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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Opportunities for Efficiency Improvements in the U.S. Natural Gas Transmission, Storage and Distribution System


This report provides an in-depth review of the U.S. natural gas transmission, storage and distribution system, from gas gathering at wellheads to final delivery to consumers, with a focus on energy efficiency opportunities. Drawing upon several resources published by the U.S. government and the natural gas industry, as well as handful of research papers and company publications, this report provides an overview of system components, historical and potential future trends, technical efficiency opportunities, cost estimates, and a final synthesis including policy recommendations. While far from comprehensive, a number of general conclusions could be drawn from the available information. First, there are a number of technical efficiency opportunities located throughout the natural gas infrastructure system that have yet to be fully realized. This includes improvements in compressors, prime movers (gas engines/turbines and electric motors), and capacity/operational choices; pipeline sizing, layout, cleaning, and interior coatings; and opportunities for waste heat recovery. However, the natural gas industry is currently constrained to make investment decisions that are increasingly short-term from an economic payback perspective, due to the current prevalence of short-term (<15years) customer contracts and the challenge of full cost recovery in a regulated market. While the industry strives to maximize efficiency in order to reduce the cost of their operations, decisions typically fall short of maximizing thermodynamic efficiency. While the greatest opportunities for efficiency improvement lie in new systems, options do exist for improving the efficiency of existing systems as well. The report concludes that additional policies will likely be required in order to push the industry toward higher efficiency operations; a number of options are raised that warrant further exploration.

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