In a report released today, the research group examined whether the shale gas boom would help the transition to a low-carbon energy system, using the US as an example, 

Gas power plants produce around 500kg of emissions per MWh of electricity – compared to 750kg/MWh for coal power plants. But the NCE found that while gas power stations may help avoid “lock-in” of new coal power plants, it could also “lock-out” other, lower-emission alternatives like solar and wind.

The take up of natural gas also increases the amount of harmful methane leaking into the air, while cheaper energy could potentially increase demand “Without carefully designed policy guardrails, using a natural gas as a bridge could be very risky”, warned the report authors.


Lead author of the paper, Michael Lazarus, said: “On the upside, gas power plants are less expensive to build than coal, and can run flexibly to help accommodate increasing amounts of intermittent renewables.

“The potential problem lies in particular with the natural facilities and pipelines, which often require take-or-pay contracts, and create strong incentives to maintain and increase gas use, potentially over several decades.”

Aside from ‘locking out’ renewables, the main risk of increasing natural gas use is leakage – currently around 1%. Methane – the main ingredient of natural gas – has a global warming potential 34 times higher than carbon dioxide.

The paper concludes that if policy-makers want to use gas as a “bridge”, they need to manage and reduce methane leakage, restrict the extent of lower-carbon technology lock-out and add “guardrails” to limit energy demand growth

Lazarus said: “We’ll need policies like strong carbon pricing, methane regulations, and renewable portfolio standards to make sure we maximize the benefits and minimize the risks.”

Clean coal?

In a seperate report released today, the World Coal Association (WCA) has argued that the best way to reduce emissions from energy production was to embrace clean coal technology.

WCA Chairman Mick Buffier said: “For many countries, the reality is that the only way they can meet their growing energy needs is through affordable, readily available coal.

“According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) global electricity from coal is expected to grow by around 33% to 2040.

“Given this growth, it is essential that there is greater investment in cleaner coal technologies to widen their deployment – this includes high efficiency, low emissions (HELE) coal technologies and carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS).”

The WCA pointed to the Boundary Dam CCS project in Canada, which is reportedly saving 1 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

The association also claimed that coal power was a vital tool in balancing the variable power output of renewables.

YOUR VIEW – Have your say:

 Brad Allen







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