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Report: Natural Gas Has Large Role in Reaching Low-Carbon Goals

As countries around the world work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change, the future role of natural gas as an energy source has been a topic of much discussion.

While natural gas is composed of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) , and emits carbon dioxide when burned, its emissions are much lower than other fossil fuels like coal or oil, and the use of unconventional well development, or hydraulic fracturing, has resulted in an abundant amount of the low-cost fuel being available. Emerging technologies, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) could potentially mitigate emissions.

Some policymakers see the elimination of all fossil fuel use as necessary to meet the net-zero goals of the Paris Accords, while others argue that natural gas will still be needed as the transition to clean energy sources occurs to ensure that the U.S. and other countries remain secure.

Discussion has recently centered on the continuing need for natural gas for power generation to ensure the reliability of the electric grid in order to offset the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources like solar and wind. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) issued a long-term reliability assessment that found electric demand is expected to rise dramatically over the next decade due to continuing electrification and an increasing number of data centers that consume huge amounts of energy, creating grid vulnerabilities.

Now, a new report from the EFI (Energy Futures Initiative) Foundation takes a look at “The Future of Natural Gas in a Low-Carbon World”. The 18-month project examined the role of natural gas from both a global and U.S. perspective and identified options for developing approaches to determining its role. The study follows up on a Phase 1 study published in 2021. 

Natural gas is critical in meeting the “energy trilemma” of “energy security (the ability to meet energy demands), energy equity (the ability to provide affordable energy for domestic and commercial use), and environmental sustainability (the ability to address climate change and other energy pollution issues),” the report states. It stresses the need to clarify the role of natural gas while balancing the three competing interests.

Some of the key recommendations for policymakers include:

·       Energy Security – Develop a collective energy security strategy for natural-gas producing and using nations; have the U.S. commit to a global leadership role in meeting energy security through natural gas export and include an “energy security determination” in liquefied natural gas exports to non-free trade agreement countries.

·       Energy Equity – Support the clean energy transition in developing countries, including through natural gas, emissions mitigation and infrastructure; increase public and private funding for energy transition, and develop an energy security road map for the Asia-Pacific region.

·       Environmental Sustainability – Assess the potential of natural gas to support innovation in hard-to-abate sectors; assess and quantify methane emissions from LNG; accelerate research and development in technologies and policies that reduce the cost of electrifying industrial heat and collaboration on deployment of CCS technology. 

·       Crosscutting Needs – Identify an entity to develop accurate methodology for calculating emissions; conduct economic analysis of climate policy and emissions targets.

The report suggests that “natural gas is important to addressing all three (areas) simultaneously and making the transition to a low-carbon economy. Countries should collaborate to manage the use of natural gas and offer pragmatic, sequenced, and regionalized approaches to its use in the energy transition.”

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