So, if we saved 67% of the energy at MDH, our utility bills were 67% lower....right? Well, no. We installed a geo-thermal system that supplied pre-heating and cooling to heat-pumps and we had three large ERV's that replaced our gas boiler in the basement. So, we replaced our gas equipment with electric except for our hot-water system.
The expected 67% reduction in costs was, in reality, a 28% reduction in cost. Why? The cost of gas per MMbtu is $16.35 but the cost of electric per MMbtu is $27.65 - we paid a penalty by switching to electric. We are in a period with unusually low gas prices. Some speculate that OPEC is trying to extinguish the rise of the gas industry in the US by keeping oil and gas prices artificially low. You can see from the chart that the cost of gas and electric has traditionally been quite similar and only in 2005 and 2006 did we start to see a difference. The costs paralleled each other again until 2010 where they became divergent. Electric, at this moment, is almost twice as much. This does not appear to be a trend that will continue, so to leap to the conclusion that all buildings should have gas equipment to save money is a long-term fix for a short-term problem.
It is important to understand that this is just a blip, and if we have a knee-jerk reaction and switch all of the equipment in our projects to gas, we are encouraging the kind of aggressive and devastating land development illustrated in the images below. Fracking and its web of pipelines and roadways that link large well-pads have the devastating potential to alter the landscape irreparably. The green image is a satellite photo of northeastern Pennsylvania and the other image is of a well-field in New Mexico. Contamination of soil and water, air-pollution from trucking, large-scale methane leaks from installing the well-heads, decrease in property values, and disruption to habitat for wildlife are just some of the costs. We have to ask ourselves...is this the Pennsylvania that we want?
By using all electric equipment, we have allowed the possibility of adding PV and switching to renewables when it becomes feasible for us to do so. If we use gas equipment, our opportunities for powering our buildings with PV have largely been eliminated for the 50-year life-span of our building. For the vast majority of our years in practice, gas and electric prices were almost identical in cost. At times natural gas has been more expensive than electric. This blip in the difference between the cost of gas and electric will not change our design decisions. We are helping our clients to participate in a near zero-energy future when we install electric equipment, and we will continue to do just that.