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An Estimate of Natural Gas Methane Emissions from California Homes

Fischer, Marc L., Chan, Wanyu R., Delp, Woody, Jeong, Seongeun, Rapp, Vi, Zhu, Zhimin
Environmental science & technology 2018 v.52 no.17 pp. 10205-10213
Markov chain, carbon dioxide, climate, combustion, energy, greenhouse gas emissions, heaters, inventories, methane, natural gas, stove tops, California
We estimate postmeter 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 they 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 stovetops 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 are 13.3 (6.6–37.1) Gg CH₄/yr, an order of magnitude larger than current inventory estimates, 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 nonfossil energy heating sources can help California meet its 2050 climate goals.