Heating Season has Many Considering Gas Alternatives

October 16, 2019


I know I am.

Houston Chronicle:

WASHINGTON – A decade after environmentalists championed natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to get the United States off fossil fuels and combat climate change, cities across the country are beginning to question whether gas’s time has come.

Earlier this summer the California cities of Berkeley and San Jose adopted bans preventing new buildings from hooking into their natural gas distribution systems. And now communities across the country, including Seattle, Minneapolis and Cambridge, Mass., are considering similar bans.

Carolyn Berndt, program director for sustainability at the National League of Cities, which represents 19,000 cities and towns across the country, said worsening storms and flooding across many regions of the country are driving cities to promote the use of electric powered-appliances such as furnaces and stoves over gas models.

“More and more cities are committing to renewable energy goals and targets,” she said. “All-electric buildings are proving to be safer, healthier, and more affordable.”

The rising call for gas bans adds to an already difficult political climate for the natural gas industry, a mainstay of the Texas economy. Gas utilities in the New York City suburbs have put a moratorium on new gas hookups after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to block the construction of pipelines has left them struggling to meet existing demand.

The push back comes amid a surge in U.S. gas production, driving billions of dollars in investment into new pipelines, power plants and other infrastructure designed to be in operation for decades to come. Along with a surge in wind and solar energy, the natural gas boom has pushed many coal power plants out of business, helping to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade.

But as scientists warn that if the world is to avoid the worst consequences of climate change greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced to net-zero by 2050, the future of even lower-carbon natural gas is falling into question.

Pacific Gas and Electric, the Northern California utility, came out in support of Berkley’s gas ban as in line with the state’s climate goals.

“These are huge headwinds for this industry,” said Karen Harbert, president of the American Gas Association, a trade group representing gas utilities. “The industry needs to take all this seriously and figure out what it means. We need to help people understand the costs and trade offs if we go down the route of electrify everything.”


New York Times:

It was a long, blistering summer, but many of us will soon be turning the heat back on. That means a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.

In the United States, heating homes and businesses produces about 560 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or about a 10th of the country’s emissions. But there’s something that might drastically cut down on both your heating bills and your carbon footprint, no matter where you live: a heat pump.

A heat pump is an all-in-one heating and cooling unit. There are a few different kinds, but the most common ones extract warmth from the air. Then, they move it inside (to heat the home) or outside (for cooling). That requires a lot less energy than traditional heating systems — like boilers, furnaces and electric radiators — that work by warming up the air inside your house.

“There’s a fair amount of heat even in the cold air,” said Vijay Modi, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University. He estimated that a home heat pump could cut electricity use by as much as two-thirds compared with more traditional heating systems.

It’s worth noting, however, that heat pumps become less efficient as the temperature drops.

“In extremely cold temperatures they will not operate as efficiently,” said Eileen Wysocki, an administrator at Holy Cross Energy, a rural electric utility in Colorado. She said heat pumps optimized for cold climates normally operate at 100 percent efficiency all the way down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 18 Celsius, and at 80 percent efficiency down to minus 13 Fahrenheit. They generally shut down when the mercury sinks to minus 18 Fahrenheit.

So, if you live in a place that frequently experiences deep freezes, you’ll probably want to keep a traditional heating system in place alongside your heat pump.

The precise gains from a heat pump will depend on a variety of factors like your insulation, your electricity source and local energy rates. But, Dr. Modi said, the share of people installing them is rising quickly.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” he said.

Chronicle again:

The gas industry is not sitting by quietly.

In California, the gas utility SoCal Gas funded the creation of Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, a coalition of businesses consumers whose website warns, “there are powerful organizations that are working to take away your right to choose affordable natural and renewable gas.” And oil and gas companies including EOG Resources, Apache Corp. and Kinder Morgan have funded Texans for Natural Gas, a pro-industry group that claims support from 400,000 business owners, lease holders and even students.

Construction unions and restaurant owners also raising objections that the bans will turn away home buyers and force the replacement of costly kitchen equipment. Harbert said it’s only a matter of time before litigation is filed challenging cities’ right to restrict natural gas use.

“Can a city override state policy, and that will be something a lot of people are looking at,” she said. “This is a fundamental legal question I am certain is going to be examined.”


32 Responses to “Heating Season has Many Considering Gas Alternatives”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    My family of cooks tends to prefer the hybrid range with a gas stovetop over an electric oven. It’s easier to monitor the cooking heat for a saucepan with a gas burner, and an electric oven can keep steady heat.

    Ah, well.

