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Natural gas: Maybe not such a big threat to renewables?

By: SmartGridNews.com |

Yes, there is lots of natural gas available in the U.S. and it’s cheap – so cheap that news reports like this one from Examiner.com said “Cheap natural gas is winning the competition for energy production against the renewables of solar and wind as well as the old coal and nuclear.” In July, Smart Grid News founder and chief analyst considered the possibility that some states “may be headed for trouble” if they pay higher prices for renewable energy to meet state renewable portfolio standards than they would pay to build natural gas plants.

That said, some new research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could change the conversation. NOAA researchers were surprised to find the amount of methane released while natural gas is being extracted is far more than they had thought. And just to clarify: natural gas is mostly methane – which is about 25 times more potent per pound than carbon as a greenhouse gas.

As reported in Sustainable Business, the researchers found methane leaking at a 4% rate near Denver, which is regarded as quite high, and up to 9% at a Utah oil and gas field. The article notes that if those methane leakage levels are common throughout the country, a lot of the environmental benefit of switching from coal to gas would be lost. Research from the Environmental Defense Fund and Princeton University said a switch to natural gas is environmentally sound, but only if the cumulative methane leaks are less than 3.2%. For the record, EDF supports using natural gas as long as it is handled in a way that provides environmental benefits.

There are several more issues involved and natural gas and renewable energy both have a place in the country’s energy mix. But we’d like to know how you see it. Please use the Talk Back form below to share your thoughts.