Many Aussies are feeling the pinch of rising petroleum and electricity costs, so is gas the better alternative?
Gas has its own list of benefits, making it a great alternative to electricity for stoves and hot water systems. Yet there’s a lot more to gas than you probably think – Its usefulness extends beyond powering our cars or heating up our water. Keep reading for a full run down on gas in Australia.
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What is the difference between LPG and Natural Gas?
The vague term ‘gas’ is enough to send anyone into a spin, as the term is used interchangeably between LPG and Natural Gas (LNG). Though they are different entities, they share similarities and are used in many of the same applications.
The main difference is that LPG is propane, whereas LNG is methane. LPG contains a higher caloric value than LNG, which means its energy content is higher and less of it is required to create the same amount of heat. LPG is denser than LNG and air, whereas LNG is lighter than both. LPG settles, while LNG rises.
LPG is what you will find in a metal canister attached to the barbeque, while LNG is connected to homes and businesses through a mains gas network
What are common uses for LPG?
LPG is a favourite fuel in many households in Australia. Its three primary uses are:
- Petrol at 45% of total consumption.
- Electricity at 21% and
- Gas at 14%
When you factor in that 15% of electricity is generated by gas turbine, you see that we use a lot of gas! In fact, you may have been using a healthy amount of LPG without even realising it.
LPG is also a popular choice for those looking to avoid the high prices of petrol and diesel. Many modern taxis are equipped with LPG gas bottles and compatible motors. LPG is cheaper and cleaner than petroleum, and it often works out more affordable given a taxi will journey up to a billion kilometres a year according to the Victorian taxi association.
What are some other uses for LPG?
The most common uses of gas in homes are heating, cooking and providing hot water, but there are also some unusual uses of gas too. For example, you can buy a gas powered clothes dryer! These use gas to quickly and efficiently heat the clothes and, while they cost more than a normal dryer to buy, they cost much less to use.
According to Sustainability Victoria, a gas clothes dryer with a 6kg load capacity, used three times per week will cost around $73 per annum to run. This compares to the equivalent size and use of a standard electric clothes dryer at an estimated cost of $246 per annum.
Another unusual use for gas and one which is a bit counter-intuitive is in a fridge. You can actually use gas to keep things cool! These are actually quite popular for camping as you don’t need a power socket or an Esky full of ice, but you can also get models for everyday use in the home. They work by heating up and then rapidly cooling ammonia. Weird but true!
What are the strengths and weaknesses of LPG?
If you are thinking of becoming a gas convert, it’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of LPG.
There is a lot of upside to using LPG as a fuel source. The upsides are:
- It’s cleaner than other fossil fuels. It emits less carbon monoxide and other heavy Ozone-harmful compounds.
- It’s economical. The costs of powering your home with proprane can be considerably lower compared to electricity.
- For automotive purposes, the price of a litre of LPG is often half that of regular unleaded fuel. It can work out to be economical if you install LPG in your vehicle if you rack up a lot of mileage every year.
- LPG doesn’t deteriorate over time and can be easily transported in safe and regulated canisters. This makes long term storage of LPG possible – something that is not so possible with unleaded fuel.
On the other hand, there are also a few downsides to look out for.
- It’s not a world saver. Harmful emissions with LPG may be less than coal or oil, but it is not a completely clean energy.
- It’s a fuel sucker. LPG still cannot trump diesel or gasoline for energy density, and as such requires more of it to go the same distance. LPG is about 25 per cent less dense than regular unleaded, and as such will use roughly 25 per cent more fuel per 100km.
- Initial fit out of LPG systems can be costly. There are government rebates, but expect your car costs to be higher with LPG fitted. On this point, cars with LPG need to have their tanks serviced by a licensed LPG technician, which can also be costly.
- When fueling up, there is much more ‘seepage’ into the air than gasoline. While less volatile than gasoline, this poses hazards and increases chances of explosion and fire.
Summary of pros and cons
|Is cheaper than unleaded fuel per litre.||25% less dense than unleaded, meaning your fuel economy is 25% worse off.|
|Is a cleaner alternative to coal||Still relies on fossil fuels somewhat – not totally clean|
|Home furnaces last longer than gasoline||Installation often requires licensed technicians – costly|
|Less volatile than gasoline||More ‘seepage’ in the air when fueling up|
What’s the future of gas in Australia?
In 2015, then-Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey said that LNG has massive export potential.
“In the next five years we will become the world’s largest exporter of Liquefied Natural Gas,” he said.
In his 2015 budget, he stated the gas industry is alive and well in Australia. His Budget Paper 1: Statement 2 contained the following statement: “Significant investments in LNG are still under development and will make a strong contribution to export growth in coming years. Exports of LNG are set to nearly double over the forecast period as major projects in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory enter into their production phases. By the end of the decade, Australia is set to overtake Qatar as the largest exporter of LNG in the world.”
Mr Hockey was not wrong. Australia has enormous gas reserves, so much so that we produce much more than we consume, exporting the rest. Even so, gas is actually the second most common used form of energy in the country (behind oil), accounting for 24 per cent of total energy usage in 2013-2014, two per cent more than electricity. Most of this is due to industry use, with residential purposes only accounting for 7.7% of net energy consumption.
So there you have it. While gas isn’t the right choice for everyone, it can be more favourable in certain scenarios. Weigh up the pros and cons, consider electricity and gas prices in your area, and talk to your supplier before you make any large decision.