The White House could soon be the world’s flagship RNG user
RNG could replace 40% of fossil gas in America, report concludes
RNG production is a cost-competitive means of decarbonisation
RNG should feature in all renewable energy scenarios
The White House could soon be the world’s flagship renewable natural gas (RNG) user. That is the tantalising vision set out in a new detailed study into the viability of RNG in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.
Under its ‘achievable’ optimisation scenario the report says there is enough feedstock to sustainably replace up to 33% of current natural gas demand in the region, which includes all of the federal district and parts of the states of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, reducing CO2 emissions by up to 2.3 million metric tonnes (MMT) annually by 2040.
RNG is a ‘valuable renewable energy source’
The report, Study on the Use of Biofuels (Renewable Natural Gas) in the Greater Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area, was undertaken independently by IFC Consulting as a requirement of a merger between AtlasGas and WGL holdings. The merger was justified based on making AtlasGas a leading renewable energy supplier.
The report states, “RNG represents a valuable renewable energy source with a low or net negative carbon intensity, depending on the feedstock.”
It considers three scenarios, Conservative Low, Achievable, and Aggressive High, varying both the assumed utilisation of existing resources as well as the rate of project development required to deploy RNG at the volumes presented. ICF estimates that the resource potential scenarios will yield between 1,890 – 7,160 trillion British thermal units per year (tBtu/y) of RNG production by 2040.
For comparison, the United States consumed approximately 17,500 tBtu of natural gas in 2018 in the residential, commercial, transportation, and industrial sectors, meaning RNG could replace 40% of current usage.
RNG represents ‘cost-competitive’ decarbonisation
The report says “RNG can play an important and cost-effective role to achieve aggressive decarbonisation objectives over the long-term future”, with ICF estimating greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions at a cost of $55 – $295 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e).
The report continues, “RNG is more expensive than its fossil counterpart, but in a decarbonisation framework the proper comparison for RNG is to other abatement measures that are viewed as long-term strategies to reduce GHG emissions. In this context, RNG is a cost-competitive option.”
In other words, it is cost-competitive with abatement measures such as carbon capture and storage, direct air capture, battery electric trucks and electrification of certain end uses, such as buildings and in the industrial sector.
Utilising a lifecycle methodology to GHG emission accounting, to reflect full emission reduction potential such as including credit for avoided methane emissions, the report estimates that locally in the Greater Washington, DC. metropolitan area, 0.5 – 2.3 MMT of GHG emissions could be reduced per year by 2040, and 13 – 44 MMT in the South Atlantic region, based on the Conservative Low to Aggressive High scenarios.
For comparison, D.C.’s total direct GHG emissions in 2017 were 7.3 MMT, while Greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area’s population-weighted share of Maryland and Virginia GHG emissions were 34 and 59 MMT in 2017 and 2015, respectively.
Looking at the national impact RNG could make, the report states 100 – 380 MMT of GHG emissions could be reduced annually by 2040 through the displacement of 40% of current natural gas usage.
National and State governments should back RNG
ICF developed a series of recommendations that are presented across three areas; strategic direction for policymakers and industry stakeholders; market approaches that will help to advance RNG deployment; and regulatory actions that will help to bring near- and long-term certainty needed to realize the potential for RNG as a cost-effective strategy for decarbonisation.
ICF recommends developing a strategic roadmap for regional policymakers and stakeholders guided by the following vision statement: “The Greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area will maximise RNG throughput as a decarbonisation strategy while maintaining the safety, reliability, and affordability of gas services.”
It says, “The roadmap can be implemented through aggressive but attainable RNG throughput targets. The Greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area can achieve up to 5%, 15%, and 20% RNG throughput by 2025, 2030, and 2035, respectively. ICF’s scenario analysis of RNG potential supports the volumes required to achieve these targets.”
The report concludes, “The strategic roadmap should also have a keen focus on reshaping the policy conversation at all levels to ensure that regulators and policymakers include RNG in federal and state programs that provide support to clean energy development. This includes the broad range of support currently afforded to renewable electricity, including research and development support (e.g., grants), as well as incentives for investment in clean energy commercial deployment in all sectors (e.g., investment tax credits).”