Natural Gas and Renewables: Friends, NOT Foes
Renewable energy and natural gas have a much more symbiotic and productive relationship than is generally acknowledged by the average person, according to IHS Markit, one of the largest data-analytics companies and the host of the internationally acclaimed CERAWeek Energy Conference.
The natural gas and renewables sectors share a common goal: to supply the world’s energy in the most environmentally responsible manner possible. As pointed out by report author, IHS’s Judson Jacobs, the interaction between both energy sources is actually harmonious and their interdependency is growing faster as more energy companies look to renewable resources to help power their operations.
“There is a striking pace of growth over the past few years and a dynamic commercial environment for delivering renewable energy to oil and gas operations. Some companies are turning to zero-carbon sources to power their upstream, midstream and downstream operations.”
IHS noted that this symbiosis has picked up a steady pace over the past years, positively impacting oil and natural gas operations. The report finds that oil and natural gas-related renewable energy projects more than tripled from 2017 to 2019, expanding to more than 45 projects across the country. As IHS explains:
“Field-based renewable installations are demonstrating reliability. And electrification—drawing renewable-generated power direct from the grid, as to offshore platforms in Norway—removes most energy generation equipment entirely, enabling fewer on-site personnel needed to operate it and smaller facility footprints. Additional benefits include reduced maintenance expenses and the elimination of fuel deliveries to site.”
However, the public opinion around the benefits of natural gas and its relationship to renewables has been polluted by “Keep It In The Ground” organizations. These fringe activist organizations fail to understand that a healthy and balanced energy system requires diversification of its energy sources to efficiently function, but most importantly, to continue providing affordable and reliable energy to households worldwide.
Renewables’ match made in heaven
These sources of energy being complementary is not new – natural gas serves as the backbone for renewables’ operability. Given its resilience and flexibility, natural gas is considered one of the most versatile energy sources, supporting the intermittency of renewable energy.
As noted by the International Gas Union (IGU), natural gas helps renewables by filling in the gaps where they tend to fall short:
“Natural gas is clearly the most effective partner for green energy, merely one of a number of qualities of natural gas that make it a pivotal element of the global energy mix today and tomorrow.”
A delicate balance
Natural gas provides renewables much needed stability. Given the dilemma of the intermittence of wind and solar – the lack of wind or clouded sky curtails energy generation – natural gas adds stability and reliability to the power grid:
“In order to balance the system and address fluctuating output from wind gusts and cloud cover, you need a reliable, flexible and clean fuel, like natural gas.”
This is crucial as drastic changes in the intensity of energy inputs into the system can overload the generation and distribution infrastructure, potentially resulting in significant physical and financial repercussions.
Ultimately, the low-carbon quality of natural gas has helped several economies to achieve a clean transition, reducing CO2 emissions drastically just as the United States has done. In order to continue moving forward with the clean energy transition, we need to understand that energy systems work as a whole and that complementarities between different sources is a desired strength rather than a weakness.