Natural Gas and Carbon

Rupert Murdock, that scion of conservative publishing actually types his own Twitter feed.  Here was a recent one –

LNG halves carbon emissions. So stop wasting billions on windmills now! On climate change, China is the whole game.

(note – LNG = liquified natural gas)

Its true that burning natural gas saves substantial CO2 emissions over burning coal.  And its true that China is the whole game … to a point.  But let’s dig a bit deeper.

Gas is burned in turbines to transform that energy into electricity; these turbines resemble jet engines so it is not chance that GE is one of the biggest natural gas turbine suppliers in the world.  GE is just releasing new turbines and their key new feature is that they start up and reach full power in 6.5 minutes.

How are these facts related?

Murdock and others around the world are going to push that we now have discovered so much new natural gas that we don’t need to invest in renewables.  You will see that on the USA political agenda too.  For example, we have begun using more natural gas ourselves BUT shipping our coal to Europe to burn.  So that our CO2 numbers improve while Europe’s efforts including all their renewable efforts are diminished due to the burning of our coal.

Markets value materials based on supply and demand but this economic equation has little way to value things in the somewhat distant future.  Natural gas may be plentiful for a few decades even.  And we can burn it in turbines for electricity and in buses for transportation and so forth.

But if we do that we will only postpone the challenges we have today with regards to sustainability.

Natural gas is a VERY good fuel to help manage peak loads and that is a big problem longer term.  Renewable energy will always be unstable in terms of its supply.  The sun shines or does not depending on time of day, weather.  Wind blows with high variability as well.  And we will build storage devices (Small World Group has substantial investments in this ares) that can help balance the grid but standing behind all of this technology, probably for more than 100 years, will need to be natural gas fired turbines.

We will need natural gas to be the final smoother of our power infrastructure until we develop base load power that meets all of the political tests for safety in terms of environment and fuel availability.  The only technology today that is an alternative to natural gas is nuclear – probably thorium fuel and not uranium – and for the moment that is unacceptable.  This will change but it may take many years where we will need to use natural gas carefully.

So in my opinion, Robert Murdock is wrong about mass burning of natural gas today.  We should supply energy from wind and solar on a steadily and strongly increasing basis and let natural gas fill in the differences.  China should do the same.  We all should because there is no other practical way forward.

Posted in Essays, Green Perspectives, Investing

  1. Uwe says:

    I think there is another alternative to nuclear, that is storage of electrical power. In Germany we now have that many windmills that they are switched off when there is a fair amount of wind. What a waste!
    The most advanced solution in my opinion is hydrolysis; the Hydrogen can be stored for a short time until the wind decreases and then be used to run turbines for generating electicity. Sure, the overall efficiency is not much above 50% today, but now the energy goes nowhere … and there is a good field for research to find more efficient methods to store electrical energy or to increase the efficiency of the Hydrogen process involved.

  2. Uwe says:

    by the way: the same will be true for solar generators in regions where the sun shines a little more than in Germany – which is a huge part of the world I guess..
    if an efficient way to transport hydrogen was found, that would be easier than building power lines from Africa to Europe for electrical power …
    Today the problem is that hydrogen liquidification is expensive and Hydrogen leakes quite fast through almost everything (smallest molecule we have, fits in every hole on molecular level …)
    there’s another nice field of research to invest tax billions sensibly!
    Where have all these nice projects gone where direct solar conversion (to Hydrogen or Methanole) was researched? Exxon and Shell bought them ???

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