Natural Gas Causes Energy Debate

October 29, 2013

By all accounts, the level of carbon dioxide emissions is declining in the United States, namely because of the transition from coal to natural gas used for electric generation as well as the fact that economic output here has suffered since the Great Recession of 2008. The shift from coal to gas is not without its critics, especially those who say that the shale-gas boom is preventing the escalation of much cleaner fuels such as wind, solar and even nuclear energy, says Ken Silverstein in a recent Forbes article.

  • The data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates that carbon-related emissions dropped by 3.8 percent from 2011 to 2012 while gross domestic product increased by 2.8 percent during that time.
  • Those releases are at their lowest levels since 1994 and 12 percent less than the 2007 peak, the agency says. It specifically credits the increase in natural-gas fired generation.

But those inexpensive deposits coupled with the relative ease of building new gas plants has come at a price - the foregoing of other fuels. In essence, natural gas has become a default option, which not only jeopardizes portfolio diversity but also potentially squeezes out newer and better technologies. Coal plants have become the primary targets. But nuclear facilities are also prey.

Take coal:

  • Southern Company is shedding 15 coal and oil facilities, helping to reduce its coal mix from 70 percent five years ago to 47 percent.

Nuclear energy, meanwhile, is highly sensitive to natural gas prices and has taken some high-profile hits as a result:

  • Despite renewing its license two years ago, Entergy Corp. is ditching its Vermont Yankee facility because it has been unable to compete with cheaper gas-fired units.

But the shale gas bonanza is also affecting renewable energy development. A new study released by Stanford University that aggregated the work of 50 experts who used 14 different sets of assumptions concludes such dynamics are not necessarily healthy for the climate.

Embracing technological change is therefore critical. And today's new thing is shale gas, although with continued research and development, other fuels will eventually take its place.

Source: Ken Silverstein, "New Data Shows Carbon Emissions Falling As Shale Gas Debate Is Rising," Forbes, October 23, 2013.

 

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