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What Role Can Gas Play in the Energy Transition?

todayFebruary 24, 2023 22


What Role Can Gas Play in the Energy Transition?

Natural gas is often considered as a bridge fuel, acting as an intermediary between traditional fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. As the world moves towards decarbonisation and a cleaner, more sustainable future, it is crucial to examine the role that natural gas can play in the energy transition. The question remains: what role can gas realistically play in the energy transition?

The Pros and Cons of Natural Gas as a Source of Energy: Examining Its Impact on Emissions and Its Role in the Transition to Clean Energy

Natural gas has indeed become an increasingly important source of energy over the past few decades. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), natural gas accounted for approximately 22% of global energy consumption in 2020, making it the world's second-largest source of energy after oil. In the same year, natural gas was responsible for around 20% of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

When it comes to emissions, natural gas still has an impact on the environment. The IEA estimates that methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, of which natural gas is a part, were around 70 million tonnes in 2020. This is equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions from over 300 coal-fired power plants. Furthermore, the Environmental Defence Fund (EDF) estimates that the methane leak rate from the natural gas supply chain in the United States alone was around 2.3% in 2019, which is higher than previously estimated.

Despite these challenges, natural gas can still play a role in the transition to a cleaner energy future. According to the IEA, using natural gas in combination with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies can reduce emissions from natural gas-fired power plants by up to 90%. In addition, using natural gas as a backup source of power to support the integration of intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar can also help reduce emissions.

It is worth noting, however, that there are still challenges with the implementation of CCS and the cost-effectiveness of these technologies. Furthermore, some experts argue that relying too heavily on natural gas can divert resources away from developing truly renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro power.

The Role of Natural Gas in the Energy Transition: A Bridge to a Sustainable Future

Natural gas is a versatile fuel that can play a role in the energy transition towards a more sustainable future. In the United States, natural gas accounted for 40% of the country's electricity generation in 2020, while in the European Union, it represented 22% of the total energy consumption in 2019.

One way in which natural gas can contribute to the energy transition is by serving as a backup fuel for intermittent renewable energy sources. An example of how natural gas can contribute to the energy transition is by serving as a fuel for transportation. Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) can produce lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional gasoline and diesel vehicles. According to the US Department of Energy, NGVs emit up to 30% less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline and diesel vehicles. Additionally, natural gas is abundant and domestically produced in many countries, which can reduce reliance on imported oil.

Another way in which natural gas can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions is by replacing coal in power generation. According to the IEA, natural gas emits approximately 50% less carbon dioxide per unit of energy compared to coal when used for electricity generation. Therefore, transitioning from coal to natural gas can be an effective way to reduce emissions in the short-term while longer-term solutions are developed.

However, natural gas is not a perfect solution, as it still contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. As mentioned earlier, methane leaks from natural gas production, transportation, and storage can contribute to emissions. According to the IEA, methane emissions from oil and gas operations account for approximately 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, reducing methane leaks is an important part of addressing climate change.

Natural gas can serve as a feedstock for low-carbon hydrogen production, and according to a report by the Global CCS Institute, carbon capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) technologies can significantly reduce emissions from natural gas use and help mitigate climate change. CCUS can be applied to natural gas power plants, industrial processes, and hydrogen production from natural gas. The report estimates that by 2050, CCUS applied to natural gas could abate up to 3.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions per year globally, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of over 750 million passenger cars. This demonstrates the potential of CCUS in mitigating climate change from natural gas use at a global level. Using natural gas to produce low-carbon hydrogen with carbon capture and storage can kickstart the hydrogen economy while low-carbon hydrogen production methods are developed further.

Real-Life Applications of Natural Gas in the Energy Transition

Natural gas is indeed being used in innovative ways to support the energy transition in various parts of the world. In the Netherlands, for example, natural gas is used to provide backup power for wind turbines. When the wind is not blowing, natural gas can be burned in a power plant to ensure a steady supply of electricity. This technology is known as “gas-to-power,” and it helps to reduce the need for fossil fuel-based backup power, such as coal or diesel.

In the United States, there has been a significant shift from coal to natural gas in power generation over the past decade. According to the US Energy Information Administration, natural gas surpassed coal as the primary fuel for electricity generation in 2016. This shift has resulted in a significant reduction in emissions: carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector in the US fell by around 33% between 2005 and 2019, largely due to the shift from coal to natural gas. This is a significant reduction in emissions, which is equivalent to taking 145 million cars off the road each year.

In Australia, there are several projects underway to produce low-carbon hydrogen using natural gas. One such project is the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain, which aims to produce hydrogen from natural gas with carbon capture and storage. The hydrogen will be transported to Japan for use in power generation. Another project in Australia is the CarbonNet project, which aims to capture carbon dioxide from industrial processes and store it in geological formations. The project includes a pilot plant that will use natural gas to produce hydrogen with carbon capture and storage.

Moreover, natural gas is increasingly used as a fuel for transportation, especially in heavy-duty vehicles like trucks and buses. For example, in California, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) has incentivised the use of low-carbon natural gas as a transportation fuel. This has led to the development of renewable natural gas (RNG), which is produced from organic waste like food and agricultural waste. According to the California Air Resources Board, RNG can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 80% compared to diesel.

In conclusion, natural gas has an important role to play in the energy transition, but it is not a silver bullet. While it emits significantly less carbon dioxide than coal, it is still a fossil fuel that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. However, as the world transitions to a more sustainable energy future, natural gas can be used in several ways to support this transition.

Natural gas can act as a backup fuel for renewable energy sources, replace coal in power generation, and be used as a feedstock for low-carbon hydrogen production. However, it is important to ensure that natural gas is used responsibly and with a focus on reducing emissions. This means minimising methane leaks throughout the natural gas supply chain, implementing carbon capture and storage technology where possible, and transitioning towards renewable energy sources in the long term.

Real-life examples demonstrate that natural gas is already being used in innovative ways to support the energy transition. As the world continues to develop new technologies and strategies for decarbonisation, natural gas will undoubtedly continue to play a role in the transition towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.

By embracing natural gas as part of a holistic strategy for decarbonisation, we can ensure a smooth and sustainable transition to a cleaner energy future. It is important to use natural gas responsibly and with an eye towards reducing emissions and transitioning towards cleaner energy sources in the long term.

Written by: Emily

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