Natural gas will rule the U.S. energy market for decades


Natural gas was first hailed as the bridge between the fossil fuel past and the renewable future. Then it was criticized because, although cleaner than petroleum and coal, it is not entirely emission free. But according to a new report from Energy Market Advisors, it will rule the US energy mix in 20 years.

The reasons for this continued dominance are fairly straightforward although they may be distasteful to even the most die-hard proponents of renewables like solar and wind. Gas is not only cheap, but its supply is also continuous, so there is no need to store batteries like solar and wind power do, increasing the total costs of these very facilities. if other costs go down, they are.

These falling costs will undoubtedly pave the way for a much heavier solar and wind energy mix in North America, while coal will be forgotten, in part due to its worse economy, according to the report. By 2044, almost half of the current coal-fired power generation capacity will be gone. At the same time, solar will grow from 60 GW this year to around 250 GW in 2044, an impressive quadruple growth. Wind will also grow, albeit more modestly, from 115 GW today to 191 GW in 2044. But gas will rule them all.

To date, natural gas accounts for approximately 41% of energy production in North America. In 2044, according to Energy Market Advisors, a division of Hitachi ABB, gas will account for 43%. This, compared to the explosive growth seen in solar and wind, doesn’t sound particularly impressive. It should be remembered, however, that even with this growth almost absent, gas will be the fuel that will power most of the power generation in North America. And that means the era of fossil fuels is far from over, really.

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In parts of the United States, it will even continue to be the dominant energy source even into 2044, according to the EMA report. In the Midwest, for example, natural gas will account for 49% of energy production that year, while renewables will account for 31%. In the south-east, gas will represent 57%, while renewable energies will increase from less than 10% to 20%.

The predicted dominance of gas is not something some governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo would want to hear as they aspire to 100% renewable energy. But there is another reason why gas will be dominant: it help make the network is resilient to the intermittence of renewable energies generated by solar and wind farms. Because it is not intermittent like them, gas can provide the essential base load that every network needs to provide reliable power to its users. And if the supply is unreliable, the green energy boom could easily lose public support.

“We have to pay attention to the integrity of the power grid. Because if we don’t, we will lose everything we do. We’re going to lose the public, ”Long Beach State MP Patrick O’Donnell, told the California water board this summer, when a heat wave exposed the state’s weak spots in energy supply.

“Low natural gas prices and the power source’s ability to fill the sustainable energy gap will accelerate investment growth.” The authors of the EMA report wrote. “As an energy source, gas is seen as a ‘temporary’ solution for renewables.”

It may even become something more than a stopgap solution if the anticipated strong growth in renewable capacity additions does not materialize. The expiration of the production tax credit and the phasing out of the investment tax credit could lead to a slowdown in new solar and wind capacity additions, said Shilpa Kokate, US Easter advisory director for Hitachi ABB Power Grids, at Oilprice.

There is also the issue of a carbon tax that will greatly facilitate the shift to renewables from fossil fuels, as well as the overall regulatory support for this shift, which has been essential for the advent of renewables everywhere. But there is also another thing, according to Kokate: the inability to appreciate the role of natural gas in maintaining the reliability of the power supply.

The opposition to fossil fuels is understandable. However, it could become problematic if it is so comprehensive that it neglects the role of natural gas, if not other fossil fuels, in energy security. Renewable energy is clean, admittedly, but since the sun is not shining 24 hours a day and the wind is not blowing constantly and at a constant speed, it needs storage to provide reliable power. Building enough energy storage to completely eliminate the need for natural gas is a difficult task: battery installations take up a lot of space and don’t cost a dollar per kW. Until these challenges are overcome, gas will continue to be needed.

By Irina Slav for OilUSD

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