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Natural Gas – A Friend or Foe to Renewable Energy

image credit: Natural Gas Power Plant. ID 8802820 © Georg Henrik Lehnerer | Dreamstime

Dawned the Victorian era of Industrialization when steam drove the cog & wheel, the world has come a long way, but only finding itself in a quandary over climate change & environment. With growing populations, the 21st century inhabitants of the blue planet, now undeniably are fighting the consequences of their past actions in the name of sustainability and climate change while they still din over their energy security & economic growth.

IEA’s Projection of Future of Renewables

Hydrocarbons have traditionally catered to three main industries namely; Transportation, Power Generation & Petrochemical Products and Renewables for now, aim to supplant the hydrocarbon dependence in the transportation and power generation industry. Towards this, Wind & Solar photo voltaic power have picked up pace in recent years with advances in battery storage to compliment energy storage. The IEA also quotes that “Renewables will have the fastest growth in the electricity sector, providing almost 30% of power demand in 2023, up from 24% in 2017. During this period, renewables are forecast to meet more than 70% of global electricity generation growth, led by solar PV and followed by wind, hydropower, and bioenergy. Hydropower remains the largest renewable source, meeting 16% of global electricity demand by 2023, followed by wind (6%), solar PV (4%), and bioenergy (3%)” [1].

The Unseen Consequences of Wind & Solar Renewables

The downside of wind & solar power is that wind farms do not always enjoy a consistent flow of air & the sun does not always shine. Therefore this can be only be attended to by switching over a 12 hour cycle from renewables to fossil fuels which is technologically impossible unless those high efficiency power storing batteries were available in the first place. The alternative is a Fast Firing Natural Gas Power Plant with which power production can be ramped up to as much as 600 MW in 30 min to power the grid [2].

Environmental Consequences

Renewables also require vast swathes of open land that is obstruction free but leads to de-forestation with flora and fauna displacement. Whereas, Energy storing batteries, require raw materials mined from the earth & mining must continue to replace old batteries. According to Wood Mackenzie [3], “…energy storage deployments are expected to grow by more than 5x (38% annually) over the next five years, reaching 44 GWh of annual deployments globally by 2024, the majority of which will be lithium-ion based systems”.

This begs the question as to where would battery waste be disposed. The same report [3] discusses, “Disposing of EV batteries is costly, while the decommissioning of lithium-ion battery storage systems is essentially nonexistent, considering the viable recycling technology and infrastructure available at this time”. “…Supply responses are under way, but it pays to be patient as new capacities compete to produce lithium and other battery-grade chemicals that will satisfy the EV onslaught.

But until then, shipping to poorer countries that lack or possess poor infrastructure to segregate & recycle isn’t a viable option from an environmental standpoint and neither does it help burying battery waste under the earth, only for them to contaminate the water table.

In Saving the Climate you End up Messing up the Environment.

So let's say, with all those climate deals signed, a Goliath mound of cash appearing from thin air (A Herculean task for poorer nations) and the world switched over to the power equivalent of Renewables, then it will also demand the additional expense of an equivalent Fast Firing Natural Gas Infrastructure to compensate for the unavailability & erratic supply of renewables caused by natural causes. This means, the Oil Man Still Wins.

The more the world clamours for Renewables, The more number of Natural Gas Plants have to be built to compensate for erratic renewables which defeats the very purpose of venturing into a Green Future

Long Term Socio-Economic Impact of Renewables

The simple truth is, Fossil Fuels were never the enemy of the planet. It is man’s “Insatiable thirst for Consumption”, that has ripped through the fabric of society, climate and environment. Human existence exists in a limited spectrum. Too less or too much of anything is a problem. The world has traversed through the eons of time often feeling dissatisfied that, what they have is never enough, so much that strife & war has often been the final solution.

