Global experts agree: natural gas is key to meeting 2050 decarbonisation goals

What do the European Union (EU) Commissioner for Climate Action, the former U.S. Energy Secretary, and a Pulitzer Prize winning energy expert all have in common? A passionate desire to fight climate change? Yes. A long and accomplished career advising Presidents and Prime Ministers on energy policy? Yes. A full understanding of how important natural gas will be to meeting 2050 decarbonisation goals? Also, yes.

In fact, all three of these energy experts – Miguel Arias Cañete, Ernest Moniz and Dan Yergin, respectively – were recently quoted in the press highlighting the role natural gas will play in meeting the 2050 decarbonisation goals and combatting climate change for decades to come. The argument, that natural gas can lower CO2 emissions by replacing coal in power generation and complement variable renewable sources, is rare consensus among global energy analysts and intellectuals.

According to Commissioner Cañete, “natural gas will be an important part of the EU’s energy mix for decades,” even as the EU works towards its 2030 targets to source 32 per cent of its total final energy demand from renewables and improve its energy efficiency by 32.5 per cent. One method the European Commission cites in its Clean Planet for all? plan to decarbonise by 2050 is natural gas to hydrogen conversion, which is widely considered a viable option for Australia as well.

Check out our factsheet for more on Natural Gas to Hydrogen Conversion.

Secretary Moniz and Dr. Yergin reached similar conclusions in their report Advancing the Landscape of Clean Energy Innovation, released last week. Commissioned by the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of private investors and global corporations co-founded by Bill Gates, the report determined that natural gas will ‘have a fairly long run in efforts to decarbonise the U.S.’ Furthermore, Secretary Moniz went on to note in an interview:

“The idea we’re going to have by 2050?a 100 percent renewable system is not realistic, straightforwardly, certainly at a reasonable cost it doesn’t violate the laws of physics to do it. But that doesn’t mean it is politically or economically implementable, and I think that is the issue.”

The key issue with achieving a 100 per cent renewable system is that so many renewable sources of energy are variable or intermittent. That said, inconsistent supply can be avoided by using cleaner-burning natural gas as a back-up fuel as noted in the report:

“Due to the greater operational flexibility of gas generation in contrast to coal generation it also has facilitated the integration into the power grid of generation from variable renewable resources such as wind and solar photovoltaic energy.”

Unfortunately, the fact that natural gas is an aid to tackling climate change not an impediment is lost on so many environmental activists. Ironically, their campaigns to ban fracking, oppose coal seam gas or natural gas production of any kind may end up slowing the growth of renewable technologies.

What about Australia?

Unsurprisingly, the scientific logic that applies in the EU and the U.S. applies here too, natural gas is Australia’s best way to lower its carbon emissions. In fact, the Australian Council of Learned Academies, noted in 2013:

“Increased use of shale gas [and other gas] for electricity generation could significantly decrease Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions based on gas replacing coal.”

More recently the Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing in the Northern Territory, concluded:

“In the short to medium term, the Australian National Electricity Market is likely to require higher levels of flexible, gas fired generation, which can provide a reliable low-emissions substitute for ageing coal fired generation and can provide essential security services to rapidly respond and complement variable renewable electricity generation.”

A key advantage Australia has in this endeavour is its abundant supply of readily accessible natural gas. All we need is for our communities – and political leaders – now is to appreciate what energy experts from around the world have been saying for years, that natural gas is a necessary part of our clean energy future.