There is a growing consensus among energy players and experts around the world that the best path forward to a sustainable energy and clean energy is to combine renewable energy with natural gas. Unless an alternative type of fuel is found, or until battery storage (or similar technologies) become economically feasible, this may be the case.
For one, Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s biggest energy company is investing heavily in liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants and developing a market for it. Shell currently has various LNG projects scattered in practically every continent.
Now why the massive investment on LNG? According to Maarten Wetselaar, Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s director of integrated gas and new energies, its because “We are deeply convinced that the end-point energy mix that provides cheap, or at least affordable, reliable and clean energy to everybody will consist of renewable power, biofuels, and natural gas.”
He added that that the company will go full speed with investments projects that can produce the cheapest LNG.
As early as 2012, Shell’s CEO, Peter Voser already announced that the firm would invest some $20 billion in the natural gas around the world in the next three years.
Shell isn’t alone in its belief that renewables should be combined with natural gas.
Craig Ivey, president of US Energy firm, Consolidated Edison Inc, stressed that the US shift to RE like wind and solar is feasible if there is greater reliance on natural gas. Consolidated Edison Inc. provides electric service to some 3.3 million customers and gas service to roughly 1.1 million customers in New York City and Westchester County in the US
Ivey added that REs could account for half of New York’s energy needs by 2030 only with the help of natural gas.
But energy company officials are not the only ones to have this conclusion. A study published recently by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that natural gas power plants that can fire up quickly must be used to meet the cut emissions and energy stable supply.
Author’s of the study, “Bridging The Gap: Do Fast Reacting Fossil Technologies Facilitate Renewable Energy Diffusion?” stressed 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.”
I have to agree with these experts as adding more natural gas helps in ensuring a stable energy supply through diversification.
According to Andy Stirling, a Professor of Science & Technology Policy at the University of Sussex, there are three basic properties when it comes to diversification: variety, balance and disparity.
In the context of energy systems planning, variety is about the number of energy supply options available. And having more variety of energy types means that there is greater diversity in the system.
On the other hand, balance pertains to the reliance on each option available where the system is considered as more diverse if there is more balance across energy choices while disparity refers to the differences in each option. There is more diversity in the energy supply system when options are more disparate.
This is why we need to make use of various energy types for our energy mix.So far, we depend heavily on coal to meet our ancillary needs. According to the Department of Energy, last year, coal accounted for 48 percent of our energy needs while some 22 percent came from natural gas.
Obviously, our energy supply is far from diverse given the numbers above. This is why we need to develop and increase the share of natural gas in our energy mix. We can lower our reliance on coal, and use more natural gas for our ancillary need as we add more renewable energy mix.
Keep in mind that both wind and solar power are intermittent. Thus, we need to beef up on our ancillary services to maintain the correct direction and flow of power as well as to address the imbalance between the supply and demand on the grid. And for that we can utilize more LNG rather than always turning to traditional power sources for our ancillary needs.
After all, there are advantages in using natural gas. For one, natural gas is three times more useful compared to conventional power. It is highly efficient as around 90 percent of natural gas produced can be converted to useful energy.
Natural gas is less harmful to the environment, too since its main component, methane, results in lesser carbon emission. LNG’s carbon dioxide emissions are 30 percent less than oil and 45 percent lower than other conventional fuels.
Plus, the death print of natural is less than coal according to energy expert James Conca who defined death print as “the number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kilowatt hour (kWh) produced”. Natural gas death print is 4,000 significantly less than coal’s 100,000.
We have so much to gain by developing our LNG to replace coal-fired plants in the country. Adding more LNG will make our energy supply system become more diverse while helping us achieve our goal of helping the world become a less polluted place.
In the long-term, however, maybe indigenous, sustainable and therefore renewable energy may be the way to go.
Diversity and Sustainable Energy Transitions: Multicriteria Diversity Analysis of Electricity Portfolios By Andy Stirling