Commonwealth Magazine

NATIONAL GRID New England President Stephen Woerner recently wrote an editorial noting how Greek architects practiced “a methodical and systematic style that appropriately balanced aspiration with sound architectural order for lasting results.” He compared this approach to strategies planned by National Grid to inject hydrogen and “renewable natural gas” (RNG) into our current pipeline network that distributes fossil (natural) gas to homes and businesses. If ancient Greek architects had used such a short-sighted approach, the Parthenon would have long since crumbled to dust.

Far from the safe and efficient heating source described by National Grid, hydrogen is a highly combustible fuel that poses a significant safety risk in the context of residential and commercial buildings. In fact, the lion’s share of energy flowing through the gas system would still be methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

This methane can come in several forms – natural gas, “renewable natural gas” or “synthetic natural gas” – but they all suffer from a common problem: the production, distribution and use of these fuels lead to the release direct massive amounts of methane. to the atmosphere. Updates to New York State’s greenhouse gas accounting for natural gas emissions found that more than 47% of total emissions associated with natural gas consumption in New York City are the result of methane leaks throughout the gas supply chain. Massachusetts has gas infrastructure that is in a similar state, if not worse.

In “Majority of US Urban Natural Gas Emissions Unaccounted in Inventories,” a long-term study by Harvard scientists and published in 2021, the authors found six times more methane leaks into the air around Boston than what which is reported in the Massachusetts Greenhouse Gas Inventory compiled by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Of the six cities studied in the analysis, Boston had the highest natural gas leakage rate (4.7%) from the “well rig to the urban consumer”. Because of these leak rates, any plan that relies on delivering a significant amount of methane through the gas distribution system, as National Grid has proposed, will fall well short of the Commonwealth’s net zero target. in 2050.

We agree with National Grid that some industries are genuinely difficult to decarbonise, such as shipping and aviation, and will require creative solutions that include green hydrogen. However, that’s a far cry from using it for home heating, where better choices are available. It’s essentially the equivalent of saying you could heat your house using $20 bills as kindling in your living room fireplace. Sure, you might be able to do that, but is that really the wisest idea?

Green hydrogen is and will remain an extremely limited resource. Its use in buildings is a low-value use of a high-value resource and will only make it harder to decarbonize the hardest-to-electrify sectors of our economy. Massachusetts has already established a roadmap for the future of heating that involves the electrification of most buildings – the least-cost “all options” scenario in the Massachusetts 2050 decarbonization roadmap calls for this. electrification of more than 90% of residential heating and 95% of residential water. heating by 2050.

Whole-house electrification via heat pumps can save energy and money, especially when paired with common-sense weatherization upgrades like insulation and sealing in the air. Heat pumps are also efficient and affordable, especially considering the many incentives available from Mass Save, as well as options coming soon or already available in the Inflation Reduction Act. All-electric heating is economical, with affordable housing accounting for 78% of all net-zero and net-zero residential square footage, up from 54% in March 2021. Even without the incentives, an average home that converts entirely from propane to heating pumps could save $1 $650 per year on fuel. The annual fuel savings from converting to a heat pump will cover the cost of installation in 5 to 11 years, and rebates from energy efficiency programs can increase fuel savings and reduce the payback period.

Heat pumps, despite their name, also cool homes much more efficiently than traditional air conditioning systems and save money on electricity bills in the summer by replacing less efficient air conditioning units. And for those worried about winter weather, heat pump technology has made major advances over the years, with many models comfortably heating homes in the coldest temperatures.

Maine, the coldest state in the Northeast, has installed more than 82,000 heat pumps in the past nine years, including more than 21,000 in 2021 alone. Vermont, the second coldest state in the region, has installed heat pumps in approximately 1% of its homes each year since 2015. Heat pumps, combined with properly weather-protected buildings, can reliably and affordably keep Massachusetts residents warm in winter and cool in summer. .

Today, we have the opportunity to adopt solutions that truly transform our building, transportation and power systems. We cannot follow the old patterns and systems that led us to the climate crisis in the first place. Our Commonwealth can adopt realistic and proven solutions. This solution is to save green hydrogen and “renewable natural gas” for limited purposes in hard-to-electrify sectors, and quickly electrify buildings with highly efficient systems.

Kyle Murray is the lead policy advocate for Massachusetts at the Acadia Center.

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