Replacing Coal with Gas Is the Only Way to Catch Up in Reducing CO2

natural gas nowTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.

Replacing coal with shale gas has allowed the U.S. to reduce CO2 emissions more than anyone else and for the world to catch up more of this must be done.

Our friend Mark Dye sent me an intriguing article from AlJazerra last night. It was, in turn, a Reuters piece taken from the “BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019” launch. What was most interesting was this; fossil fuel energy use is going up not down as folks such as Mark Jacobson have suggested would happen as renewables increased. 

Renewables such as solar and wind have achieved no significant dent in the energy production either. They’d have to increase by wild imagination proportions to do so, meaning a hipster, vegan, green tech economy is simply not sustainable. This is an opportunity for gas and a teaching moment for the hipsters.

AlJazerra, of course, is hardly an unbiased source; they are ultimately in the business of pushing Mid-East oil. Likewise, the BP launch was filled with politically correct spin intended to portray the company as a green leader. The actual BP Statistical Review of World Energy, though, is a respected source of data by all sides. Therefore, I decided to bypass the pseudo-event reporting and go directly to the source.

replacing coal

The “BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2019” is replete with facts and insights into the world energy situation. This includes such valuable tidbits as these:

  • Primary energy consumption grew at a rate of 2.9% last year, almost double its 10-year average of 1.5% per year, and the fastest since 2010.

  • Global natural gas production increased by 190 bcm, or 5.2%. Almost half of this came from the US (86 bcm), which (as with oil production) recorded the largest annual growth seen by any country in history.

  • The share of renewables in power generation increased from 8.4% to 9.3%. Coal still accounted for the largest share of power generation at 38%.

  • In the US, unusually, there was an increase in both heating and cooling days (as defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration); in past years, high numbers of heating days have tended to coincide with low numbers of cooling days or vice versa. As a result, the increase in the combined number of US heating and cooling days last year was its highest since the 1950s, boosting US energy demand.

  • No country produces more natural gas than the United States. We produced 831.8 billion cubic meters of the stuff, some 22% of worldwide production. We consume about 21%.
  • The U.S. price of natural gas has declined by 64% from its 2005 high of $8.79 per million Btu. It was $3.13 in 2018.

  • The U.S. is now the the fourth largest exporter of LNG in the world (after Qatar, Austrailia and Nigeria. We’ll soon be third. LNG exports grew 65% in 2018.

  • Worldwide carbon emissions grew by 2.0%, the fastest growth for seven years. U.S. carbon emissions grew by 2.6% largely due to weather, but declined by 1.7% per annum from 2007-2017 (the shale revolution) as compared to a worldwide increase of 1.0% per annum. The U.S. share of worldwide emissions has declined from 18.6% in 2008 to 14.9%. No other region of the world has produced such sustained declines in emissions.

The most significant part of this year’s BP Statistical Review is the following analysis (emphasis added):

Over the past five years or so, the rapid growth in renewable energy, together with an edging down in the coal share, has led to a more sustained improvement in the carbon intensity of the power sector, such that the impact of increasing power demand on carbon emissions has been partially offset. But it’s still only partial: despite the rapid gains in renewable energy, the pace of growth in power demand has meant that overall carbon emissions from the power sector have increased substantially over the past three years. It hasn’t been possible to decarbonize the power sector quickly enough to offset the growth in demand.

To give a sense of the challenge posed by the strength of growth in power demand: if we focus solely on renewable energy, given the profile of demand growth, to maintain the level of carbon emissions from the power sector at its 2015 level, renewable generation would have needed to grow more than twice as quickly than it actually did: by over 1800 TWh over the past three years, rather than its actual growth of a little over 800 TWh.

A staggering number: that additional renewable generation of around 1000 TWh is roughly equivalent to the entire renewable generation of China and the US combined in 2018.

Alternatively, the same outcome for carbon emissions could have been achieved by replacing around 10% of coal in the power sector with natural gas. The intuition is that renewables are still a relatively small share of power generation relative to coal, and so the proportional movements in coal are a lot smaller.

As I mentioned, the general point here is that the robust growth in power demand, particularly in the developing world, greatly adds to the difficulty of decarbonizing the power sector. You have to run very fast just to stand still.

This highlights the importance of adopting a range of technologies and fuels; rather than just relying on renewables.

Renewables simply aren’t going to get the job done if reducing carbon emissions is the goal. Only replacing coal with gas will do that. It needs to continue. Replacing coal with gas is the key to catching up. 

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2 thoughts on “Replacing Coal with Gas Is the Only Way to Catch Up in Reducing CO2

  1. Of course, YOUR answer and conclusion are the only “truth” or “right way”..

    The report by Oil and Gas BP is A conclusion and not The conclusion..
    Getting our Truths from BP is like receiving The Truth from the Fox overseeing the Hen House ..

  2. First of all, the one true renewable is “biogas”. The amount of organic waste humans and other lifeforms produce everyday is staggering. It doesn’t matter if you are a carnivore or a vegan, you still poop. Plus the poor management of wastes only promote environmental degradation and pose health risks to all.
    Wind and solar still rely on the existence of fossil fuels just about everywhere in their supply chain.
    Think about how much food and feed is wasted everyday. While programs like Second Harvest help divert consumables from entering the waste stream, health code restrictions prevent a portion of that material from being used for proper human consumption.
    Solar and wind can help supplement peak energy demand where practical but that is it. You still have to maintain those systems matter what.
    If these folks are so keen on sustainability, then they should live under Stone Age conditions otherwise they should just crawl back into the primordial ooze.

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