By: JUDE BUENASEDA
Efforts to revolutionize the global energy resource mix to battle climate change are progressing, but not without challenges. Whether economic, social, or political, these challenges impede better practices in the way we extract and consume energy. Major obstacles for renewables include energy inefficiency and a low profit margin that is unable to incentivize growth. However, shale gas from the United States may be the best alternative to dirtier fossil fuels as well as less economic renewable energy sources. In addition to its abundance, it is cleaner and more profitable compared to its other resource competitors. While the world should continue to work toward advancements in solar, wind, and hydraulic energy, in the meantime it is important to balance our energy mix and offset the use of fossil fuels with natural gas.
The shale revolution has had a positive effect on accessibility, abundance and energy independence. The evolution of fracking technology has allowed the advancement of shale discoveries all over the country. Currently, 45 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas is produced on average.Discoveries in the Marcellus region in the northeast, Eagle Ford in the south, and the Bakken in the north doubled the supply within a ten-year period. Consequentially, their progress has potentially allowed for more gas turbine power plants to be built. Several natural gas pipeline projects have also been initiated to support the shale revolution. With the deployment of more gas turbine plants the increased production will offset the need for imported oil, putting the United States on a path to energy independence. The shale revolution is likely to shift geopolitical relationships – making the United States an energy competitor with OPEC’s oil output and other players in the global energy economy, such as Russia, another colossal gas exporter. From a US perspective, natural gas will help lower carbon emissions while being profitable enough for the markets to function properly.
Moreover, natural gas is able to compete with renewable energy as it continues to displace coal, while allowing for economic development, lower electricity prices and grid reliability. In addition, the advancement of “flexible” gas turbines create deployment competition with renewable energy. Natural gas also emits 50% less carbon than coal, which helps reduce emissions and simultaneously fulfilling many countries’ energy consumption needs. The option to convert coal power plants into gas power plants helps cut the cost of stranded assets for companies, incentivizing change.
Economically speaking, the low prices of natural gas and high investments in gas-related energy projects ramp up the economic benefits. The US is not only becoming an exporter of shale gas, but may also soon be able to reduce emissions while maintaining profitability. The renewable energy market has been volatile for utility companies and their services because of the off-grid set up that renewable energies require. At the same time, the more people that put solar photovoltaics on their rooftops, the higher the electricity bill will go up for customers that do not utilize solar energy. The electricity grid and market are integrated in the country at such a profound level that it is currently extremely difficult for renewable energy sources to enter the market in a sustainable manner. The attractiveness of prices will help encourage new policies based on gas, which in the long-term will smoothen the road for a cleaner energy resource mix.
The shale revolution will incentivize an evolution of the energy market. By growing supply and demand for natural gas, there will be less need for dirtier fossil fuels, culminating in lower carbon emissions. It may seem counterproductive to use a fossil fuel to combat reliance on other fossil fuels, but the smallest changes often add up in unexpected ways. Natural gas has the potential to pave the way for other renewable energy sources in the future. Even though it is not the cleanest energy source that exists today, but it is the one that makes most sense- for now
Jude Buenaseda is a Fellow at Advanced Energy Group and also works at the Austrian Mission to the United Nations. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Energy.
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