Natural Gas Bends the Carbon Emissions Curve

PennFuture - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
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The latest data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), though packaged in political correctness, can’t hide the good news; natural gas has bent the carbon emissions curve.

Our buddy Nick Grealy over at No Hot Air and our friends at Energy In Depth recently brought brought some new data to our attention; some very positive data about carbon emissions and the role natural gas has had in the bending of the CO2 curve. Nick pulled some information from a report leading up to the release of the IEA World Energy Outlook and Seth Whitehead at EID looked at both the actual report and a summary. What they both found, amidst politically correct documents of the sort one expects from these agencies, was some unabashedly good news and natural gas can take the credit, though the IEA does everything it can to downplay that fact.

carbon emissions

The IEA reports are painted with enthusiasm for renewables that borders on the ridiculous given what we know about their costs and inability to deliver reliable energy without natural gas back-up. They also talk about capacity rather than generation to obscure this fact. Yet, the reports simply cannot deny reality. Consider this paragraph from the briefing leading up to the release of the reports (emphasis added):

World CO2 emissions from power generation remain broadly flat through to 2030. The power sector is both the largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions and the greatest focus (to date) of energy sector efforts to decarbonise. While global power sector emissions stay broadly flat, electricity demand increases by more than 40% to 2030. In essence, at the global level, the link between rising electricity demand and rising related CO2 emissions is broken – an important step towards further decarbonisation (Figure 2). Across the OECD, electricity demand grows by around 10%, but total CO2 emissions from the power sector drop by one-third. Across non-OECD countries, electricity demand grows by nearly 75%, but emissions go up by just one-quarter. Seven out of every ten units of additional electricity generation through to 2030 is projected to be low-carbon, bringing the share of total electricity generation from low-carbon sources from one-third today to nearly 45% in 2030.

Then, there is this chart, clearly demonstrating what’s happening with carbon emissions as the curve is bent:

carbon emissions

Note where the biggest carbon emissions drops are coming from – the US. Now look at these four quotes pulled out of the 2015 World Energy Outlook report by Seth Whitehead (emphasis added):

There are good reasons to be upbeat about the future for natural gas: its relative abundance; its environmental advantages compared with other fossil fuels; the flexibility and adaptability that make it a valuable component of a gradually decarbonizing electricity and energy system

Where it replaces more carbon-intensive fuels or backs up the integration of renewables, natural gas is a good fit for a gradually decarbonizing energy system: a consumption increase of almost 50% makes it the fastest-growing of the fossil fuels… world natural gas production is not derailed in the longer term, and reaches nearly 5.2 trillion cubic metres (tcm) by 2040…

Unconventional natural gas is set to become an increasingly important part of global gas supply, accounting for more than 60% of the increase in total gas production over the period to 2040. Projected production of shale gas, coalbed methane and tight gas, along with smaller volumes of gas converted from coal, rises from around 630bcm in 2013 to almost 1700bcm in 2040

The shale gas revolution in the United States is a reminder that energy systems retain the potential for sharp and rapid change, once a technology reaches a tipping point of proven effectiveness and commerciality. In 2005, shale gas production accounted for 6% of US total gas production and 1% of global gas production. By 2014, shale gas production had grown to a staggering 52% of US output and 11% of world output. Even though gas markets outside North America have not yet felt the direct impact of this revolution (pending the start of US LNG exports), the indirect results – in a reorientation of market expectations, changed gas and coal  trade flows, and the economic boost to parts of the US economy – have already been  momentous inside and outside North America.

Moreover, that isn’t all. Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director, in a question and answer session following the presentation of the report, said this:

In North America, we see a golden age of gas, a big penetration. But when you look at the  implication of what is happening in Asia, which is the biggest part of the growth, it would be very difficult to talk about the golden age of gas, because the biggest choice in east Asia today is coal, because it is cheaper…So we have a golden age of  gas in America, but in other parts of the world, not quite there.

Yes, that’s the real story. A “golden age of gas” is already delivering big drops in carbon emissions in the US and that’s the good news a whole lot of fractivists try hard to ignore but the facts keep getting in the way.

carbon emissions

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10 thoughts on “Natural Gas Bends the Carbon Emissions Curve

  1. Fractivism is not factivism fo sure! Here is something I learned long ago. If a fractivist tells you something like “natural gas is worse than coal” and that is the calling card of United for Action, a group that politicians like Linda Rosenthal and Brad Hoylman and many others are enthralled with and inspired by, you can bet the OPPOSITE IS TRUE. I have never seen people collectively so bent on upending reality, history, science fact and truth. The fractivist “movement” is a giant leap backwards for the environment, knowledge and since people require a degree of knowledge in order to participate in their own governance, an enormous impediment to democracy.


    “At best, an implausibly large 50 percent global fuel switch to natural gas would reduce emissions by only 8 percent. But this doesn’t take account of the leakage of methane gas into the atmosphere that results when natural gas is extracted through fracking. Recent research has found that when more than about 5 percent of the extracted gas leaks into the atmosphere through fracking, the impact eliminates any environmental benefit from burning natural gas relative to coal. One study that focused on fracking projects in Texas and North Dakota found leakage rates in the range of 9 to 10 percent”.

    • Methane leakage is constantly declining and you’re reading too much Park Foundation financed blather from fractivists on their payroll. The Nation is about the last place I’d go for accurate info, by the way.

  3. Pingback: Feel the Bern: The Radicalization of Energy Politics

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