Gas supports renewables, so why oppose it?

June 15th, 2016

With renewable energy policies coming into sharper focus this week following the Victorian Government’s commitment to a new policy of zero net emissions by 2050, and with renewable and climate policies featuring in the Federal election campaign, it’s timely to take a look at the role that natural gas will play in facilitating the transition to a greater penetration of renewable energy.

First off, it’s worth remembering that less than ten years ago, some environmentalists were hailing natural gas as an essential transitional fuel on the path to cleaner energy.

While that might seem at odds with the current strident campaigns against the development of unconventional gas, let’s put that to one side for a moment and consider something that anti-industry activists don’t and won’t: some facts.

The International Gas Union (IGU) has released a series of Case Studies showing the role of natural gas in supporting and complementing renewable energies.

As the IGU says:

“Contrary to suggestions that greater availability and lower prices for natural gas will inhibit renewable energy adoption, natural gas is complementary to renewable energy and can enable greater adoption and a smoother transition to a lower carbon economy. The versatility, price, and performance characteristics of natural gas make it the best fuel to partner with renewable energy sources in multiple ways.

The IGU goes on to list the ways in which gas and renewables are complementary:

  • Natural gas can help address the challenge of seasonal and daily output variability of wind and solar energy.
  • Distributed natural gas-based energy systems can be integrated with renewable thermal and electric generating systems to offer another type of hybrid system.
  • The natural gas infrastructure enables the broader use of biogas.
  • The natural gas infrastructure can also enable the use of renewably generated hydrogen or synthetic natural gas as a storage medium for renewable energy or an alternative method of using renewable electricity.
  • In all cases, the natural gas system providing the backbone for delivering clean and reliable energy to homes, as an energy and feedstock fuel for businesses and industry, and as an alternative fuel for land and marine transportation.
  • The natural gas infrastructure brings renewable gas directly in the existing heating market.

While some of the points on the list above are specific to European markets, they give you a sense of the policy perspective and positioning that is occurring in global markets.

Speaking of global markets, another useful data point in understanding how gas will contribute to the future energy mix is the annual BP Energy Outlook. In this years’ output, BP economists predict that over the next two decades:

“Fossil fuels remain the dominant form of energy powering the global expansion: providing around 60% of the additional energy and accounting for almost 80% of total energy supplies in 2035. Renewables grow rapidly, almost quadrupling by 2035 and supplying a third of the growth in power generation.”

The chart below shows the only fossil fuel source to grow over the outlook period is natural gas:

BP_Outlook2016_Primary_Energy

Source: BP 2016 Energy Outlook

Both the IGU and BP reports, along with countless others that point to the role gas plays in reducing greenhouse gas emissions make opposition to responsible, well-regulated gas development all the more puzzling.

For the last word in this piece, we go back to the International Gas Union report to read:

“Natural gas is clearly the most effective partner for clean energy, merely one of a number of qualities of natural gas that make it a pivotal element of the global energy mix today and tomorrow. The benefits natural gas brings as a partner and catalyst for the enhanced use of renewable energies mirror the wider arguments for enhanced natural gas usage.”

 

 

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