Natural gas is the key to a "smart energy" future and should be included in plans and funding programs for a future smart grid, according to a white paper released by the Gas Technology Institute Thursday.

"This report underscores the ability of natural gas to make the smart grid smarter," said R. Skip Horvath, CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA). "We already know that the use of natural gas in power generation and in homes, businesses and factories contributes to cleaner air and greater energy efficiency. This white paper lays out the ways that natural gas is needed to achieve a smarter energy future, characterized by the ability of suppliers and consumers to rapidly and efficiently respond to changing energy needs."

According to the paper, action to aggressively pursue smart energy solutions in order to achieve key goals by 2030. It recommends that policymakers include natural gas in advanced metering infrastructure development, ensure that future federal funding programs -- including smart grid programs -- encourage and allow funding for dedicated gas projects and combined electric/gas projects, and develop a technology road map for gas in a smart grid future.

The paper also calls for increased governmental funding for basic and applied research in gas safety and reliability and smart energy infrastructure technology, and the establishment of governmental public-private research and development programs for natural gas similar in size to electric smart grid programs.

In addition, the paper calls on regulators to expand smart grid standards development efforts to include natural gas.

The paper was sponsored by NGSA, The American Gas Foundation, APGA Research Foundation; Canadian Gas Association and the INGAA Foundation Inc.

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