According to a piece in E&E News, The limitations of America’s reliance on switching from coal to natural gas to lower emissions came into focus in 2018. Here’s the conundrum:
Power companies’ reliance on gas is a double-edged sword for climate hawks. When a natural gas plant replaces a coal facility, there is a climate benefit. Gas plants emit about half of what’s puffed into the air by their coal counterparts. EIA estimates that coal-to-gas switching is responsible for two-thirds of power-sector emissions reductions between 2005 and 2017. Renewables account for the remaining third.
But when gas plants run harder to meet an increase in electricity demand, emissions go up.
That’s what happened in 2018, when a combination of weather events and a hot economy prompted the first increase in electricity demand in years. Power-sector emissions rose 1.9 percent as a result, as gas plants ran more to satisfy robust demand for electricity.
The “expert” relied on to explain this seems to fault utilities for this “problem”:
“This isn’t the huge transition that is necessary to meet the climate challenge, and I do think utilities are a big part of it,” said Leah Stokes, a professor who studies power-sector and political trends at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s easier to build a natural gas plant, fits with business as usual, and they can ramp it on and off.”
Blaming the utilities is misplaced for several reasons. This is because utilities all across the United States are adding more renewables, and have been doing so for the past several years. Renewables’ share of U.S. energy consumption has now doubled since 2008, as coal’s share crashed in the same period from 48% to 30%.
But a bigger reason that utilities are not to blame is because their main responsibility is to provide reliable and affordable energy to their customers. The best way to do that at the present time is to use the old reliables–coal, natural gas, and nuclear.
We would be far better served to have an “all of the above” strategy when it comes to energy. We need all sources of generating electricity to ensure the we receive the reliable and affordable energy we need to heat and cool our homes, and power our businesses and industries. That includes the continued use of fossil fuels.