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Natural Gas Leads in Carbon Emissions Reduction

carbon emissionsWin Porter
Energy and Environmental Consultant

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Natural gas is leading the way in reducing carbon emissions and lowering energy costs; all while working hand in hand with wind and solar.

U.S. carbon emissions from power plants have fallen to 25-year lows.  No country is reducing its emissions faster.  Remarkably, we are doing this while still growing our economy.  In fact, wholesale electricity prices have fallen 40 percent over the past five years.

carbon emissions

This remarkable achievement is not the product of a “green revolution.” Yes, we are subsidizing and building wind and solar power.  But despite billions in taxpayer funds, these two power sources still generate less than 7 percent of our electricity. Rather, it’s natural gas which leads the charge in our emissions and cost reduction efforts.

The word that makes some environmentalists cringe – “fracking” – is doing more to decarbonize our electricity sector than any EPA mandate or Silicon Valley solar startup. Rig hands and petroleum engineers have delivered a clean-energy solution that is taking over much of the electricity marketplace.

Once short on natural gas, the combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has turned the U.S. into the world’s largest natural gas producer. Inexpensive, abundant, and clean, natural gas is cleaning coal’s clock in the electricity marketplace. Just 10 years ago coal was used to generate more than half of U.S. electricity. Today, it’s less than a third.

About 350 coal plants have been shut down in the past five years, and there’s not a single new coal plant planned in the U.S. At the same time, use of natural gas has grown dramatically. Utilities are converting older coal plants to burn natural gas and are using their existing natural gas plants at higher rates than ever.

Why has this shift from coal to natural gas reduced emissions?  It’s simple –  natural gas produces just half the carbon emissions of coal.

One would think there would be near-universal praise for the progress enabled with natural gas. But that’s not so. Environmentalists on the far left refuse to embrace our golden age of gas.  They are fighting greater production, transportation and use of natural gas at every turn.

While environmentalists pound the climate change drum, they seem more interested in promoting wind and solar power than finding cost-effective solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

carbon emissions

Basically, these same environmentalists want an all-renewable energy future. But greater use of natural gas isn’t an impediment to renewables, it’s actually helping integrate them onto the electrical grid.

New research from scientists in the U.S., Italy and France shows that adding more natural gas to the electric grid is actually an “enabling factor” for adoption of wind and solar power, since fast-acting back-up power is needed when the wind is not blowing nor the sun shining.

Natural gas power plants provide this back-up faster than any other energy source.  So, gas is also the perfect complement to renewables.

Actually, greater use of natural gas is proving critically important to our climate goals. It’s helping us reduce emissions while lowering energy costs. And natural gas is also helping us integrate more wind and solar onto the grid.

Now all we have to do is more fully accept natural gas, and perhaps cut back on taxpayer subsidies for renewables.

Dr. J. Winston Porter is an energy and environmental consultant, based in Savannah GA. Earlier, he was an EPA assistant administrator in Washington DC.

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4 thoughts on “Natural Gas Leads in Carbon Emissions Reduction

  1. http://www.wptv.com/money/consumer/carnival-to-build-2-new-ships-powered-by-liquefied-natural-gas

    Here is a current news article which is only 7 sentences long and it is about natural gas, specifically liquified natural gas, being used to power some cruise ships.

    Apparently in 2016 it is practically impossible to determine whether this 7 sentences is good news or bad news or it surely is bad news if one follows the logic of purported environmental experts like Bill Mckibben or Josh fox and antifracking natural gas pipeline resistance folks and organizations.

    I imagine some historian or scholar or scientist may only be able to make this determination in 20 years or 200?

  2. Why has this shift from coal to natural gas reduced emissions? It’s simple – natural gas produces just half the carbon emissions of coal.

    Nuclear Power HAS NO Emissions. The Gas reserves are huge but LEAK Methane, an Emission more dangerous to Earth than CO2 and GAS emits NO2 and SO2 and more Radon than any Nuclear Plant. New England and RGGI Area had a 5% increase in Emissions for 2015 because of VT Yankee Closure. Nuclear Plants over the 60 to 100 years of operation are more economical than a 20 year Gas plant and without the billions $$$ in extra pipelines New England RGGI is 60% Gas and 28% Nuclear — a 50/50 % would be less Emissions.

    • Well I am not against nuclear but natural gas is also used to heat homes in ny. Peak natural gas use occurs in winter in ny. And recent expansions into nyc were intended to provide more capacity to deliver during this peak period.

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