The Road to Carbon Neutrality Is Long and Expensive Without Gas

Cuomo's Legacy - Dick DowneyRichard Downey
Unatego Area Landowners Association



Richard Downey explains how carbon neutrality is very hard to accomplish using expensive renewables, the best path is natural gas.

Two reports and a conference warn that climate is warming due to human activity, ie. greenhouse gases (GHG.) This warming will “disrupt many areas of life,” affecting trade and precipitating conflicts.

Let’s assume for the moment that the data warrants the conclusion, man-made GHGs are the cause of global warming. How do we solve this problem? What works?

carbon neutrality

For smooth transitions to a less carbon-intensive future, the best path is the use of natural gas — the bridge fuel. Two decades of data from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) is testimony to its efficacy. According to the EIA, the substitution of gas for coal in power plants has lowered CO2 in the USA to levels not seen since the late 1980’s. This happened while population and GDP grew over the same period. In cities substitution of gas for oil in buildings has eliminated most sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxides (NOX), and particulates, enabling them to meet EPA standards.

According to Bloomberg, regardless of our withdrawal from the Paris Accords, the United States is the ONLY nation in the world that has a CHANCE of meeting the Accords’ stated goals. No country equals our record in tonnage or percentage of emissions reduced. Fracking has made this possible.

Therefore, a modest proposal: In order to lower the world’s carbonization in the least problematic manner, prioritize the exploration, extraction, transport, sale, and use of natural gas.

Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy and paragon of green virtue, offers a case study. In the year 2000 Germany embarked on as massive transition away from fossil fuels to renewables. The goal was to derive 80% of their energy from renewables by 2050, thus the slogan “80 by 50.” With escalating costs in infrastructure, subsidies, and grid maintenance, the price of retail electricity skyrocketed; Germans pay the American equivalent of 37 cents per kilowatt hour. Here in the USA we average about 10 cents.

What do the Germans get for their money? In spite of massive outlays, solar and wind only produce about 25% of German electricity. Fossil fuels generate double that (53%,) primarily coal (35%,) with lignite (dirty coal) two thirds of that coal. Germany has problems — in the summer, when they have too much renewable electricity, they have to PAY neighboring countries to take their excess in order to maintain grid stability.

carbon neutrality

In the winter. When there is not enough renewable output, they have to stoke up the coal plants in spite of coal’s emissions problems. These inefficiencies create a dilemma. In spite of potential, there’s no current means of storing excess renewable electricity. Back-up coal (coal plants must be continually running) produces unacceptable emissions that have remained stubbornly constant over the years. The goal remains “80 by 50.” The clock is ticking. Nothing’s happening. Who you gonna call?

Gas producers! Gas has half the CO2 and almost none of the oxides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs,) and particulate contained in coal. With gas, Germany has a chance of breaking the present system’s stalemate. The 900 mile Nord 2 Pipeline (gas from Russia) is in the planning stage. Dow Chemical will partner with Germany to build a LNG facility. Two more LNG facilities are in the early phase of planning. Gas will replace coal, just as it did in the United States. And, just as in the United States, CO2 will be reduced.

Implications for Otsego County? While green intentions are noble, what good are they if they don’t work? Economics count. France, anyone? Macron raised the price of gasoline 25 cents to save the planet. The people erupted. Cost/benefit matters. Ask Germany. Germans haven’t erupted but Merkle will make deals with Putin to keep the lights on, the houses warm, and a few euros in the ratepayers’ pocket.

The road to carbon neutrality is a long one. Until wind and solar’s storage problems are solved, renewables won’t work. Until then, gas is the go-to element in the process. Otsego County can put its head in the sand and form energy committees that ignore the most reliable, affordable, scalable source of energy (as used in the City of Oneonta, here and now) or the County can take full advantage of natural gas produced only a few miles south in Pennsylvania.

The advantage is Gas Works! If not for irrational ideological politics, it could be here! It could be now!

Richard Downey is a retired New York City schoolteacher and a member of the Unatego Board of Education and the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York.

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3 thoughts on “The Road to Carbon Neutrality Is Long and Expensive Without Gas

  1. “The Road to Carbon Neutrality Is Long and Expensive Without Gas”

    And utterly pointless, anyway. Carbon is essential to ALL life on this planet; the small rise in CO2 concentration that we have seen (in real terms) is undetectable to most animals, but of great benefit the plants – which is already apparent, as the world is noticeably greener than it was, a few decades ago. The concept of it as a “greenhouse gas” that is (in some truly arcane way) the “control knob” of this planet’s climate is truly laughable. Ask yourself this question: Isn’t it a strange coincidence that the ONLY gas that we can fool ourselves that we have any control over its concentration in the atmosphere just so happens to be the ONLY gas that is controlling the planet’s atmosphere? Please abandon the mantra that carbon dioxide needs to be “controlled” for the sake of the planet; Mother Earth will do whatever she wants, regardless of the little pests crawling over and burrowing into her skin.

    • No, what is regrettable is your inability to understand concepts like balance and tipping point in a closed loop system. Too much of something is as bad as too little. The increasing amounts of CO2 added to the atmosphere over the last 200+ years are beginning to overwhelm the mechanisms that naturally absorb it: oceans and forests. The heat in the tropical and temperate zones that is transferred to polar regions by wind patterns and hurricanes, “heat engines”, have warmed them to the point that polar ice is declining. That ice was yet another control mechanism to reflect the sun’s heat back out into space.

      Use the paperclip analogy. Bend the clip a few times and you might feel it warm up, but you can still bend it back into a serviceable device. Keep bending it and you reach a point where the heat and metal fatigue will break the clip.

      Mr. Downey’s idea that replacing coal with natural gas, which produces less than half the CO2 per unit of energy, is an excellent first step to reduce CO2. If you don’t take steps to fix the damage to the system, Nature has its own ways of dealing with it and you may not like that solution.

      The scientific data doesn’t care whether you can’t, don’t or won’t understand it. Filtering it through your political ideology first makes you part of the problem rather than a solution. Nor is natural gas the only solution, but it is certainly a main part of a workable solution.

  2. Perhaps they could use the surplus electricity generated by renewables to disassociate water in to hydrogen and oxygen to be used later to power fuel cells or burn for electricity. That seems to be better than using imported natural gas to make hydrogen as mentioned on this site a few days ago.

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