The Ironic Role of Natural Gas in Securing a Low C02 World
The commitments made at the 2015 COP21 global climate conference will radically alter the way the world manages its energy requirements. The 190 participating nations agreed to work toward shifting energy production mix and consumption patterns in order to reduce CO2 emissions. For all of these nations to accomplish their CO2 reduction goals, the following changes need to be implemented:
- Coal, although abundant, is too dirty a fuel source to maintain and its phase-out will need to be accelerated.
- Natural gas and oil are in plentiful supply although, of the two, oil produces higher emissions.
- Natural gas is by far the lowest producer of CO2 emissions of the fossil fuels. In fact, when compared to coal, natural gas reduces CO2 emissions by 60%.
- Renewable energies such as wind, solar and hydro represent the long-term energy solution. However, in order to displace fossil fuels, it will take at least 25 years to build out renewable energy infrastructures at the massive scale required.
Obstacles to Overcome and Benefits to Realize
To meet these challenges, an immediate next step is to implement a global shift from coal to natural gas. Embracing such a shift makes sense for the following reasons:
- Displacement of high emissions fossil fuels – Today, fossil fuel burning plants (especially coal) are the primary backup for renewables. Natural gas, along with combined cycle combustion turbines, costs one-third the price of same capacity coal power plants, and generates much less CO2.
- A bridge to efficient and safe energy storage development – Because of the intermittent nature of today’s renewable resources (solar works only when the sun is out and wind, when the wind is blowing), cost-effective, nontoxic, and efficient energy storage sources need to be developed. Today, natural gas can serve as an energy storage source as new technologies develop.
- Water waste reduction – Gas-fueled generation consumes 40-60% less fresh water when compared to coal-fueled generation.