When evaluating the energy needs of residences, heating and cooling needs are the most significant factors to be taken into consideration. “Fuel type is an important factor because heating and cooling accounts for a significant amount of home energy consumption,” David Webb, civil engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), stated.
NIST attempted to compare gas and electricity costs and presents a method that could be used to perform their analysis on their region. “We used a unique NIST tool set of databases and software known as BIRDS [Building Industry Reporting and Design for Sustainability] to assess and measure that impact scientifically, and then provide a research method for others to do the same for any climate region in the United States,” Mr. Webb added.
BIRDS have been utilized since 2014 to examine the sustainability of a building's energy and material consumption during their lifetime. Based on computer simulations, cost-efficient decisions to improve a structure's performance can be conducted.
The team used computer modeling and created two virtual houses, one powered by an electric HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system and the other by natural gas. The study compared the two simulations based on codes and regulations in Maryland. The simulations considered 960,000 building design combination and 8 different financial scenarios to evaluate the buildings' performance over a 30-year period.
The results showed that a natural gas system is more cost-efficient than an electric HVAC at least when considering the Maryland codes. The electricity system had greater environmental impacts due to the emissions generated during its production. However, it could easier achieve net-zero performance. “The overall economic benefit of natural gas was expected because, at this time, it is the cheaper fuel source in Maryland, costs less in dollars and energy expended to produce and transport, and carries a lower construction price for installation of an HVAC system which uses it,” Mr. Webb, stated.
According to Joshua Kneifel, NIST economist, claimed that electricity may become an eco-friendlier choice in the future. “For example, as more power companies move to cleaner forms of electric generation, such as natural gas instead of coal, the environmental impact will lessen. Also, technology changes, such as cheaper and more efficient solar energy and HVAC systems, should help make the use of electricity more cost-effective,” he stated.