    • jimbills Says:

      There are options:

      I’m not a chef, but I’ve learned the trick to cooking on one of those, and I can monitor the heat to the degree while doing so.

    • cicely berglund Says:

      When some of the controls on my ceramic top stove gave out and no way to to repair them I got an induction ‘burner’. The heat can be controlled immediately and sensitively and the whole thing is easy to keep clean and very cheap to run. Along the way I learned a bit about different types of stainless steel-which types retain magnetism etc which is necessary for the induction burner-Which was enlightening and fun. So, I am pleased with the whole set up.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      We recently replaced a 20 year-old Jenn Air electric range with an induction range. All I can say is….. Wow!

      Pretty sure it can be safely said there is now no reason to prefer a gas cooktop. The induction range, compared to gas is:

      * 2 to 3 times more powerful for heating water, say, for pasta. Half the time or less than even the largest commercial gas burner. Same for searing, etc.

      * Easily as adjustable. It obviously goes as high, but, more importantly, it goes even lower heat output than a gas range. You can actually walk away from cooking oatmeal or a sauce, leaving it at simmer or even lower. Plus, the stovetop has a small area with actual thermal heat, just to keep things warm.

      * No more checking to see if the flame has gone out. Elements when on have a LED indication right on the stovetop, and there is no flame to go out.

      * No more burning your hands on torrid updrafts along the outside edges of pots.

      * No more heating up your kitchen needlessly in summer.

      * No more requiring a robust fan vent to remove CO2 emissions

      * No more complicated, heavy elements to move or clean on your stovetop. It is a single sheet of hardened glass.

      * No more burned-on foodstuffs. The stove does not actually generate heat – only the pan bottom gets hot from the magnetic field

      The downside of induction ranges are pretty minor:

      * You need to have induction-ready pans, ie, those whose bottoms will stick to a magnet. We had to buy a set of Cuisinart pans for about $100.00, and then also bought others – huge covered saute pans, and very large stock pots. Total was ~ $200.00. But we now have new pans

      * You really can not shake your pans right on the stovestop, like you can with gas. You need to lift up the pan so as not to scratch the glass. And, you need to be careful not to drop anything heavy on it.

      * Induction ranges are not inexpensive. But we got ours, which has true European convection, through CostCo on sale for ~ $1300.00. Which is actually less than we paid 20 years ago for our Jenn Air. So, good buys are to be found.

      * No more worrying about kids burning themselves on the stove.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        OOps – forgot one other advantage (or a non-disadvantage) of induction – heat changes are *instant*, actually slightly faster than gas. When you turn off a whistling teakettle, for example, it stops whistling immediately. It’s uncanny. It doesn’t peter out over a second or two. It just *stops*.

        And the opposite is true, too – turn up the heat on a pan of sauteing vegetables, for example, and it reacts immediately.

        Possibly because you don’t have to wait for the thermal energy to go from outside the pan up to the cooking surface?

      • jimbills Says:

        One other downside (although it’s not a downside at all when one figures it out), is the incredibly quick heating capability. For water, that’s great – but with a sauce or cooking meat, starting it on medium or high will heat the pan too quickly and will burn the bottom layer of the dish.

        The trick is to start the dish at a lower temp, then gradually raise it higher so that it heats more slowly like a traditional gas or electric stove. Sophisticated induction burners will allow precise temperature control, so it’s possible to be practically scientific about it, allowing far more control than a traditional gas or electric top.

      • Greg Wellman Says:

        I have a single “burner” induction device I use in the summer. Maybe mine isn’t as sophisticated as your full cooktop, because it’s hard to simmer stuff without burning the bottom. It needs more fine control over the amount of heating. But it’s still awesome to take it out on the deck and make a pot of something without heating the house.

    • doldrom Says:

      If we can go to zero emissions except for cooking on gas, we have solved the problem. Cooking is a miniscule portion of out total energy (and fossil fuels) consumption.

      • jimbills Says:

        We’d still need all the infrastructure for natural gas with any usage. And if someone has NG for their cooking, they’re far more likely to also use it for their water heater and their heating.


        All of this is just rationalization. Sorry, but it’s true. “I like cooking with gas” or “everyone else is using gas, and it’s cheap, so I will, too” or “cooking is just a tiny portion of it”. Stop supporting this industry. Any money paid from us on a personal basis is direct support of that industry and their practices.

        Exxon’s long time argument is that they are just supplying a needed product to the public. Stop using the product wherever you can. They’ll actually listen to that, and they’ll switch to the next thing that makes them money.

        • J4Zonian Says:

          “just supplying a…product” or “everybody’s doing it”
          Yes, and they aren’t the only irrational rationalizations.

