June 15, 2024

The Part of Natural Gas in the Global Shift Toward Renewable Energy

Natural Gas in the Global Shift Toward Renewable Energy

The pace of global energy transitions takes time. Even a revolutionary breakthrough in safe, inexpensive nuclear power or a cheap way to store wind and solar would only speed up the process.

In many markets, fossil fuels are still affordable and attractive to countries that want to expand their electricity supply and fight local air pollution. But their share in power generation is gradually declining.

Developing Countries

As a local energy source, natural gas offers an opportunity to help developing countries reach their development goals. But the shift away from fossil fuels should be carried out in a way that considers how it will impact people and communities who depend on fossil fuels to meet their needs. The sooner developing countries start the transition to renewables in a way that is considerate of this, the better.

Many countries have significant natural gas reserves that they can tap to provide a reliable, cleaner alternative to coal- and oil-fired power plants. This will be challenging, however. Gas is a relatively expensive fossil fuel to develop because it has lower energy density than oil and coal, meaning that transporting gas over long distances can account for a significant share of its final cost. This makes access to gas only viable in regions with suitable geographical conditions.

In addition, a switch to renewables will require some form of energy storage. This isn’t currently available, which means that the role of natural gas as a backup to solar and wind will be diminished over time. In the meantime, it is essential for countries to carefully navigate their development of natural gas to ensure that it is produced responsibly and priced at an appropriate level. This planning should consider market conditions, import-versus-export balances, and the appropriateness of taxation and infrastructure funding.

Energy Efficiency

The global economy is growing fast, and developing economies will need a broad range of energy sources. But they can also achieve greater energy efficiency and cut their carbon footprint. This is a vital part of the solution to climate change.

Energy efficiency can boost productivity, create jobs, cut household and business costs, and reduce waste. It is an essential element in the global energy transition and a critical complement to renewables. Governments in developing countries can use a variety of policies to increase energy efficiency, including providing financial incentives, setting standards, and promoting energy-efficient appliances.

Unlike coal, natural gas emits significantly fewer conventional air pollutants when burned to produce electricity. And it can help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions when used to replace coal in power plants. It is also a great partner for renewables, helping to compensate for dips in solar and wind energy supply and quickly respond to sudden increases in demand.

Natural gas is found in sedimentary basins around the world. It can be extracted from these deposits by drilling wells. It is also produced by the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter – either living or non-living – in landfills and industrial processes, such as biogas.

Energy Security

As the world shifts from fossil fuels to renewable energy, it must ensure that all countries have enough affordable and reliable electricity. Developing new energy technologies and deploying efficient, low-emissions gas-fired power plants can help meet this need.

Over a third of them worry about the economic factors associated with an energy transition, including job losses and higher energy costs. However, a rapid switch to renewables will require a massive investment in new energy infrastructure. And as a result, some communities are concerned that the transition to clean energy will create economic challenges for their local areas.

The shale boom in the States has contributed to historically low natural gas prices, but this does not eliminate price volatility. In addition, the production of fossil gas releases methane, which has 86 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.

It is essential that the world rushes to renewables and avoids the risk of carbon lock-in, which occurs when fossil fuel-based technological systems and institutions create barriers to the phase-out of fossil fuels. This will be difficult for middle-income oil and gas-producing countries, where the economy needs to be better diversified, and the energy sector contributes a large share of jobs and government revenues. In these cases, a just transition to renewables is essential, as it places the needs of affected workers and communities at the heart of policy decisions.

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Climate Change

Many support moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy to address climate change. Majorities across age groups and political ideologies support becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

However, many people also recognize that the shift toward renewables will require new investments in energy efficiency, other low-carbon technologies, and significant cuts in natural gas use. Most people expect the switch to renewable energy sources to impact air quality positively, energy sector jobs in their local communities, and prices for consumer goods.

Despite this, many advocates have promoted natural gas as a “bridge technology” to a renewable energy future, using it to justify investments in natural gas infrastructure and usage. This is a misleading narrative that aggravates lock-in effects and hinders decarbonization. It ignores that methane has a higher global warming potential than CO2, meaning its use is not a sustainable alternative to coal.

To ensure that policies do not hinder a rapid transition to renewables, emissions management needs to be improved, especially methane leakage from natural gas production and infrastructure. In addition, scenario analyses should be updated to include recent research insights on the total life cycle emissions of natural gas and the warming potential of methane. These insights would reveal that the role of natural gas in energy systems is much smaller than previously thought and underlines the need for immediate investment in energy efficiency measures and massive expansion of renewables.

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