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.