In a recent New York Times article, two new studies regarding natural gas have been released; one by Robert Howarth of Cornell University and another by David Hughes of the Post Carbon Institute. Both of these articles state that natural gas will be more harmful to the environment than coal or even oil.
The chief component of natural gas is methane, which is more efficient in trapping greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. This became a significant issue when studies found that methane is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities, close to 8%, than originally thought due to leaks in loose pipe fittings.
Two weeks ago, President Obama indicated that natural gas will be a significant part of the energy production vision for this country’s future. It has been suggested that the natural gas production is to increase by fourfold by 2035.
I am torn by the information that I have just read. I have always been a natural gas proponent, but the new studies have me doubting what the right course of action is for this country. If we are to increase natural gas production fourfold, that is a tremendous amount of methane emitted into the air. Add that to the environmental impact the increased amount of gas wells we will have at the time, has me questioning this method. The natural gas industry won’t tighten up on their production with reducing the amount of gas that leaks out into the atmosphere or capture the methane due to economic reasons. In addition, there are already many natural gas drill sites and to quadruple them has me in a doubtful state.
I do think natural gas can be a bridge to the renewable future combined with energy efficiency. However, a lot more validation of these studies must be done to verify their outcomes in order to be properly implemented.
One of the first initiatives that the newly-elected Republican House Majority is working on is to dismantle what they deem as the “job-killing” Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations set forth by the current Executive branch (E.P.A. Faces First Volley From the House). Fred Upton, the new Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee is looking to slash the EPA budget, causing them to be incapable of enforcing some of the emission standards on greenhouse gases (GHG). His reason? He believes that jobs are being exported to other countries. According to the article, “[Mr. Upton] will use every resource available to protect American workers and our economy by rolling back the job-killing GHG regulations.” Once again, our elected government officials would rather sacrifice the well-being of our society, and future societies, in the name of the almighty dollar. But, the question becomes, “Are we looking at the big picture?”
It is true that the cost to generate a coal-fired plant may not be cost effective if in fact, current and more stringent GHG restrictions are passed. And, it is true that increasing restrictions on GHG emissions will cause coal plants to start to upgrade some of their emission controls causing extra costs, which (at some point) could wipe out coal-producing generator plants completely. However, to get to that point, we would need to have an infrastructure in place that could support new types of energy production and a smart energy grid to handle these new green power technologies. I can also say that the jobs that will be created to support all these measures will come from the USA – they just may not be found in Mr. Upton’s district.
I will admit that the current presidential administration has affected me personally in the areas of increased taxes and health insurance, which I am not happy about. What would make me even more unhappy would be to see the good things that this administration has done (such as making tighter restrictions on what we put in the air) being attacked for no good reason. It just doesn’t make any sense.
The jobs will not go overseas. What will happen is that the types of jobs will shift to more innovative technologies in this country, such as electric cars and solar panels. Jobs will also be created when coal plants choose to retrofit their facilities to provide reduced GHG, which will create tax revenue. It will be years before the effects of the EPA will affect the coal miners jobs. By that time, our economy will have recovered and jobs can be made available domestically, as well as abroad.
Let’s put our efforts on being a smarter country and being more energy efficient. Our focus should be on moving forward instead of savings jobs, just for the sake of saving jobs.
It’s nice to see that the energy industry is starting to address some of the glaring problems that are out there such as energy shortage, depletion of domestic oil and gas reserves, and lack of incentives to invest in domestic energy facilities to name a few. Renewable energy is moving front and center to become THE next energy resource. However, the solutions are not without their challenges. Energy generation and delivery still needs a good solid look as the cost to save one kW of energy using a renewable energy resource is approximately $0.11/kW, while saving that same kW through energy efficiency in existing building and homes is only at $0.03/kW.
The challenge with renewable energy is integrating it into the power grid. With the emergence of smart meters, we can see where the power is going at any given place and time. This will help to put a focus on generating plant production at the right place and at the right time. With that said, renewable energy does not have the luxury of turning itself on or off (reducing the demand that could be placed on the electrical grid). In addition, the business model for renewable energy is most effective when it is operating for the longest time possible.
Renewable energy should be baseloaded with the power generation plants to pick up on any energy swings. Smart meters would be able to anticipate when those swings will happen. The dilemma occurs when the renewable energy source does not produce enough to reach the level they were intended to produce. This can happen when units go down for maintenance, break down or don’t produce enough megawatts because the wind is not blowing or the sun is not out.
Programs like demand response can help lessen the high demand on the power grid. Having a program to reduce the peak load on the grid through end-user participation is helpful. However, when the response event comes at an inopportune time or cannot be incorporated due to other circumstances, this puts additional variables into the equation that makes renewable energy less desirable or predictable.
Energy monitoring is a great way to promote energy consumption awareness to determine the Where, Why and at What point a facility is using energy. This will allow for energy efficiency awareness and enable facility operators to be proactive. But once again, the end-user must know what to do with all the data that they are receiving. Knowing where your energy consumption stands is great, but knowing what to do with all the data once you have it is the key to energy reduction. Finding a solution to analyze the data will really help a facility to control its energy consumption. The amount of data produced is astronomical and unless the data is analyzed and trended on a regular basis, it will be of little to no value. A process needs to be developed that addresses how to use analyze and interpret the data.
All of these items and their challenges are important as we move forward to solve this country’s energy needs. These challenges can not be avoided and they need to be navigated with viable solutions. Coordinating all of the solutions together will put us in a better position for our electric infrastructure. Always have a contingency plan so that you don’t fail to plan; and be prepared so that you don’t plan to fail.