Gas is ‘a Threat, Not a Bridge’ to Renewables

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Natural gas, once seen as a useful bridge between the eras of coal and renewables, poses one of the biggest threats to the wind-energy business, if not the whole future clean-tech revolution, according to experts.

“We’ve talked over the last decade of gas as a bridging technology, but we’re now seeing what I would call the threat of gas,” James Leape, director-general of WWF International, told the European Future Energy Forum in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Maybe gas does have a role as a bridging fuel. But now you have people like the chief executive of Shell [Peter Voser] talking about gas as a destination fuel.

“Frankly, if we build the future economy on shale gas, we will have lost the fight to control ­climate change.”

The US energy sector has been transformed by the ability to tap huge reserves of shale gas economically, employing a controversial technique known as hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — in which subterranean layers of impermeable rock are cracked open using pressurised fluids.

Shale-gas fever has spread to Europe, with drilling companies claiming that Poland, Romania, the UK and other countries have large, accessible deposits.

While many observers — including the Obama administration and the International Energy Agency (IEA) — believe the shale-gas boom will have useful medium-term environmental consequences compared to the high carbon emissions of coal, others believe it is more harmful once its extraction methods are taken into account.

Fracking has been banned in France, Switzerland and several US states. The intense water demands imposed by the technique are also a concern.

Markus Wråke, head of the IEA’s Energy Technologies Perspective group, says the shale-gas boom — rather than the explosion of renewables — has proved the most disruptive change to the energy industry in recent years.

“In some settings, gas is an enormous improvement over coal,” he says. “The question is: when does gas go from being part of the solution to part of the problem?

“We could see significant synergies with other fuels we believe are important over the longer term, like biogas and hydrogen. But the fact remains that if we have really low gas prices, it could threaten the development of some of the clean technologies that we need.”

Anders Eldrup, chief executive of Danish utility Dong, describes the future of shale gas in Europe as “still very much a question mark”.

But far from being an enemy of renewables, natural gas is “not only a companion, but a very necessary one”, he tells Recharge.

“The beauty of gas as a complement to fluctuating renewables is it’s so fast: you press a button and the gas-fired power station starts up. It’s much more flexible in that respect than coal, and it’s not as polluting,” Eldrup adds.

“From our perspective, wind, biomass and gas form the basis of our future energy mix — you can’t do without any of them.”

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Posted on October 25, 2011, in Energy, Natural Gas and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Gas is ‘a Threat, Not a Bridge’ to Renewables.

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