Gas fuelled emission reductions

July 30th, 2015

A recent article in Nature magazine caused environmental activists around the world – including here in Australia – to rush to Twitter to repeat claims that reductions in carbon emissions in the US in the past eight years were due to a lagging economy – not the move to natural gas.

But as is often the case with such claims, activist enthusiasm to embrace the claims overshoots the facts.

The reality is that a significant shift to natural gas as an energy source for electricity generation is the major contributor to the reduction of carbon emissions in the US – and that 2015 may turn out to be the year for the lowest emissions since 1965, for the same reason.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the next best factor in emissions reductions is introduction of renewable energy sources – notably solar and wind. What this means is that the combination of gas and renewables is delivering the goods for the US, in economic terms and in environmental terms. This is a model for the world.

The US is the world’s biggest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions after China. While it addresses its issues internally, Australia is punching above its weight by playing both an internal role and an external role.

Australia contributes to carbon emissions reduction by mandating and subsidising domestic renewable energy and simultaneously exporting liquid natural gas to big-population energy customers in our region, including Japan and Korea.

This gas-renewables approach was the internationally acknowledged way forward about 10 years ago, when environmentalists were happy to describe natural gas as an appropriate ‘bridging fuel’ on the road to total dependence on renewable energy.

That approach halted abruptly in the US in 2008/09 when the huge potential of the so-called ‘shale gale’ became evident, and activists realised that gas may have a bigger role to play than suited the proponents of quick change to renewables.

As a result, there is now a concerted push against natural gas and against all fossil fuels, led by activists in the US, who provide the lead for anti-gas groups in Australia and many other countries, regardless of the strong evidence of positive outcomes in the US from shifting toward more gas.

This dynamic is well understood in the gas industry and is acknowledged by Government and environmental groups in the US, including the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Energy Information Administration.

Each of these organisations has identified increased use of natural gas as a key contributor to emissions reduction. So have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Global Change Research Program.

Gas is now playing a more immediate and successful role in emissions reduction than renewable energy. It should be embraced as a partner to renewables on the road to a decarbonised economy – rather than vilified by activists because it is a trendy thing to do.

For more on this issue, check out this piece from Energy in Depth.




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  1. Brewster on 31 July, 2015 Reply

    I have read this story, as well as seeing the ‘news’ item earlier in the week regarding the contribution toward the reduction in Co2 emissions from the USA.
    I must say the claim that the substantial reductions in the USA over the last few years being attributed to the depressed economic condition is basically ludicrous, and originated and perpetuated by the anti fossil fuel groups.
    One only has to have a cursory look at the EIA stat’s to see that over the last 8 years (where the Co2 emissions have been flat or in decline) that the total electricity generation has also been flat and a small decline of 1.5% – this is the basis for the anti’s argument of course – Ah Haa! a correlation ! – read no more – Lets twitter that! and do a research paper and get lots of donor and research dollars !!! HOWEVER this is only a smidgen of the story – Looks can (and often are) deceiving – a lot of Lock the Gate campaigns are like that – very deceiving !
    What drove the reduction in the Co2 emissions ? Well lets see?
    1 Coal contribution as a primary energy fuel dropped by about 21% from 2008 to 2014 (this would drive down Co2 emissions
    2 Gas generation for electricity increased by approx 25% (some years more) – so gas replacing coal, as the total contribution by coal and gas for electricity generation in 2014 is slightly in favour of gas in total terms.
    3 nuclear was relatively constant during this period
    4 renewables increased by 167% but from a relatively low base from 105,238 MWhrs to 281,000 MWhrs (still 25% of the gas contribution, but up from 12% of the gas contribution in 2008.
    Conclusions. pretty simple –
    A total emissions dropped over the eight year period
    B total generation was flat basically over this period
    C Coal reduced by 400,000 MWhrs
    D Gas increased by 220,000 MWhrs
    E Renewables increased by 176 MWhrs

    Bottom line – the replacement of coal by the combination of gas and renewables has been the primary mover in the reduction of emissions during this period – not the general flattening of the total generation of electricity (the economic ‘depression’ ) – there was no economic depression just flat economic conditions.

    The anti’ argument is flat – just like their facts – full of hot air and fallacious.


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