The BC Government and the LNG industry suggest that replacing coal-fired power plants with LNG power plants would help curve the carbon output from coal-fired power plants in North America and Asia (1). Based on this assumption, it promotes LNG as a clean energy and a so called bridge fuel to bridge the transfer from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy. But do these claims hold water?
LNG: a bridge fuel?
It’s true, methane aka natural gas, emits less less carbon emission than coal when burned. But this does not give enough ground to conclude that therefor, over time, switching from coal-fired power plants to LNG fired power plants will reduce carbon emissions and reduce the effects of climate change. Why? There is more at play.
Cheap energy doesn’t promote saving energy
The price of natural gas has been falling dramatically due to over supply and a softening demand. As we all know, when fuel prices are low, we don’t think twice taking the car to pick up something at the store. It is the same with natural gas, the cost incentive for people and businesses to save is simply not there. Natural gas does not only compete with coal, but also with renewable energy.
Delaying deployment of renewable energy
Because of the low price of natural gas it takes longer for renewable energy technology to be economically competitive and renewable energy it the solution we need to seriously cut carbon emissions. This could be a delay of decades.
Although, it has been found that natural gas operations leak methane (a powerful green house gas). These leaks were not the focus of a study researchers from the University of California and Stanford University and non-profit Near-Zero were to look at. They wondered if the claims of coal fired power plants switching to LNG as a way to cut carbon emissions were credible.
Twenty three energy experts were surveyed about their predictions on future the natural gas supply. They fed these predictions into a model of the energy system. They found that even if little or no methane leakage occurred, switching to natural gas doesn’t do much to help reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. Why? Because the abundance of cheap methane leads to a delay, of up to decades, in renewable energy technology becoming economically competitive and therefor stalling its deployment.(2)
BC’s LNG focus: a clear example of delaying renewable electricity technology
As we can see from experience, this delay in investing in renewable energy is exactly what is happening in BC. The renewable energy BC has, Hydro electricity, was build decades ago. Since then very little has been invested in renewable energy. Although BC claims to be a ‘world leader’, its recent brochure ‘Green Economy: Growing Green Jobs, update 2014′(1) is awfully thin on real investments in green technology. It is more an exercise in green-wash.
(1): B.C.’s Green Economy: Growing Green Jobs, update 2014, page 12
(2): The effect of natural gas supply on US renewable energy and CO2 emissions