          From the article, quoting the Houston Chronicle:
          “A decade after environmentalists championed natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to get the United States off fossil fuels and combat climate change…”

          Uh, no. I don’t think environmentalists said any such thing. It’s one of many problems with having people like Bjorn Lomborgerson, the Breakthrough boy ecomodernits and other false flag environmentalists; it gives the corporate media an excuse to quote lunatic right wingers and pretend they’re not.

          It’s like saying “noted health experts recommended meth as a way to get over a crack addiction.” Even in the unlikely event any such experts ever said anything like that, media should be smart and honest enough to ignore the hell out of them.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            We are seeing TV ads in the DC area that appear to tout the success of wind power in Iowa. They conclude with the message that when the wind stops blowing, “WE” will be there to provide backup natural gas so life can go on. Forget who the “WE” is—-it’s either BP or Chevron, both of whom run ads here touting how much they LOVE renewables.

  2. Ann Says:

    I wish others would chime in on my question. We live south of DC a little ways and rent an old house that had a heat pump installed about 6 years ago. The insulation isn’t great, so I’ll say that up front. But in winter, when temperatures are below 30 much of the time, our electric bills are up in the range of $600 and more dollars a month, whereas otherwise, including central air, we are no more than $200 a month. Oil was not as expensive, but we’d like to get off oil too.

    So, I’m wondering about other people’s heat pump’s costs who live where it gets cold. We are moving to Pennyslvania soon to own a house and will be trying to figure all this out, but if our bills here are typical, I can’t imagine what bills in the winter there would be with a heat pump. I don’t know if this one is the best suited to our cold or not.

    I’m wondering if the prof at Columiba Univ. who says that heat pumps cut electric usage up to 2/3 has ever used one.

    • mboli Says:

      I think that would have been cutting electric usage by 2/3 compared to using electricity to heat the house resistively.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      If the house you’re buying has gas heat, you should keep it for now. And as long as gas remains in good supply, you may as well burn it on-site rather than have some utility do it for you and convert it to electricity and bring it to you (with losses at every step). (PA gets ~35% of its grid electricity from burning gas and ~30% from coal)

      If you need a new heating unit, a gas furnace is likely to be a lot cheaper too.

      • jimbills Says:

        Hmm. The best time to switch is when buying a home, because that’s normally when major appliances are purchased.

        It’s totally understandable to stay put with propane or natural gas if one is limited financially and can’t afford new appliances, plumbing, and/or wiring. But we are asking for society to switch rapidly to cleaner sources, that switch requires electricity instead of gas, and we’re not willing to do so personally?

        I understand the efficiency argument you have here, but it’s just adding another consumer for NG in the end, and there are other choices.

        For Pennsylvania, if you can’t afford your own solar panels, get your electricity from a provider like this one:

        In Texas, we have these:

        If one can afford limiting their own usage of FF, bleeping do it. The less demand natural gas has, the less power it has politically. Support the industries that deserve our support.

        On costs, there is no guarantee that NG will remain cheap going into the future. I suspect otherwise.

        • Ann Says:

          Thanks Jim!

        • dumboldguy Says:

          See my later comment elsewhere in the thread. Until the Orange Menace is voted out and the Green New Deal is implemented, I will refrain from bright-sidedness and wishful thinking about here we’re headed and o as most Americans and humans do—-take care of #1 in the here and now.

          An aside on the debates—-it’s indicative of the thinking of the “stable geniuses” among the Democrats that they are now running lessons for the Repugnants on how to attack Elizabeth Warren. Those classes are taught by candidates who have NO chance of winning the nomination and should have been gone long ago.

          • jimbills Says:

            Well, it is expensive to switch from gas if it is already installed, and a heat pump especially is not a small ticket item. I wouldn’t fault anyone if the costs are really prohibitive. I can’t afford an EV. In Virginia, it’s also true that your renewable options for sourcing electricity aren’t great (although you’re about 35-40% nuclear plus renewable, mostly biomass). VA has too much coal use, and NG is better than that at least.

            I had the luxury when I moved into a new (old) home to choose between gas and electric. It was outfitted for both, and I had to buy a stove and new water heater. Choosing electric was a no brainer there. The HVAC was already electric. It’s an older unit, not a heat pump. I’ll need to replace it at some point. It will also be electric when I do.

            I’ve always lived in older houses and apartments. A previous home had natural gas, and I know the piping leaked. I can only imagine how common that is across the US.

