Not one or the other – the role of natural gas as part of a lower emissions future

A group of Australian climate scientists from universities across Australia sought to discredit Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO in an open letter relating to the potential future expansion of natural gas usage in Australia.

In response, Dr Finkel reiterates the importance of natural gas in Australia’s energy future, reinforcing the importance of using all available tools and resources in the transition to a low emissions electricity supply.

In support of natural gas

At the outset, Dr Finkel states his shared vision for the development of Australia’s renewable electricity sector, highlighting the emissions reductions contribution already underway. Dr Finkel reinforces the role that natural gas will play in the transition to a low emissions electricity supply:

 “…the adoption of more renewable electricity will be faster, more economical and more reliable if natural gas fired electricity generation continues to be available in the near to medium term.

There will be times when supply from renewable electricity generators will be inadequate to meet demand and occasionally such periods will last many days and affect adjacent jurisdictions. Natural gas fired electricity can pick up where batteries and pumped hydroelectricity run short.”

Dr Finkel highlights the emissions reductions advantages of natural gas as compared to coal, and the essential role that natural gas fired electricity will play as and when coal-fired stations close.

“Emissions from using natural gas to generate electricity are significantly lower than when using coal to produce the same amount of electricity, even when upstream fugitive emissions of methane are included in the analysis.”

The rapid ramping rate of natural gas fired electricity is also highlighted as an advantage:

The combination of lower emissions per megawatt-hour and a smaller number of operating hours means that natural gas fired electricity can make a valuable contribution to reliability during out transition to a low emissions electricity system.

In both his address to the National Press Club in February 2020 and in his recent response to critics, Dr Finkel outlines what many other leading scientists and energy experts agree on:   the important role of natural gas as it works alongside renewable energy to provide a reliable and secure future electricity supply.

A shared vision for the future

Experts from around the world understand the essential role of gas and renewables in the clean energy future, here’s what some of them have said on the subject

  • “Gas technologies can promote structural transitions by enabling distributed energy systems and increasing efficiency in energy consumption. Natural gas adoption also supports greater renewable energy integration.”Global Gas Report 2020, Snam, International Gas Union, BloombergNEF
  • “Whichever global energy future you look at, if you want to drive down emissions and you want to bring people up the wealth curve, you need gas. Gas volumes have to increase to back up renewables.” – Professor Andrew Garnett, Director UQ Centre for CSG, International Expert Peer Reviewer for the International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook
  • “Flexible gas capacity will continue to play a crucial role in supporting variable renewable energy, alongside continuing growth in energy storage, demand management and innovative grid technologies as alternatives.” – Technology Investment Roadmap Discussion Paper, Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (link)
  • “With increasing volumes of renewables in our electricity network, we also note that gas is increasingly being relied upon to smooth our electricity system and provide a quick response when renewable energy drops production.” – EUAA Chief Executive Officer, Mr Andrew Richards
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