More than just a fuel for heating and cooling homes and cooking food, natural gas has broad uses for business, manufacturing, petrochemical production and power generation.
While many consumers know natural gas as the means to heat and cool our homes and businesses and to cook our food, this usage only accounts for one-third of U.S. consumption. In fact, natural gas is a key raw material and direct fuel source for the U.S. manufacturing industry and for generating electricity.
Reliable Supply for Residential and Commercial Use
By far, the largest consumer use of natural gas in the United States is for heating, cooling and cooking in homes and businesses. More than half of the 120 million U.S. households and approximately 5 million U.S. businesses consume natural gas for these and other purposes. Nationwide, about 20 percent of gas goes toward residential uses and 14 percent is used in the commercial sector.
The dramatic increase in available supply brought on by the surge in shale gas production, as well as significant recent infrastructure investments in interstate pipelines and new storage capacity, has reduced the price and made gas a dependable energy source for homes and businesses.
An Industrial Staple
One-third of U.S. natural gas production goes directly into our industrial and manufacturing sectors. There, it is used directly for heating, cooling and electrical power. Chemical constituents – known as natural gas liquids, or NGLs – are extracted from natural gas to provide chemical building blocks for the manufacturing of consumer products.
NGLs are converted into core ingredients for manufacturing bottles, clothing, electronics, detergents, paint, fertilizer, adhesives, carpet, furniture, diapers, tires and toys. The abundant U.S. supply and lower prices has a direct effect on the cost of these goods. Affordable natural gas helps U.S. manufacturing companies better compete against goods made in Europe and Asia where natural gas prices are higher, or where higher-cost oil-based feedstock is used.
A Growing Power Source
Natural gas fuels over 20 percent of the electrical power in the United States, second only to coal, and that percentage is growing. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 85 percent of new electrical generation capacity built in the U.S. over the last decade uses natural gas. Natural gas-fired power plants are the least expensive source of new power supply; almost 40 percent less costly than coal, 45 percentless than wind and 50 percent less than nuclear power. In addition, natural gas-fired power plants produce low emissions and use less water and land than most alternatives.
Potential for Transportation
Increasingly, natural gas is also being utilized to power motor vehicles. Some companies and state and local governments are moving to convert fleets of buses, trucks and some automobiles to run on natural gas as a way to reduce emissions from vehicle exhausts. Currently, in excess of 120,000 vehicles have been converted. In the future, greater use of natural gas to produce electrical power used by plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles has the potential to make more significant reductions in vehicular emissions. Direct use of natural gas as an engine fuel in vehicles is limited by costly infrastructure requirements and short driving distances between refueling stops.
Natural gas has played a key role in American society for generations. It is a key power source, manufacturing component and fuel for residential and commercial heating and cooking. What's more, natural gas is proving its value in new ways as a source of cleaner energy. The many ways in which natural gas serves America's energy needs is another reason we believe it should be an important part of a comprehensive energy future.