Natural and Renewable Gas: Still a Foundational Fuel
by George Minter, Energy and Environmental Affairs Consultant
We often hear that natural gas is a transitional resource — to a clean and renewable energy future. This is a narrow vision of the future. Technology will demonstrate that gas is a foundational fuel, not just a bridge fuel, for a clean energy future.
Looking forward, natural and renewable gas will be a foundation for new energy pathways, delivering energy with near zero combustion emissions — equivalent to emissions associated with electricity use. The ongoing drive to reduce both smog-forming and GHG emissions, and to improve overall energy efficiency, will continue to reshape our gas technology and end uses.
We are already seeing this. Natural gas — as both CNG and LNG — is moving into the transportation market — and not just for fleet vehicles; but for heavy duty trucks and buses, and for rail, and for port operations, including shipping – all of which are some of the biggest sources of our air emissions in the LA area.
We also see continued use of natural gas in low emission and highly efficient residential, commercial and industrial end uses. We see new end use technologies that will help customers meet energy needs in different ways, like combined heat and power, micro turbines and fuel cells — all providing energy needs more efficiently than today, at near zero emissions levels, and all relying upon natural and renewable gases over the long term.
Thus, we see a mix of new distributed generation resources, including not just renewables like solar rooftops, but gas technologies, like micro turbines and fuels cells, helping us manage our load centers, and electricity demand.
We also know natural gas will continue to play an important role in electric generation over the long term future – and not just for central power plants. Carbon capture and carbon use technologies will move into commercial deployment to assist the state in de-carbonizing its central station generating sector. But new, appropriately scaled and flexible gas peaking technology will become more available, balancing the intermittency of renewables, helping to integrate them into the grid, and grow our renewable generation portfolio over the long term.
Over the mid to longer term, the use of renewable natural gas from existing agricultural feedstocks, waste water, and landfills, as well as hydrogen blends, will further lower the GHG profile of all natural gas applications. Purpose grown crops and algae will expand the potential of renewable natural gas, lowering its GHG profile even further.
New and smaller scale hydrogen reformation technology can facilitate meeting today’s growing demand for hydrogen supply and refueling from the local natural gas distribution system. And tomorrow’s new power to gas technologies will forge green hydrogen pathways, and, like batteries, will help us store our excess renewable electric generation within the gas supply and delivery infrastructure; as well as enable us to directly deliver a low to zero carbon fuel for those natural gas applications we commonly use today.
By 2050, gas utilities will remain local distribution companies managing customer demand for gas – renewable gas, low carbon gas, hydrogen gas and blends. There will continue to be demand for gas supply for a variety of residential, commercial and industrial uses; as well as for growing demand for transportation uses. The methane molecule may be compressed, liquefied, conditioned, reformed, decarbonized or blended, but it will continue to be delivered by pipeline to meet a growing complexity of energy demand from a growing complexity of end use applications.
George Minter, Energy and Environmental Affairs Consultant, will be speaking on 20th May, day 3 of the World Biogas eFestival.