          • jimbills Says:

            I got curious about my last paragraph, and found this:

            Of course, the industry itself wouldn’t be keen on releasing figures.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          The city of Austin owns Austin Energy. You have the option of paying a small premium to buy into their Green Energy program (which I use).

    • Kevin Boyce Says:

      I live just North of DC, and have heat pumps. House is ~2500 square feet, and is on the high end for efficiency. E.g. 6″ walls (now mandated by PG County for all new houses), R-50 in the attic, low-E argon windows, and passed the Energy Star leak test when built.

      I use between 5000 and 6000 kWh per heating season. At BG&E retail, that’s $750 – $900 for the season. My effective cost is lower because it just reduces the amount BG&E owes me every year for my solar generation, and the rate they pay me for excess generation is less than the full cost of buying the energy from them.

      Note: I have mini-split units (Mitsubishi), with a Heating Season Performance Factor (HSPF) of about 10.5. That’s way higher than a standard single-speed ducted heat pump, so you’ll need mini-splits to get the results I have. As an aside, mini-splits are the way to go. Much higher efficiency, one zone per room by virtue of how they work, and ridiculously quiet inside and out.

      • Ann Says:

        Thanks, Kevin!

      • dumboldguy Says:

        I live in Manassas, about 25 miles west of DC, and the heating season here runs about six months. From Nov. 2018 to Apr. 2019 my electric bill was $460 and my gas bill was $940, a total of about $1400. The only gas we use is for heating—-everything else is electric.

        As long as we keep burning so much coal and natural gas in this country, I will stay with this plan—-a new gas furnace will likely cost no more than ~$5K, a considerable personal savings over heat pumps, and not much more of a burden to the environment than burning the NG at a generating facility.

        And save your accusations of hypocrisy—-I do my share in many ways, and I am not about to spend my assets to do a tiny bit more while the fat cats get rich burning coal and gas, bukding terminals to send it overseas and pipelines everywhere.

    • jfon Says:

      I’m in New Zealand, where the climate is less extreme than most of the States – few houses have air conditioning ( though that might change if the summers heat up ), and winters aren’t as cold, though damper. There was a big uptake of heat pumps over the last couple of decades, so they’re now the most common heating for homes and businesses. One problem is that our peak power demand is on winter evenings, unlike the US, where summer a.c. is the big draw, and most heating is gas or oil. Over most of the year, our power is probably 80% renewable – mostly hydro and geothermal. In winter, though, the hydro lake levels are low, because of snow on the hills, and we usually have to burn gas and coal to cover demand. There’s talk of reviving a huge pumped hydro scheme that was mooted, and rejected, fifteen years ago, but it could cost about 4 billion dollars – a grand for every taxpayer in the country – and take eight years or so to fill.

  3. Bryson Brown Says:

    Ground-based heat pumps can draw on roughly 10 degrees C heat year round–so they can cool and heat efficiently year round, even here in Alberta. I think that’s what Ann’s Prof is probably talking about. Installation is reasonable for new construction, but expensive to retrofit. My parents did it for their 1878 farmhouse in Prince Edward Island, but it cost quite a lot. Better insulation is a big help; they did that as well. One side effect most don’t think of: the delta T provided by a heat pump is a cost factor; it’s more efficient to heat more air to a lower temperature when heating the house. The result is that the vents blow hard, and the air coming out feels a bit cool, even though it’s heating the house.

  4. mboli Says:

    I just received an estimate for a geothermal split system, with a gas furnace for colder days.

    Over $30,000. Second company I called said yep, that’s about right.

    Not for me. Now I am looking at combination air heat pump and gas furnace.

    — Stove + water heater + clothes dryer use under 100 therms per year.
    — Current furnace uses about 1100 therms per year.

    I’m keeping the stove.

  5. lerpo Says:

    Off topic, but consider this video for your next music break segment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tge9e-DJhAM

    It’s Frazey Ford – “The Kids Are Having None Of It”

    “The Kids Are Having None of It” is out digitally tomorrow, Friday, October 18, in honour of Greta Thunberg’s initiative of #FridaysForFuture.

  6. doldrom Says:

    Where I live there is a lot of interest in using ground/water based heat pumps, but at a neighbourhood scale, with subsidy programs to enhance the energy neutrality of housing (insulation values, etc.).
    Efficiencies are often easier to reach at scale (that’s why utilities exist at all!)

  7. rabiddoomsayer Says:

    My experience with reverse cycle air-conditioning is that it is fantastic, a much bigger area is warmed for very much less cost. But the ambient temperatures are cold, not freezing. Insulation makes a huge difference, although you need the same size system it is working a lot less once ideal temperature is reached. Ground based here would be an extravagance

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