natural gas

China Making a Major Shift to Natural Gas

(3Bl Media/Justmeans) - Two weeks ago we wrote about the surprising announcement that Beijing would be banning the burning of coal by 2020. Though the move was largely prompted by the intolerable levels of air pollution, there is also growing evidence that they are determined to clean up their act on carbon emissions.

Leaks Make Natural Gas Vehicles Less Climate-Friendly Than Diesel

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - A couple of weeks back, we wrote about how natural gas was being used to replace diesel to fuel many large trucks. California-based Clean Energy Fuels Corp. opened several natural gas filling stations in locations stretching from coast to coast. We wrote, “Natural gas has become an attractive option for high-horsepower trucks, because it is less expensive (by up to $1.50/gal), cleaner (23% less GHG emissions), and offers better price stability when compared with conventional diesel. It's also better for the health of drivers and the communities in which they operate. Given the high level of natural gas availability in the US at this time, it also offers the opportunity to reduce dependence on imported oil.“

A recent study, just released, reveals some information that could potentially pour cold water on this approach. The study, which was jointly conducted by scientists at Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), found that there is currently 50% more methane already in the atmosphere than had previously been thought. The researchers have determined that this gas must come from leaks throughout the natural gas supply chain.

After conducting a detailed analysis, weighing both the benefits and costs, the team determined that from a greenhouse gas perspective, the added methane resulting from these leaks, more than offsets the reduction in carbon dioxide resulting from the switch from diesel to natural gas. In other words, according to the study’s lead author, Adam R. Brandt, Assistant Professor of Energy Resources at Stanford, “Switching from diesel to natural gas, that’s not a good policy from a climate perspective.”

The leaks, however, were not severe enough to tip the balance when it came to replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas. That's because of the enormous amounts of CO2 that comes from coal. Even factoring in the methane leaks, gas-powered plants have half the impact of coal plants.

Nuclear and Wind Energy Blocked by Cheap Natural Gas—For Now

To say that recent energy trends both in the US and abroad have been confusing is a considerable understatement. Over the last several years, concerns over carbon emissions and government policies have led to significant investment and growth in solar, wind and nuclear. But aggressive development of domestic oil and gas resources, including shale gas, tight oil, tar sands and deep offshore resources, have led to a resurgence in domestic production that has tilted the energy playing field, reshuffling the pecking order in the process. Of particular significance is the widespread adaption of natural gas for electricity generation. This has left both nuclear and wind, which were previously competing successfully against coal, in a position to compete against natural gas, which has been more difficult.

 Given the falling natural gas prices, both nuclear and wind are having trouble competing. And, according to The New York Times, they’re fighting each other as well. Because there is no national, comprehensive energy policy, but rather only what the Obama administration calls an “all of the above” approach, which ends up diluting the both the effort and the investments needed. The market needs a clear signal because of the large investments involved. You can see this confusion at work also in the biofuels area, where we’ve seen a backing off of the commitment—under a lot of pressure from the oil industry, I might add. That could potentially scare away investors. 

It’s true that falling gas prices have held back renewables. Prices were even lower in 2013 than they were in 2012, which were low enough to shake things up. It’s a very dynamic market comprised of two major segments that are quite different: power generation and industrial/buildings. In the power generation world, utilities own both coal and gas plants, and have the opportunity to switch back and forth between them by flipping a switch in response to price signals. So the price of coal will drop in response to the low price of natural gas and vice versa. So much so that gas, which accounted for 40 percent of electricity generation power in 2012, fell to 35 percent in 2013, due to the decline in coal prices.

In the case of both buildings and industry, fuel selection is a question of capital infrastructure that is not so easily changed. That is why some analysts say that oil and gas companies, seeing the looming threat of renewables to their profitability, are making a deliberate effort to drive natural gas prices down as a survival tactic, hoping to induce customers to make such investments, lured by the low gas prices, thereby locking in those sales for years to come. The use of gas for industrial purposes, according to the International Energy Association, has remained high this year for exactly this reason.

New Report Warns of Coal’s Increasing Share of the Global Energy Mix

IEA's new report forecasts coal growth in emerging countries for lack of high carbon prices.

Coalition of Leading U.S. Businesses Supports Michigan’s Renewable Energy Amendment

detroitA coalition of major U.S. companies announced its support today for Michigan's Prop 3, which seeks to amend Michigan's constitution to require at least 25 percent of the state's electricity to come from renewable energy sources by 2025.

Fracking and Finance: The Pros and Cons of New Fossil Fuel Energy

Gas drilling rigWith lawsuits, moratoriums and bans on hydrofracking popping up across the United States, the promise of natural gas for a cleaner and more independent energy future is stuck between a rock and hard place

In the Clean Energy Poker Stakes, Obama Goes All-in

g-20-clean-energy-investment-20102President Obama's "all-in" energy strategy might hasten America's continuing decline in the race to lead the world's clean energy market

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