Moving away from natural gas, with the help of hot water pipes

The Nov. 27 editorial “Don’t curb gas utilities; clean them up” begins an important discussion on making the transition from natural gas to renewable energy.

The options discussed, hydrogen and renewable natural gas, may be more sustainable, but both have problems.

Hydrogen is a smaller molecule that leaks more easily and is corrosive to several pipe materials. Once it leaks, the range under which it will explode is more than four times greater than gas. After what we’ve seen in the Merrimack Valley, few will want to assume that risk.

Renewable gas is made from manure or agricultural and food waste. This idea has promise, but not at the scale needed. Boston’s waste treatment plant uses sewage from 3.1 million people, but produces enough power from the methane it generates only to partially run the plant itself.


Fortunately, there are other innovative options. HEET is working to pilot a renewable scalable approach to district heating. A modern version of an old idea, this model allows gas companies to produce heat centrally in one location and deliver it to buildings in a given area through hot water pipes. Hot water doesn’t explode.

This is a way to make our homes safer, protect our children’s climate, protect against gas price volatility, and achieve energy independence and resilience for Massachusetts.

Zeyneb Magavi

Research director

Audrey Schulman

Executive director