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Recent increases in domestic natural gas use have been widely heralded as a vital step in the fight against climate change. Proponents often characterize natural gas as a “clean” fossil fuel, emphasizing that its combustion produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than coal and oil (per unit of energy produced). Natural gas combustion still emits large amounts of carbon dioxide, however. Natural gas production and transportation also result in emissions, primarily in the form of methane, which is a highly potent greenhouse gas, with approximately eight-four times the climate impacts of carbon dioxide (on a pound-for-pound basis, over a twenty-year time horizon). Methane emissions during production may, therefore, offset any reduction in combustion-related carbon dioxide emissions from substituting natural gas for other fossil fuels.

Recognizing this, a number of analysts have expressed concern that continued use of natural gas will hamper efforts to address climate change, and called for reductions in gas use. This will require major changes in energy consumption patterns, particularly in the residential and commercial sectors, which currently use over one-quarter of all natural gas consumed in the U.S., primarily for heating and cooking.

This paper considers whether and how new technologies can be used to promote more efficient natural gas use in the residential and commercial sectors. The focus is on advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), consisting of state-of-the-art meters capable of recording natural gas usage daily or hourly, and transmitting the data to customers in real-time via a wireless network. This enables customers to better understand their natural gas usage, leading to increased conservation and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. It may also result in improved natural gas system management, including because the wireless communication networks deployed with AMI can be used to collect and transmit data from methane and other pipeline sensors, enabling faster leak repair and further reducing emissions.


Environmental Law | Law