Natural Gas Beats Renewables in Providing Steady, Reliable Power in Emergencies
Natural gas is the best energy source to secure steady, cost-efficient power during natural disasters, according to a report by the consulting company The Brattle Group. This is crucial for regions in the country prone to natural disasters, such as Northern California that has faced multi-day power outages during the summer wildfire season.
The findings of the report are especially relevant for California, which continues to encourage cleaner energy sources. Fueling microgrids with natural gas, instead of diesel – as is used today – would facilitate a clean transition while securing a cost-effective and efficient power supply for the region, especially during a natural disaster or weather emergency.
The report analyzed and compared the resilience of natural gas, renewable natural gas (RNG), solar and a hybrid system (including natural gas) in microgrids generators. Natural gas outperformed all other sources in several areas.
Here are three key arguments in favor of using natural gas for emergency preparedness:
#1 Natural gas generators can come online instantly
When dealing with a natural disaster that will most likely disrupt power without notice and for several days, the greatest factor when considering emergency preparedness is speed. And although microgrids are designed to ensure that power supply continues uninterruptedly, natural gas is the energy source that can be activated most quickly. According to the report:
“Natural gas and renewable natural gas (RNG) microgrid options in this study can perform without advance notice for any length of outage.”
Natural gas’ resilience also becomes more evident when compared with solar-fueled generators, which require “advance notification” to perform adequately during a state of emergency. This comparative advantage is essential when dealing with wildfires in California that could potentially halt electricity distribution for days.
#2 Natural gas is more economically and technically feasible
When compared with the other energy sources tested, natural gas outperformed in costs too. This factor was calculated by analyzing several variables that determined which source would be more cost-efficient: physical footprint, installation time, rapid response and operational constraints. The report concluded that:
“Under the assumptions in this study, the capital and operating costs of the natural gas microgrid are roughly offset by its market revenue potential. In other words, the natural gas microgrid could nearly break even over its lifetime, in addition to providing highly valuable resilience to a local distribution substation”.
In contrast, and despite solar’s expected future economic viability and tax benefits in California, this technology was dismissed immediately in the report mostly because of its size and operational constraints.
#3 CO2 emissions are minimal
For decades now, natural gas has helped the United States reduce its CO2 emissions. Substituting diesel with natural gas would ensure that emissions remain low even during an emergency, especially when considering that wildfires cast a significant amount of emissions into the atmosphere.
Additionally, natural gas emissions derived from the emergency response microgrids would be modest and not impact California’s clean energy transition:
“The extremely low fuel consumption by natural gas microgrids will have an inconsequential impact on natural gas consumption in California. For instance, if 500 megawatts of natural gas microgrids were deployed for resiliency, their annual gas consumption would equate to only 0.0003 percent of statewide total gas consumption in 2018.”
Although it is true that some options like RNG or solar could provide carbon-free replacements for diesel generators, natural gas represents a competitive alternative with its low emissions, rapid startup time, and economic viability.
Natural gas has proven to be the most reliable, flexible, and cost-efficient energy source for decades. Its carbon footprint is minimal compared to other fossil fuels and its cost-savings and adaptability outperform renewables despite their favorable economic context. Thus, when deciding what fuel is appropriate for microgrid generation natural gas needs to be considered as the most viable alternative.