It is becoming clearer that natural gas is not a “bridge” fuel, nor is it complementary to renewable energy for electric power generation. Rather, in the past two years natural gas has emerged as a political and industrial juggernaut propelled by those seeking to exploit public interest in clean energy in an attempt to position the oil and gas industry to dominate electricity generation.
When the Getting Smarter about the Smart Grid paper was published in November 2012, the picture was different. Natural gas was seen as a traditional cleaner-burning fossil fuel, and one that could be used in small/medium scale “peaker plants” to eliminate baseload generation and compensate for the variability of wind and solar. However, two major changes have emerged since that time.
One change is that advanced inverter, storage, and smart grid/microgrid control technologies have dramatically improved the ability of distributed (e.g., rooftop) solar PV to deal with variability without the need for peaker plants. The second change has been the proliferation of the environmentally dangerous practice of “fracking” and the related toxic political alliances and dependencies that have developed among public officials, utilities, and oil and gas interests—a change not foreseen two years ago. Additionally, mounting evidence is showing that any benefit from natural gas in atmospheric CO2 reduction may be more than negated by the chronic leakage of “fugitive” methane in the course of drilling, extraction, transport, and storage.
Natural gas never played a significant role in the paper, but it was mentioned in passing as one possible alternative to coal and to baseload generation. With distributed (community and rooftop) solar PV having now attained cost parity with fossil fuels, and with its advancing ability to deal with solar variability, it now makes sense to revise my analysis and recommendations in Getting Smarter about the Smart Grid to delete even a passing reference to natural gas as a viable alternative.
Dr. Tim Schoechle
—Boulder, Colorado, November 2014
Joel Dyer, Matt Cortina, and Elizabeth Miller. “Who killed the vote on fracking: why Colorado’s anti-fracking measures were not supported by Democrats and environmental groups.” Boulder Weekley, October 2, 2014
Diane Cardwell. “Solar and Wind Energy Start to Win on Price vs. Conventional Fuels”, New York Times, November 23, 2014
Judee Burr, Lindsey Hallock, and Rob Sargent. Star Power: The growing role of solar energy in America. Environment America Research & Policy Center, November, 2014.