABS figures, there's a carbon saving of around 250 kilograms CO2e per person per year from switching to electricity. The average Australian household running on both electricity and gas in 2012 generated around 2.7 tonnes CO2e per person per year from household power. But the average household running on electricity alone generated only 2.48 tonnes CO2e.

Our governments would save even more on our behalf if they stopped burning gas to feed electricity into the grid.

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. Based on the averages, that should cut 250 kilograms CO2e from my footprint each year.

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. Interestingly, switching from gas to electric saves more CO2e than both 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.

Cartoon of a grandmother selling her grandchildren

Spreadsheet calculations, data sources and references in 'Notes' section, Week Twenty-Five.

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