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Ernest Moniz on Natural Gas and “Forgotten Renewables”

DOE townhall on renewables

In a town hall meeting with staffers last week, new Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz dropped a bombshell and a hint. The bombshell, at least as far as fans of natural gas are concerned, is that Moniz sees natural gas not as a permanent fixture in the U.S. energy landscape but merely as a temporary “bridge” to a globally competitive, low carbon future that is well within our grasp.

As for the hint, Moniz mentioned that the Energy Department will ramp up its efforts to develop small hydro, engineered geothermal systems and other “forgotten renewables.” That could have a profound impact on the ability of different areas of the country to leverage local and regional energy resources for economic development.

Forgotten Renewables

The phrase “forgotten renewables” came up during Moniz’s confirmation hearings, in the opening statement of  Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).

While spending considerable time acknowledging the advantages of low cost natural gas currently, Wyden makes clear that natural gas is not the answer for sustainable, long term competitiveness in the global marketplace, given the potential for low cost renewable energy technology breakthroughs outside of the US:

“Today, low cost natural gas provides our nation’s economy with a competitive advantage.However, new technological breakthroughs could put our competitive advantage at risk in the foreseeable future…Renewables must be part of that solution. The committee this month will take up bills that will encourage hydropower and geothermal, which we would call the forgotten renewables.”

Moniz And Natural Gas

Moniz echoes this sentiment at the Energy Department town hall. Though he starts off by stating that “this natural gas boom is a boon” in terms of its relatively low carbon emissions, he uses that to make the case for a more aggressive pursuit of a long term solution in the form of advanced alternative energy technology, including small hydro and engineered geothermal as well as “other options:”

“…gas [is] kind of a bridge to a very low carbon future…it affords us a little bit more time to develop the technologies, to lower the costs of the alternative technologies, to get the market penetration of these new technologies.”

The significance of that approach becomes clear if you take into account Moniz’s mention of solar power. He describes solar as a form of energy that will be “a lot bigger than most people think sooner than they think,” but he goes on to acknowledge that it is a regional strength, not a national one.

Given that context, Moniz is pitching “forgotten renewables” as policy platform not only for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but just as importantly for an increased focus on local energy sourcing that will enable all regions of the US, including Senator Wyden’s rainy, cloudy Pacific Northwest, to offer competitive renewable energy options.

National Energy Policy And Fossil Fuel Transportation

That brings us to something we’ll call the “forgotten fossil fuel problem,” namely, the environmental risks and costs of long-distance fossil fuel transportation.

Though major disasters like the BP Gulf Coast oil spill have brought attention to the risks involved in oil drilling, the fact is that fuel transportation is a risk factor that faces a current and future double whammy of increased development combined with an aging, under-monitored infrastructure.

That’s a problem begging for a policy that focuses more on local sourcing, with long distance transport reserved mainly for electricity and not solid or liquid fuels.

Regarding the aging infrastructure of oil pipeline transportation, take a look back at the disastrous Enbridge oil pipeline spill that polluted 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan two years ago with full cleanup nowhere near in site, or consider the damage done to a residential area and adjacent Lake Conway by the more recent ExxonMobil pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas.

Now add in the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project. Even the notoriously lame draft Environmental Impact Statement written for the State Department noted that the pipeline will cross well over 1,000 waterways on its way from Canada down to the Gulf Coast, and the Environmental Protection Agency piled on by pointing out that the pipeline will carry a slurry of tar sands oil, which is exponentially more difficult to clean up than conventional oil.

We could go on…for example, there’s the issue of impacts from centralized natural gas storage and distribution hubs, wastewater transportation from natural gas fracking operations, the growing impacts of coal transportation, and the looming problem of petcoke disposal.

Given all of the above, it is little wonder that Ernest Moniz has called this “the crucial decade” for getting advanced renewable energy technologies off the ground and into the mainstream marketplace, natural gas or no natural gas.


Ernest Moniz, Natural Gas And The “Forgotten Renewables” was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook (also free!), follow us on Twitter, or just visit our homepage (yep, free).

