Natural gas is critical in the short- and medium-term transition toward sustainable energy systems. It offers flexibility in power systems and can work with renewables to provide the backup needed to balance intermittent power sources.
Burning natural gas has lower climate impacts and produces fewer air pollutants than coal. It also provides the energy system with resiliency to deal with volatile markets and weather conditions.
Providers of natural gas distribution may transform their industry into clean-fuel networks that enable economy-wide decarbonization while satisfying vital system requirements for accessibility, reliability, and safety.. Working with stakeholders, local natural gas utilities and combined electric and gas utilities can reimagine their current business models into the future of clean energy systems.
Energy efficiency is an integral part of a sustainable energy strategy, and the fact that natural gas is one of the most efficient, non-polluting modern fuels helps lower consumer costs. In buildings, natural gas heats water and space, and appliances used for heating, cooling, and cooking are more energy-efficient than ever – in large part due to policies like appliance standards.
Developed and developing nations alike have recognized that economic growth with less environmental harm has become a global imperative. Greater use of natural gas as a transition fuel can provide access to modern energy for cooking and electricity while allowing for the faster integration of renewables and carbon capture and storage. In regions with abundant wind or solar resources, gas can serve as a backup to renewables and fill in where there are gaps in the power grid.
Natural gas is a clean-burning fossil fuel, emitting half as much carbon dioxide and far fewer local pollutants than coal when burned for energy. It is used to produce electricity and for heating and cooking in homes, as well as by businesses and vehicles.
It is important to note that natural gas can also be a source of fugitive emissions, particularly during extraction. Fugitive methane emissions, which have a 34-year global warming potential (GWP) significantly more than CO2, degrade indoor air quality and contribute to climate change. Furthermore, methane leaks in the distribution system degrade outdoor air quality and contribute to particulate matter and ozone, adversely impacting health for low-income communities and people of color.
However, natural gas can play a role in the energy transition to a cleaner world when used to replace coal and oil in power plants, as a fuel for combined heat and power systems, or as a substitute for petroleum products. In addition, if used in conjunction with renewables and carbon capture and storage, it can accelerate the decarbonization of heavy industry.
Reduced Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Natural gas is an efficient, non-polluting modern fuel that can replace fossil and nuclear energy sources with lower emissions. It also can play a role in balancing the grid with renewables.
While not challenging, natural gas provides a viable pathway toward low-carbon energy. Its availability, low emissions, and relative price make it an attractive alternative to fossil and nuclear power.
Its contribution to energy security will depend on its use in different sectors. In electricity, for example, a switch from coal to natural gas can result in significantly lower CO2 emissions. Local air pollution will also be reduced.
On the other hand, methane leakage from production facilities, storage tanks, and pipelines is not eliminated and is responsible for some upstream emissions. However, it is essential to note that the fugitive methane emission rate has declined recently with the rise of natural gas production. This has contributed to the potential for a low-carbon gas to serve as an adequate bridge fuel toward a fully renewable energy future.
To meet customers ‘ energy demands, natural gas utilities must balance the amount of gas they receive from their suppliers with the amount of gas withdrawn from their pipeline systems. This process is complex and requires a significant amount of storage. In addition, natural gas companies use biogas (e.g., from wastewater treatment plants or dairy farms) to augment their supply.
In the short- to medium-term transition toward sustainable energy systems, natural gas can provide low-carbon backup during peak electricity usage. At the same time, storage technologies are scaled up, and new energy pathways are explored. It can also offer a more flexible power grid by integrating intermittent renewables, which often fluctuate.
Moreover, various social factors make a natural gas-based solution more realistic than other options. For example, replacing oil with natural gas can help achieve climate goals while promoting economic development in countries with large reserves. Similarly, in countries with high electricity dependence on fossil fuels, such as India or the United Kingdom, natural gas can provide an economical way to reduce overreliance on such energy sources.
Natural gas is delivered to consumers through pipelines from production sites to distribution companies. Once in the distribution system, it can be withdrawn from storage, supplied to power plants, or used for residential and commercial heating. It is then metered and passed through a control station that reduces the pressure to safe levels for transport and adds the familiar odor to identify it as fuel.
Energy demand varies from season to season and within a day due to weather and temperature changes. Supply also runs due to long-term energy efficiency trends, short-term fuel price spikes, network constraints, and generation outages. Flexibility is needed to ensure that these two systems operate together to deliver the best possible energy outcome for customers second by second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
In the near term, flexibility will be crucial to transition to a sustainable energy future successfully. It can be provided by combining traditional supply-side flexibility sources such as flexible gas turbines, demand side response (DSR), and EStor, as well as the development of carbon capture and storage and hydrogen technologies in the longer term.