However in the 21st century, mankind under its illusory definition of self sufficiency, has taken matters into its own hands to provide themselves with an abundance of energy resources at the cost of both climate & environment. While doing so, mankind is blinded by the historical amnesia, that it is their unrefined habits of endless consumption, which will lay forth their own weapons of self destruction, waiting for history to repeat itself. Imagine a world where everybody is so independent that eventually nobody would feel obliged to listen to each other. It is at that moment when mankind has hit the dead end of progress.

Free Energy will not set mankind free but will only exacerbate the habits of Endless Consumption with no Responsibility or Accountability

Hence, a Balance is the need of the hour, between a source of endless energy that can potentially blow the lid off on consumption & a source of limited energy, which requires sweat & toil to keep reminding us the need for a sense of responsibility & accountability towards consumption. It is only then the world qualifies to ask for Renewables as the mainstay of energy security. If Not, then all that the world can look forward to, is the reality of H.G Wells’s description of Planet of the Morlocks, no matter how much mankind’s ingenuity is at play.

References

[1] [2] [3]

Vijay Sarathy's picture

Thank Vijay for the Post!

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Discussions

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 9, 2019 5:21 pm GMT

Renewables are the best friend gas ever had, Vijay. Adding renewables to the grid burns more gas than powering the grid with gas alone.

One graph is worth one thousand words.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 9, 2019 5:55 pm GMT

Here's my favorite (accurate!) graph, too: 

Obviously, there's much more correlation between gas and renewables than global temperatures and pirates, but my point is that you may say a graph says 1,000 words, but it is also quite easy to make a graph say what you want it to say. There's a lot more at play in your graph than A + B = C. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 9, 2019 6:35 pm GMT

Matt, increasing renewables on the grid has not reduced gas consumption. That is a fact. That coal shutdowns have increased gas consumption, of course, doesn't rule out the possibility solar and wind have helped. Solar advocates won't admit it, but BP is proud of solar's dependence on gas.

"Who is solar's best friend?
"Natural gas."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsUWORUpwkM

 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Oct 14, 2019 3:28 pm GMT

Bob - We are all aware  that much of the increased combustion of natural gas is due to the closing of coal fired plants, as well as the overall decrease in  US carbon emissions.  The cause and effect that your graph suggests might well be attributed to that, or partly so. In that case, natural gas's worst enemy is coal. Also true? Or one or the other?  The world is not binary, i.e. all nuclear or no nuclear.  We might have to get used to a plethora of variables.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 15, 2019 2:08 pm GMT

The world is not binary, i.e. all nuclear or no nuclear.  We might have to get used to a plethora of variables.

Bump to this

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 15, 2019 6:50 pm GMT

The world is binary, Mark, in the sense that there is no significant concentration of renewables on the grid that doesn't require backup/regulation by fossil fuel gas.

They're guaranteeing fossil fuel gas a place in electricity generation for the foreseeable future, and that is climate suicide.

Victoria Hudson's picture
Victoria Hudson on Oct 16, 2019 7:52 pm GMT

Just a quick question - given the following statement: what do you see as the winning solution for energy and the environment going forward? I know we've discussed nuclear - just wondered what combination you see as a win, a practical and realistic one. Thanks.

They're guaranteeing fossil fuel gas a place in electricity generation for the foreseeable future, and that is climate suicide.

Vijay Sarathy's picture
Vijay Sarathy on Oct 22, 2019 7:55 am GMT

It's simple. The answer lies in the "Consumption habits". If we don't control our consumption habits, then even renewables can become a cause for climate change/environmental damage because we need more mining to build renewables infrastructure. (Just like computer waste & electronic waste disposal since the 70s)

Second problem is population - With too many people, consumption rises & more mining & more waste generated. And to make those renewable infrastructure, more hydrocarbons are required. So the Oilman wins again.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 19, 2019 10:46 pm GMT

In my opinion, Victoria, most activists/members of the public have no idea how serious the problem is. At least one-fourth of the Earth's species are at risk, including Homo Sapiens; we're already witnessing changes which will last at least 100,000 years - for practical purposes, forever.

