An Estimate of Natural Gas Methane Emissions from California Homes

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Journal Article

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We estimate post-meter methane (CH4) emissions from California’s residential natural gas (NG) system using measurements and analysis from a sample of homes and appliances. Quiescent whole-house emissions (i.e. pipe leaks and pilot lights) were measured using a mass balance method in 75 California homes, while CH4 to CO2 emission ratios were measured for steady operation of individual combustion appliances and, separately, for transient operation of three tankless water heaters. Measured quiescent whole-house emissions are typically < 1 g CH4/day, though exhibit long tailed gamma distributions containing values > 10 g CH4/day. Most operating appliances yield undetectable CH4 to CO2 enhancements in steady operation (< 0.01% of gas consumed), though storage water heaters and stove-tops exhibit long tailed gamma distributions containing high values (~ 1-3% of gas consumed), and transients are observed for the tankless heaters. Extrapolating results to the state-level using Bayesian Markov chain Monte Carlo sampling combined with California housing statistics and gas use information suggests quiescent house leakage of 23.4 (13.7 – 45.6, at 95% confidence) Gg CH4, with pilot lights contributing ~ 30%. Emissions from steady operation of appliances and their pilots is 13.3 (6.6 – 37.1) Gg CH4/yr, an order of magnitude larger than current inventory estimate, with transients likely increasing appliance emissions further. Together, emissions from residential NG are 35.7 (21.7 – 64.0) Gg CH4/yr, equivalent to ~ 15% of California’s NG CH4 emissions, suggesting leak repair, improvement of combustion appliances, and adoption of non-fossil energy heating sources can help California meet its 2050 climate goals.


Environmental Science & Technology

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