Many people take infrastructure for granted whether it be roads and bridges or energy delivery systems that power our lives. The experience for most consumers when it comes to energy infrastructure has largely remained unchanged—the outlets in our homes and offices look the same and we are using the same furnaces and stoves to warm our spaces and cook our food.
However, the energy fueling this equipment is undergoing a remarkable and vital transformation. Washington Gas and our fellow utility companies are innovating to leverage existing infrastructure that provides exceptional reliability, versatility and storage capability to meet the needs of the future. This work is core to our company’s mission—to improve the quality of life within our communities by safely and reliably connecting customers to affordable sources of energy today and tomorrow.
As decisionmakers at every level of government look for sensible and responsible investments in infrastructure to meet climate and equity goals, it’s critical to understand the role that natural gas distribution systems play in providing affordable, reliable, sustainable and resilient energy.
The reliability of natural gas is unmatched. Natural gas infrastructure is less vulnerable to interruption than other energy delivery systems, especially during the winter when heating can be a matter of not just comfort, but also health and safety.
Our country’s natural gas infrastructure comes with “built-in” energy storage. Unlike electricity which cannot be easily stored without adding very expensive and short duration batteries, natural gas infrastructure can store energy for days, weeks, months, and years with on-demand delivery.
And the natural gas delivery network is reducing emissions that contribute to climate change. The EPA recently released its Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and reported that emissions from the nation’s natural gas infrastructure continue to decline, now making up 1/10th of 1% of overall natural gas emissions.
Our systems are also remarkably versatile— able to deliver carbon neutral fuels including renewable natural gas (RNG) and hydrogen. Generated from biomass, waste, or other renewable resources, RNG is a pipeline-ready, carbon neutral gas that is compatible with the existing natural gas system and equipment. Natural gas customers can realize significant emissions reductions with RNG without making costly equipment substitutions.
There also are many initiatives underway to advance hydrogen in our energy mix—taking advantage of technology to produce clean hydrogen from water and electricity that has been commercially available for more than 50 years. As more sources of carbon-free electricity become available and enabling technology costs decline, the viability of using this energy as a means for generating green hydrogen is increasingly attractive.
Washington Gas has grown with and promoted the growth of our region over the last 172 years. Natural gas use has similarly fueled the nation’s economy, while also contributing to the reduction of the nation’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Using natural gas in power production is the single largest factor in power sector emissions reaching 27-year-lows, while natural gas distribution companies, like Washington Gas, have reduced emissions associated with the delivery and use of their product by 73% since 1990. We are well-positioned to build on this success in the next chapter of our history, keeping our commitment to provide our customers with affordable, reliable, modern and, now, even more sustainable energy.
In 2011, Washington Gas was one of the first natural gas distribution companies to set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. After achieving these reductions ahead of schedule, we aligned our targets in 2016 with the Paris Agreement. Part of our efforts center on ongoing accelerated pipeline replacement programs in each of our service territories. Continuously enhancing and modernizing our infrastructure not only increases safety and reliability, but also provides an added environmental benefit resulting in approximately 200,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions reductions over the life of these programs.
At the same time, we are doing more by collaborating with our customers, suppliers, the public and our regulators to reduce emissions while ensuring affordability, reliability and resiliency.
Washington Gas is in a unique position to help our 1.2 million customers to be part of the low-carbon energy future. In 2020, we submitted a comprehensive, science-based Climate Business Plan in the District of Columbia, outlining a roadmap for the company to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with natural gas use in the District 50% by 2032, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 to help the District meet its climate goals.
Our Climate Business Plan focuses on energy savings, transitioning to a broader mix of energy including carbon neutral fuels like RNG and hydrogen, and modernizing our infrastructure. The Environmental Defense Fund hailed the Plan in a New York State regulatory filing, noting that “this broad, system-wide thinking is critical to maximize emissions reductions.” In addition, the consulting firm ICF determined that the Plan saves an estimated $2.7 billion compared to approaches to decarbonization that rely solely on electrification.
Climate action is urgent. Our country must pursue innovative solutions across many sectors, such as energy, transportation, agriculture among others. Given the inter-connected nature of these parts of our economy, climate action must be pursued thoughtfully with optionality and without losing sight of affordability, reliability, and resilience our infrastructure provides. The need for integrated, multi-sector planning that maximizes the use ready-now infrastructure has never been greater and can propel us into the lower carbon energy ecosystem of tomorrow.
• Donald “Blue” Jenkins is the President of Washington Gas, a company that has been providing energy to residential, commercial, and industrial customers for more than 170 years. Washington Gas provides safe, reliable natural gas service to more than 1.2 million customers in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.