Use of Natural Gas
Massive discoveries of natural gas reserves in shale gas formations has meant that the prices in USA have gone down substantially and new power plants/ infrastructure are being developed to use natural gas as fuel. Even as crude oil and coal prices have gone through the roof, natural gas prices have dived. This is due to the new technology being commercialized which is allowing huge shale gas deposits to be used. This has led to forecasts that natural gas will become a more important part of the energy mix in the coming days. The falling prices of natural gas has also led to declining electricity prices in the USA where shale gas development is the most advanced. Natural Gas prices have gone down to as low as $2/mmbtu from $8 in 2008.
Natural Gas has wide usage for residential, commercial and industrial purposes.
1) Domestic Uses
Natural Gas is used for a wide variety of domestic purposes. It is used for heating and air conditioning, cooking, washing and drying, water warming in residences. More than 50% of the homes in US are supplied with natural gas, through pipelines or in tanks as CNG. It is also used in clothes dryers,stoves, ovens and other appliances. Domestic appliances are increasingly improved in order to use natural gas more economically and safely.
2) Commercial Uses
Natural Gas is also used commercially by food service providers, hotels, healthcare services or offices.It is used mainly for space heating, water heating and air conditioning. Demand for natural gas by the electric power industry in US peaks in the summer when homes and businesses are using air conditioning.
3) Electric Power Generation
Natural Gas can be utilized for electric power generation. About 30% of natural gas consumption was used to generate electricity in US during 2009. Compared to other fossil fuels like coal ,s there is very little carbon dioxide emission during the process. Natural gas emits the least carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced.
4) Used for providing Peaking Power
Natural Gas is used to provide Peaking Power that is Electricity when Demand is very high. Nuclear Plants and Hydro Plants run continuously and it makes no difference in cost to stop them. However Natural Gas has no constraint and it is used to provide power at peak times and is stopped when demand is lower. This makes Natural Gas important to the development of Renewable Sources of Intermittent Energy like Wind and Solar Energy.
5) Industrial Uses
Natural gas has many industrial applications. It is used in a wide variety of manufacturing processes both as a raw material and as a source of heat. It is used as an ingredient to make fertilizer, antifreeze, plastics, pharmaceuticals and fabrics. It is also used to manufacture a wide range of chemicals such as ammonia, methanol, butane, ethane, propane and acetic acid.
Natural gas is used as a heat source to manufacture pulp and paper, steel, cement, bricks, ceramics, tile, glass and food processor. Natural gas is also used at many industrial facilities for incineration, drying, dehumidification, heating and cooling, and cogeneration. It is also used for treating waste materials. Compression stations use natural gas as a fuel. Oil refineries use natural gas for heating and power generation.
6) Automobile Fuel
Natural gas is finding increased use as a vehicle fuel. It can be used in two ways – as compressed natural gas (CNG), which is the most common form, and as liquefied natural gas (LNG). With oil prices hiking, natural gas seems to be a better alternative for vehicle fuel. It also costs less per mile to operate a natural gas vehicle compared to a gasoline or diesel vehicle. Infrastructure is being developed for increased use of natural gas for vehicles in US, since more than 50% of the household use natural gas domestically.
7) Other Emerging Natural Gas Uses
New technology is finding new ways on using natural gas for manufacturing a variety of products. Natural Gas has been applied to produce clothing, pharmaceuticals and plastic bottles.
Advantages of Natural Gas
1) Cheap and Abundant – The biggest advantages and Pro of Natural Gas is that it is now cheaper than almost any other fuel. New ways of extracting Natural Gas has made it abundant and in the coming days massive formations are waiting to be discovered.
2) Provides 24/7 and Continuous Source of Power – Natural Gas can provide electricity 24 hours, 7 days a week unlike other sources of renewable energy. This makes it very important and some gas solar and gas wind hybrid plants are being developed. General Electric has developed very efficient Gas Boilers and Engines to improve the Efficiency of Gas to Energy Conversion.
3) Environment Friendly – Natural gas has significant advantages over gasoline and diesel fuel. Natural gas vehicles emit 60-90% less smog-producing pollutants and 30-40% less greenhouse gas emissions.
4) Easily Transported Through Pipelines and as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) – Natural Gas Infrastructure is being developed rapidly and it is now transported over land through big Pipelines and over Water through massive LNG Tankers. This is done in a cost effective manner which implies that Cost of the Gas is not increased too much.