The only truly winning solution for energy and the environment, going forward, is as much nuclear energy as possible. A massive, moonshot-scale investment by the U.S., in new nuclear technologies and development. It's the only carbon-free source that's scalable at a rate which can get the job done.

I'm not a climate expert, so my opinion is based on theirs. In 2015, four of the most-respected climate scientists in the world, three of whom I've met personally, signed a letter to attendees of COP 21 in Paris with a stark conclusion: "Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change."

Relatively speaking, everything else: wind, solar, geothermal, biogas, biowaste, hydro, demand response, efficiency, OTEC, geoengineering, CCS, and tidal power is irrelevant. It's really that bad.

Vijay Sarathy's picture
Vijay Sarathy on Oct 9, 2019 6:31 pm GMT

Ok I get the point that it could be y = x^2 too. But when did pirates find their place with renewables!!.!! 😄😄 I'am now thinking global temperatures Vs Methane emissions from Cows!!! 😄😄 (Yeah it's true. They also contribute. It's in the fodder)

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 9, 2019 9:45 pm GMT

It's not even just that it could be y = x^2, but also that we might accurately identify it as y = x^2 but not yet recognize the nuance and interconnections that are causing that relationship to exist. Correlation doesn't always equal causation, and when they are related there's often many other factors involved (especially in real-life data like the gas and renewable and other generation data)! Oversimplifying it is doing a misdeed to all 

John Gage's picture
John Gage on Oct 14, 2019 2:14 pm GMT

Driving ghg emissions down is most cheaply done using efficient market forces. Energy efficiency and pollution reduction can be incentivized by putting a price on pollution. 

This approach is preferred most economists, who overwhelmingly recommend we use a carbon fee and dividend with border adjustments solution: http://clcouncil.org/economists-statement 

Here is the gold-standard way to do that: http://citizensclimatelobby.org/basics-carbon-fee-dividend 

Here is the bipartisan bill Congress has written to do it: energyinnovationact.org 

The only thing lacking is the political will to enable Congress to pass this legislation. That's where businesses and organizations come. They can help create the political will to enable Congress to act by endorsing the bill here: https://energyinnovationact.org/ 

Citizens play a big role also, and can write Congress to show their support from here: cclusa.org/energy-innovation-act 

 

Vijay Sarathy's picture
Vijay Sarathy on Oct 22, 2019 7:05 am GMT

Yes, Gold is the way to do it, like the Bretton wood Gold standard. It puts a check on how much money is printed & ensures money is spent wisely on matters that are more important - Food, clothing, shelter, medicines, transportation, everything else is a form of entertainment which is of course needed but as a last priority.

Sure, one could argue, that economies grow slower when currency is based on gold. But what's the hurry (unless mankind says "I want it right now")

Bob Nikon's picture
Bob Nikon on Oct 17, 2019 1:53 am GMT

“Insatiable thirst for Consumption”, It's not that insatiable thing, Vijay it is an entrapment for human kind...even more serious than something insatiable. There is absolutely no way out of this trap. The reason is we haven't got the right kind of energy to deal with that. All renewable methods certainly can not do. Don't tell me to hold on to the future if we go on doing the same thing. It will be the same thing forever. 

Your post solidifies the situation exactly where we live in the trap generation to generation and keep clamoring for solution but there is none in sight. Because we are trying to solve the problem at the same level of cognizance. It will require a higher one. 

Free Energy will not set mankind free but will only exacerbate the habits of             Endless Consumption with no Responsibility or Accountability

I disagree with you on that. It depends on what kind of energy you will use to set humankind free from this trap with no exacerbation. The matter of fact Mother Nature has her own plan to set us free, extricating out of this trap. What we want is out there in our surroundings. It"s the matter of our ability to decipher the puzzle or not. But being able to decipher is still not enough. We have to come up with unique gadgets to transpire the hidden festivities out to the spotlight.

