Gas Transition

Natural gas seem to be the fossil fuel which was supposed to be a transition fuel that overstayed its welcome. In fact, it seem to have failed at its job at properly displacing coal and yet today, it is seen as a dirty fuel to be transited away from rather than towards.

That is actually a very anglo-saxon view of the energy transition and if you go around Asia, to some of the fast growing economies you’d realise that notion is somewhat deluded. Natural gas is still growing and providing more energy to more businesses, households and people not because of the gas lobby or some kind of oil & gas conspiracy but that plans laid down in the past to move towards gas are just cranking on and moving forward. Sure, things are not moving as fast as we would like them to, but it is incredibly challenging to keep trying to drive people off gas towards renewable electricity when we have not properly dealt with or created a realistic pathway out of coal power.

A premature transition out of gas, especially for currently non-electrified uses, could be expensive. And electrifying heavy industrial loads when a power system is still dominated by coal, is certainly emissions-blind.

Making the transition II

Transition means being in an in-between state, crossing over to something which is supposed to be perhaps a less temporary state. The challenge, however, is that one can get stuck in transit. Natural gas as a fuel risk being in that state because it wasn’t really adopted fast enough as a transition fuel. And now renewable electricity from solar and wind has more or less leapfrog it in terms of cost advantage. Once battery or other energy storage technology moves along the cost curve and decline sufficiently, natural gas might even be bypassed.

So the world is in a somewhat confused state. When is it right to use gas? What should be counted as alternatives for decarbonisation? In any case, gas prices are spiking now so what does it mean? Should that mean we move forward into more renewables which might even be more expensive? Or we move backward into coal?

These decisions are not meant to be made in categorically; because the entire system needs to be considered. And what is at the margin in terms of choice needs to be clearly identified. If the additional unit of power that satisfies both energy security and the quantity demanded can be obtained through renewables, it should be used. Of course if that is not available, one might have to step back into more carbon-intensive processes. Availability can also be based on budget.

Natural gas itself, needs to be displaced by greener fuels without threatening the underlying combustion technologies that underpin the gas turbines. But that is perhaps for another day.