Natural Gas the Clean Alternative
It has been common knowledge for quite sometime now that natural gas is a suitable clean alternative to all fossil fuels. Natural gas can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and its reserves are abundant. Sure, it’s not on par with renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind. But let’s get real; solar, wind, biomass, geothermal lack the installed base to make a difference.
A quick review of the supply source and demand sector data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) given below shows that:
- Coal is the primary supply source for Electric Power Generation, the largest energy demand sector
- Petroleum is the primary supply source for the Transportation industry, the second largest demand sector.
- The 8% contribution of renewable energy to U.S. energy pathway is primarily from biomass (50%) and conventional hydroelectric power (35%). Not including these sources, solar and wind makeup only 0.8% of the entire energy supply for the U.S. economy; see EIA Renewable Energy Consumption and Electricity Preliminary Statistics 2009.
OK, the U.S. and for that matter most developed countries of the word are fossil fuel based economies. Will renewables ever make an impact on the economy? As far back as the mid 90’s, some of us thought they would. But due to the high capital cost, poor reliability, site specificity, intensive real estate requirements, and the need for local, state and federal incentives, renewables are creeping forward at such a small pace society needs an interim alternative to alternative energy.
In such a scenario, natural gas comes to the rescue and serves as the clean energy bridge to the future. Shale gas the new source of today’s natural gas, which has contributed to an increase in domestic reserves, has had a deep impact on the U.S. economy. A report from IHS Global Insight points out that shale gas created jobs, reduced consumer costs for natural gas and electricity and increased local, state and federal tax revenues. Furthermore, natural gas requires no innovation to burn in an electric power generation station or combust in any internal combustion energy on the road. And finally, natural gas is cheaper. If this is not what is needed to bolster our economy, then someone better come forth ASAP with a more viable solution.
Although, environmentalists will argue that natural gas is a limited fossil fuel, it seems like the industry is Robbing Peter to Pay Paul! On face value this appears to be true, but as we wait to realize the benefits of clean energy, society is burning lots of coal and petroleum, while exporting dollars to feed our thrust for harmful fossil fuels. For the foreseeable future, burn we must!
The following chart clearly shows that natural gas is a much cleaner source of energy than other more ‘conventional’ fossil fuels.
The only conundrum is the slow rate of adoption of compressed or liquefied natural gas vehicles (CNG and LNG) in the transportation industry. Here too, natural gas is cheaper than fossil fuels, the cost of conversion is significantly less than Electric Vehicles (EV), and does not have the range anxiety of EVs. NGV America reports that there are about 112,000 NGVs on U.S. roads today and more than 13 million worldwide. Considering the fact that there are about 255 million registered vehicles in the U.S. the number of CNG and LNG vehicles are pitiful.
In closing, either go natural gas today or live with an ever-increasing environmental and economic threat from coal and petroleum. As of now, seeing our economy run by a large percent of truly clean and renewable fuels is unfortunately a distant dream.
Barry Stevens, PhD, is the Managing Director of TBD America, Inc.