Natural Gas: Renewables’ Essential Friend

on August 16, 2016 at 2:00 PM

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I really like this quote from Chris Mooney’s analysis in the Washington Post last week – the speaker being Italian scientist Elena Verdolini, whose new research basically finds that solar and wind energy need big help from natural gas:

“If you have an electric car, you don’t need a diesel car in your garage sitting there. But in the case of renewables, it’s different, because if you have renewable electricity and that fails, then you need the fast acting gas sitting in your garage, so to speak.”

That “failure” is the reality that solar and wind are intermittent: The sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow. From the working paper by Verdolini and her team, who studied wind, solar and other renewable energy plants across 26 countries between 1999 and 2013:

“Our paper calls attention to the fact that renewables and fast-reacting fossil technologies appear as highly complementary and that they should be jointly installed to meet the goals of cutting emissions and ensuring a stable supply.”

Mooney writes:

Because of the particular nature of clean energy sources like solar and wind, you can’t simply add them to the grid in large volumes and think that’s the end of the story. … “When people assume that we can switch from fossil fuels to renewables they assume we can completely switch out of one path, to another path,” says Verdolini. But, she adds, the study suggests otherwise.

Needed, the study says, is natural gas-fired power generation that can reach full power in less than 30 minutes – meaning the ability to add more than 600 megawatts of electricity to the grid, Mooney writes.

Now, while the headline on Mooney’s piece refers to natural gas as renewables’ “secret” friend, it’s no secret that the increased use of domestic natural gas is the primary reason the United States’ energy-related carbon dioxide emissions decreased 2.7 percent last year and were 12 percent lower than they were in 2005 – perhaps why Verdolini and her team mention emissions in the quote above. A chart by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showing the decline in U.S. CO2 emissions:


The United States, the world leader in oil and natural gas production, also leads the world in reducing carbon emissions, thanks to a domestic energy renaissance that’s producing surging volumes of cleaner-burning natural gas. The resulting abundance of natural gas has generated a market edge for gas leading to its wider use and falling emissions – noted by EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski last week:

“The drop in CO2 emissions is largely the result of low natural gas prices, which have contributed to natural gas displacing a large amount of coal used for electricity generation.”

Some may find inconvenient the clear connection between safe and responsible hydraulic fracturing, which is delivering all that natural gas to market, and U.S. emissions reductions. Instead, they might consider embracing the all-of-the-above approach to energy suggested by the Verdolini team’s research, as well as real climate progress that’s occurring without impacting jobs, the economy, energy security or consumer affordability.

By Mark Green 

Originally posted August 15, 2016

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