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Ron Wagner's picture
Ron Wagner on May 29, 2013 3:33 pm GMT

Dr. Moniz is  a  genius, and will give “renewables” their due. By the way natural gas is quite renewable. Biogas can be a very large factor, and natural gas is not called natural without reason. Wind and solar need to be able to compete on an equal playing field. Natural gas is the fastest way to reduce pollution and carbon emissions in the real world, that is a proven fact.

101+ Useful references on natural gas:

John Miller's picture
John Miller on May 29, 2013 5:58 pm GMT

Agreed, natural gas is a bridge to fossil fuels alternatives.  Increased natural gas production is also the major reason why U.S. carbon emissions have declined in recent years.  Re. my recent post:  “Which Government Policies and Other Factors Have Reduced U.S. Carbon Emissions?” (most)      

Hydro may be the forgotten renewable, but geothermal has continued to grow slowly over the years and still exceeds solar, despite solar’s much greater political popularity.  Re. EIA Table 3.1 ‘Primary Energy Consumption by Source’ data.  Hydro capacity suffers from a combination of lost political support and ever increasing environmentalist attacks on its upstream/downstream impacts.  How well relatively ‘micro’ hydropower technologies will fair with the normal anticipated ‘NIMBY’ resistance remains to be seen.

I find it curious that in one statement on “forgotten renewables” these are described in terms of “Competitive Renewable Options”, and, other statements condemn current needed/demanded fossil fuels in terms of “environmental risks and costs”.  Are renewables truly competitive to and have zero environmental impacts compared to current energy supplies, or, only in the case of artificially-substantially increasing the costs of fossil fuels (carbon taxes, etc.)? 


Yes, natural gas will definitely be the bridge to developing renewable alternative energy technologies and supplies.  The real question is: how long will the bridge be?.  

Jim Warden's picture
Jim Warden on May 31, 2013 6:40 pm GMT

They are using GreenNH3 here in Canada with great success.

It is predicted once this Oil centric government destroys itself the next one

will get behind GreenNH3 and scale it up or at least tell people government is behind it,

so investors will move it forward. Lower cost and zero emissions. I want it now.


Sid Abma's picture
Sid Abma on Jun 1, 2013 5:25 am GMT

Ron Wagner states it the closest. There is one more natural gas factor that doen’t get promoted enough, that is How Efficiently natural gas can be consumed.

Natural gas can be combusted to near 100% energy efficiency. This is proven in the residential market with their condensing boilers and water heaters. 94 to 98% energy efficiency and they vent their cool exhust through PVC pipe out of the wall.  Industry consumes the same quality of natural gas. Most large commercial and industrial natural gas appliances vent 300F to over 1,000 F exhaust into the atmosphere, a lot of Hot Wasted Energy.

The technology of Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery is designed to recover most of that waste energy, making this recovered energy usable in the building or facility where it was combusted, or available to be supplied to others to be used efficiently. Instead of hot echaust COOL exhaust will be vented. There will be some days in the summer when the exhaust can be cooler than the outside air temperature.

The US EIA states that in 2012 commercial buildings and industry and the power plants consumed approx. 17.5 Trillion cu.ft. of natural gas. How much of this combusted energy was wasted,  blown into the atmosphere, at what temperatures?  40% ~ 60% ?

The US DOE states that for every 1 million Btu’s of heat energy recovered from these waste natural gas exhaust gases, and this recovered heat energy is utilized efficiently, 117 lbs of CO2 will NOT be put into the atmosphere.

Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced utility bills = Profit

Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced global warming

Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Reduced CO2 emissions

Increased natural gas energy efficiency = Water conservation

America’s Power Plants are the countries largest consumers of energy. Power plants are recognized by their big tall chimneys. What if there was no chimneys? What if the technology of condensing flue gas heat recovery was being utilized to recover the heat energy, and this recovered heat energy was being utilzed efficiently?

Green Jobs?

How many chimneys are poking out of the roofs of commercial buildings and industries across America How many jobs can be created assessing all these locations?                                                         How many engineers will be required to design the most efficient appliation for applying all this recovered heat energy?                                                                                                                 How many mechanical firms will be hired to install all these Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery systems?

What can this do for America’s Economy?

What will this do for America’s Environment?

And America is Waiting For?



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