According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States consumed approximately 26 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2013. This figure represents 27% of the total energy use in the U.S. in 2013.
In the U.S., natural gas is used to generate electricity, produce steel, manufacture glass, and create paper among other uses. As a raw material, it is also used in medicines, explosives, paints, and other products.
Natural gas is also used as a major fuel to provide heating for buildings and homes. In fact, approximately 50% of all residential homes in the United States use natural gas for heating. Likewise, many residential homes in the U.S. use natural gas to power their dryers, as a fuel source for cooking, and for gas water heaters.
The following chart indicates the breakdown of natural gas usage in the U.S. in 2013.
The benefits to using natural as a fuel source for electricity are plenty. Specifically, natural gas plants are cleaner, more efficient, and are inexpensive relative to other sources of energy. Of the three fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas), natural gas releases the least amount of carbon dioxide per unit of fuel (30% less than oil and 45% less than coal). Additionally, natural gas plants, in comparison to coal plants, are more flexible in their operation because they can be fired up quickly and turned off with the same ease. This capability is essential when peak demand is required in periods of extreme cold or even in periods of extreme heat in the summer when power consumption is greatest.
The EIA forecasts that an additional 250GW of energy will be required by the year 2035 to meet growing energy demands, and it expects natural gas to account for approximately 50% of the capacity to meet this demand.
Another important area of natural gas use and growth is transportation. While the chart above indicates that natural gas for vehicle use only accounts for less than one percent, the opportunity for natural gas to power vehicles has many specific advantages over conventional fuels. Specifically, compress natural gas (CNG), which is compressed at over 3,000 psi to just one percent of the volume the gas would occupy at normal atmospheric pressures, has an increased octane rating, higher fuel efficiency, and lower costs of operation. At the same time, it significantly reduces the emissions and thus creates a cleaner environment.
Currently, approximately 250,000 vehicles in the U.S. run on natural gas. This figure includes 15% of city and municipal public transportation buses that use natural gas a fuel source. Additionally, many states offer state tax incentive credits for natural gas powered vehicles.
The only disadvantage of natural gas a fuel source for vehicles is its low energy density. One gallon of CNG contains only one-fourth of energy in a gallon of liquid fuel. As a result, natural gas powered vehicles require large tanks to carry such fuel, and thus, larger trucks, buses, and other oversize vehicles are ideal for using natural gas as a fuel source in comparison to smaller vehicles.
With the abundance of natural gas resources in the United States and the country’s continued quest for energy independence, the uses for natural gas will only continue to grow for this fossil fuel.