Common Sense Approach to Reliable, Low-Emissions Electricity
Posted July 31, 2020
Former Vice President Joe Biden's camp says he wouldn’t completely ban hydraulic fracturing (see the New York Times and here) – the technology most responsible for a domestic energy revolution that has made the U.S. the world’s leading producer of natural gas and oil. While Biden’s proposal to end new federal fracking leases is misguided, the fact he wouldn’t try to ban it elsewhere may suggest a recognition that fracking is critically important to the U.S. economy and national security.This could indicate some important common ground, which API President and CEO Mike Sommers addressed in the Times article:
“We appreciate the fact that they recognize that there is going to be a role for natural gas and oil in our future. We share the broad goal of reducing emissions and addressing climate change.”
This is especially welcome news for the nation’s electricity grid operators. They’re on the front lines of the twin effort to provide affordable energy to American homes and businesses, while lowering carbon dioxide emissions from power generation. For them, clean and reliable natural gas is the cornerstone for succeeding on both fronts, which is why natural gas is the nation’s No. 1 fuel for power generation.
At the same time, natural gas is essential for renewable energy expansion, as much of it is still intermittent. According to U.S. utility executives, natural gas will remain essential to electricity production, even as ambitious – and perhaps unrealistic – renewable energy targets are discussed by policymakers. PJM Interconnection President and CEO Manu Asthana commented:
“I think gas will continue to be an important part of the mix, particularly in the near term, because the dispatchable generation is essential to ensure (grid) reliability.”
Richard Dewey, New York Independent System Operator President and CEO, stated:
“We have some very, very plentiful hydro assets, some good performing nuclear assets, but very frequently, natural gas is what's on the margin and what is the balancing resource for most of the renewables that have been added over the system.”
And earlier this year, the California Independent System Operator urged state regulators to consider increasing intra-day and seasonal natural gas usage because the electric grid currently relies on the fuel for ramping, flexibility and the integration of renewables.
The reliance on natural gas in power generation has been driven by the fuel’s market competitiveness and infrastructure stability, with rapid ramp-up capacity to meet demand spikes when renewable resources are unavailable.
Because the combustion of natural gas emits one-half the carbon compared to coal, fuel switching is the leading reason carbon dioxide emissions from the U.S. power sector declined by 28% between 2005-2018. Today, unprecedented economic conditions – and America’s growing capacity to export liquefied natural gas – appear to be accelerating the global trend toward coal-to-natural gas switching, meaning the fuel stands to power our low-emissions recovery.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. produced and consumed record levels of natural gas last year, largely driven by increased use in the power sector. At the same time, renewable energy consumption surpassed coal for the first time in 130 years in 2019, with wind and solar experiencing considerable growth over the past decade.
Given the existing market realities and long-term demand forecasts, there is emerging bipartisan and public-private sector agreement on the need for common-sense policy solutions that deliver reliable electricity to American consumers, while continuing to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
As the leading contributor to the U.S. power mix, the natural gas and oil industry is meeting the moment by investing in technologies and advocating for legislation to mitigate the impacts of climate change, including via carbon capture, utilization and storage.
There are questions about the feasibility of sweeping pledges for “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. electric power grid – not to mention most other industries. So it’s essential to focus on the realistic, broad-based approaches that are already advancing environmental progress.
About The Author
Sam Winstel is a writer for the American Petroleum Institute. He comes to API from Edelman, where he supported communications marketing strategies for clients across the firm’s energy and federal government practices. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Sam graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina, and he currently resides in Washington, D.C.
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