The global energy transition is complex. It involves changing the foundations of a $100 trillion global economy. Natural gas can play a critical role in the energy transition by replacing relatively high-emitting fossil fuels, such as coal, and helping to improve air quality. But its credentials as a low-carbon energy source can only be supported if flaring, venting, and fugitive emissions are significantly reduced.
The world depends on a diverse energy supply to support economic development, maintain a comfortable climate and provide services like health and water supplies. Energy security requires political stability, economic growth, energy conservation, and technological innovation.
Natural gas is vital to the world’s energy system by providing clean, reliable, and affordable energy. Its low carbon content, relative to coal and oil, helps nations meet their climate targets while contributing to their energy security goals. In addition, gas is an essential bridge to a renewable future in many countries.
The detractors contend the volatile gas siphons resources from sustainable sources and can cement a fossil fuel dependency without targeted measures. However, they discount that eco-friendly and gas can coincide in the same power blend. For instance, transitioning from coal to gas in power generation can decrease worldwide power sector discharges by up to 1.2 billion tons. This is reflected in nearby outflows of NOx and SOx by a similar sum. Moreover, gas can be utilized to eliminate atomic and coal in existing power plants.
Various nations are advancing measures towards an eco-friendlier power prospect. They aspire to diminish pollutants emitted and progress towards an economy neutral in climate impact. This lofty aim will be attained if optimal determinations are effected in generating, retaining, and utilizing energy.
The choice of natural gas is critical to the global energy transition. It is a clean-burning fossil fuel with less environmental impact than coal, yet it still offers the reliability needed to power an electricity system.
The energy transition involves a shift from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. Technological advancements and a societal push toward sustainability drive it. The change also aims to reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Natural gas plays several roles in the energy system. In power generation, it serves as a seasonal balancing function or as a backup to hydropower and intermittent renewables. In buildings, it can be a substitute for coal or oil. It can also help improve the efficiency of electricity and heat generation and provide a backup in case of transmission or distribution problems.
While it can serve as a transition fuel to bridge polluting technologies until zero-carbon technologies emerge, research shows that natural gas may divert investments from renewables and lead to carbon lock-in. This happens if life-cycle methane and anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are not considered when comparing the two technologies. Only specific policies that establish clear upper limits for the use of fossil fuels and a concrete allowable time frame to invest in new capacities can prevent these unintended consequences.
Several nations have reduced air pollution by converting to natural gas instead of significantly cleaner coal. But the green credentials of gas should be seen in context. In some markets, low prices have been the driving force for switching to gas, while in others, it has simply served as an ex-post rationalization.
As a transition fuel, natural gas can play a role in balancing renewables’ intermittency and providing backup energy. But if it redirects resources from other zero-carbon technologies due to its sociotechnical advantages, the energy transition might be delayed or hindered.
A vital part of the energy transition is reducing emissions to avoid the climate crisis and achieve sustainable development. Using natural gas to replace coal in power plants is a clear example, as it reduces greenhouse gases but doesn’t increase air pollutants and is cheaper than renewables.
Another critical role of gas is ensuring a reliable, efficient energy system that can respond quickly to dips in renewable energy. A natural gas-fired power plant can start up nearly instantaneously, whereas it takes much longer to start up a coal-fired plant.
It is also crucial to help developing countries take the following steps toward sustainable development by introducing cleaner energy sources. These are often resource-rich economies that face environmental risks and need to make their economy more competitive and resilient while reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
Achieving sustainability requires innovative social practices, technologies, and business models. The energy transition is no exception. It is a multi-pronged effort to reduce GHG emissions and promote economic development while preserving natural resources. The energy sector must appropriately manage its resources and play a vital role in this shift.
Natural gas has been critical in shifting the world’s power mix over the past half-century. It has largely replaced coal as a source of electricity and helped reduce local air pollution, although it is not perfect. Finding cheaper or environmentally friendly alternatives is challenging in other markets, like petrochemicals and industrial processes. But lumping these disparate markets into a single story, or calling for eliminating fossil fuels in all markets without adequate policy support, could be more helpful.
It is also worth remembering that GHG emissions are global issues, regardless of where they occur or what is done with them. The United States can get serious about climate change by reducing GHG emissions, regulating energy companies to minimize their GHGs, and supporting new technologies in all sectors. It can also do its part by supporting policies encouraging the transition from fossil fuels in all sectors, including buildings.
As demand for renewables surges and nuclear power continues to decline globally, the energy market will need a backup to generate round-the-clock baseload. Natural gas can fill this role, and its low-carbon credentials may be a valuable selling point in some markets.
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