Vijay Sarathy's picture
Vijay Sarathy on Oct 22, 2019 6:58 am GMT

Well actually, there is a way out of this. By changing our habits & what we spend on. If the final goal is to entertain ourselves through various external resources, no amount of energy or source of energy is sufficient because there is no end to our desires. Hence there has to be a balance. Of course, this is a very hard proposition because our minds are programmed to a certain way of life & is the stark reality. 

Yes, mother nature has always solved the problems for us, through evolution - through natural calamities & partially by men themselves, i.e., through war. And after this an age of Renaissance begins once again, when men realize that they have to let go of their past habits because the survival instincts kick in.

Additionally, not everybody can have everything. Life has always been a pyramid & nature ensures it stays that way. One has to work to earn anything & not resort to freebie sources of resources/energy. Hence these communist/socialist styled schemes are risky. Yes, charity is necessary from time to time, but if all that charity is used as a resting armchair frequently, then it will take us back to what caused us to ask for freebies resources in the first place.

 

Victoria Hudson's picture
Victoria Hudson on Oct 22, 2019 6:39 pm GMT

I totally agree with this: "Well actually, there is a way out of this. By changing our habits & what we spend on. If the final goal is to entertain ourselves through various external resources, no amount of energy or source of energy is sufficient because there is no end to our desires..."

Reminds me of the saying that the only true clean energy - is no energy used.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Oct 22, 2019 10:12 pm GMT

It's true how important efficiency and conservation is, but I fear we can't really rely on it as a large-scale, long-term solution. Rising energy demand isn't just a factor of people using more than they should/could, but rather growing populations, increasingly necessary energy uses for daily life, and (most impactfully) rapidly industrializing economies that are adding new industry at a rapid clip. We need to make sure these are done smartly and cleanly first and foremost-- efficiency is important but will not make enough of an impact on its own. Further, putting the onus on the individuals or the smaller players to take responsibility for their emissions rather than the large corporate actors is letting them off the hook to an extent. 

Bob Nikon's picture
Bob Nikon on Oct 23, 2019 1:55 am GMT

Vijay, Victoria and Matt, it is a good conversation here. But it appears to me that you guys are missing some important points. It is not all what you think for doing the wrong way with energy oruse too much. The fact is our body structure is so tenuous comparing with other creatures.  OK, just one example, food we eat. We don't eat like they do, catching live pray and eat fresh meat right there. We have the process as you know, clean up, store for future meal or distribute to final consumers and eventually cook before we can eat...You see, all these need energy to do. Not our energy but outsourcing from something and you know where. This is just one in a myriad of things in our lives. That's why I call it"entrapment for humankind". There is absolutely no way out by doing what we have known out there. We just can't manage our living without the help of something around we can find. Besides, we keep creating more of us on to this planet. We need to protect and pamper our bodies in order to live on and we are equipped with such a brain to do so. There is nothing wrong with that. It is our way of living. 

If you believe in God. It could have been God's mistake that allow one branch of the great apes to evolve into Homo Sapiens. Because this species defy everything Mother Nature throws at them and they have such a brain to maneuver.

Let me tell you guys what we are doing wrong here:-

- Wrong way to create energy we need by burning her stuff to live

- Depend on centralized energy. In this case , the stuff that we depend on             force us to do that way. Because you can't turn raw fossils into the energy you need in your backyard.

All renewable methods out there can work but they can accomplish whatever we see now nothing more than that. I want to reiterate that.

The solution is to come up with new perspective to manipulate what she has to offer. She has all ingredients, gravity, buoyancy, water, air and land. Now it depends on us to be able to build the unique gadgets to harness this hidden power or not. It is such a big challenge in these passed 10 years. Now it is completed and I am here to transpire these festivities out to public, especially to the ones who are interested in.  

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