Natural Gas as Bridge to Renewable Energy?
Clean energy is the ultimate goal of the environmentalists. With the Paris agreement moving things forward in that direction, it still doesn’t seem enough to reach the coveted goal of keeping the increase in the average global temperature to below 2°C. Renewable energy seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel, but what still has to be done to get there?
The current energy mix that is rife with oil and coal, has to unequivocally change. Especially, the biggest offender in regards to emissions – coal – needs to be replaced. According to IEA, in 2015 it accounted for 28% of the global energy demand, but the CO2 emissions it produces amount to 45%. In contrast, natural gas releases more than have that, specifically, 20%, making it the preferable option to coal.
Does that mean that natural gas is enough to reach global environmental goals? Sadly, no. Natural gas is still a fossil fuel that when burning produces harmful greenhouse gases like methane. Not to mention, its extraction practices can cause substantial damage to the environment, granted to a lesser degree than oil or coal extraction. For example, gas drilling can pollute water, alter land use and harm local ecosystems by causing erosion.
Regardless of the risks, natural gas is a stepping stone to a cleaner future. Financially and technologically it would not be feasible to immediately replace carbon-intensive coal and oil with renewables. A transitional resource, a bridge, needs to be adopted to ease the way for zero-emissions systems. Natural gas is perfect for this role. It is relatively inexpensive and, as mentioned, releases less harmful emissions than energy sources permeating the market today. Natural gas is also helpful where renewable energy sources are not viable or are too intermittent to generate sufficient power, for instance, due to the lack of sufficient sun or wind. Although, renewables are getting cheaper and technologies are advancing rapidly, so if the progress continues in this direction, in the next few decades the market could cross the natural gas bridge to an all green future.
On the other hand, there is a danger of becoming complacent and having established natural gas infrastructure, abandon the further development of renewable energy sources. This could mean that natural gas will become a hindrance rather than a bridge. It is imperative to advance the transformation of the power sector, with companies continuing to invest in alternative energy sources while developing the use of gas until such time when renewables reach a high percent of generation. It is projected that by 2035 major companies would need to invest $350bn in wind and solar technologies to take up a big enough market share and stay competitive in the energy sector. Governments should also support the transition with laws and policies encouraging renewable electricity worldwide.