Monday, July 27, 2009

Replacing Fossil Fuels by Using More Natural Gas?

One thing that I do not understand is why natural gas is being pushed so much by "environmentalists", particularly because natural gas does produce quite a bit of carbon dioxide when burned. Not as much as coal, mind you, but enough to be a major contributor of carbon dioxide pollution. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are hardly efficient and are basically a roundabout way of burning natural gas as natural gas burning generators have to take up the slack when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. There are also vehicles that run on liquified natural gas as opposed to gasoline. If we look at the annual estimated end use statistics for natural gas since 1949, you will see that consumption has risen greatly*.

Consumption Graph

Also, looking at this graph, you can see that the annual wellhead price for natural gas has risen sharply to meet demand since the year 2000*.

Price Graph

Natural gas is as much as a fossil fuel as coal and oil yet much of the renewables paradigm is leading to a rapid increase in natural gas consumption both on the atmosphere as well as depletion of consumers wallets. Because of the rapid fluctuations in price that natural gas is subject to, this increasingly expensive fuel energy source is an impractical alternative for running an energy grid. It will also make coal cheaper by comparison and lead to increased usage of coal in the long run as natural gas prices continue to climb at a much faster rate than coal prices.

To make a long story short, natural gas is a fossil fuel and like all fossil fuels has major disadvantages. The renewables movement only increases our reliance on fossil fuels in the form of natural gas and coal while derailing interest and funding from viable sources of energy such as nuclear power. I do not mean to come off as being harsh in regards to solar and wind power, but the only practical application that either of these two energy sources seem to have is for the operation of small appliances or for pumping water.

*As provided by the US Energy Information Administration.


Jason Ribeiro said...

The use of natural gas in combination with wind power has an inverse relationship in accordance to power demand as well.

When the summer days are hot and A/C is turned on high, the wind isn't blowing so the peaker natural gas plants are in full force. When the wind is stronger in the winter, gas use goes down and the wind picks up often at times when it's less needed on the grid.

Natural gas is a good fuel for many reasons so in my opinion it should be preserved for other uses besides power generation. Nuclear energy can not only spare the air but help our fossil resources last much longer. We definitely need that until we find a viable replacement for the day when they all run out or at least become so expensive that synfuels, algae and biomass come into their own as a better competitor.

Neurovore said...

Tell me...I know that the price of natural gas fluctuates wildly compared to the prices of many other sources of energy...but do you know of any research or economic data showing the predicted prices of natural gas in the near future? I know that there are many variables to take into account but I would be curious to see if the projected prices of natural gas are going to skyrocket from all of the increased demand that is being put on it from peaker generators and natural gas burning power plants.

Jason Ribeiro said...

Not knowing any directly off hand, I googled "natural gas price forecast" and got a few good hits like:

There are more of course so if you repeat the search, you might find some interesting sources. Taking into account past price volatility to get an idea of how high it could go might work too.

Unrelated but interesting, if you google "natural gas pipeline maps" you will get a lot of good detailed information. I bring this up because the idea that nuclear plants could be vulnerable to terrorists attacks is thought to be something of a concern - and it shouldn't be for many good reasons. However, no one brings up the idea that natural gas could be used as a terrorist target - far more easy and lethal with the resources to plan such a thing freely available. Now hopefully the men in black won't be showing up at my door :)

Anonymous said...

I think its much more interesting to note that natural gas consumption is about the same as it was in 1970. Indeed I see only minor changes that, when compared to the price chart, clearly correspond to the price changes. Note 1973, 1980, and 1985.

As for the the last ten years, I think the price volatility in this market is closely linked with the same volatility in oil prices.

Energy politics has been a hot topic this decade and this interest has given momentum to discussions on policy changes. This adds even more variables for oil prospectors to consider when they make their projections. I can see how this could also contribute to market uncertainty, but then again I can also see this stabilizing it.

What do you think?

Neurovore said...

Interesting points, but you must keep in mind that part of the increase in natural gas prices since the mid-90's might be partially fueled by the demand for backup generators stemming from the demand for government funded "renewables"build-out program. Not only that, but from what I have seen, natural gas is more prone to price fluctuations than many other form of energy. Finally, I am not sure that the economically recoverable supply of natural gas would be able to meet our ever increasing demand for energy, particularly as a replacement for baseload power. Finally, if climate change is indeed partially caused by anthropogenic factors, then natural gas still releases a fair amount of carbon dioxide when burned. Not as much as coal, but enough to raise concerns.

BadTux said...

Natural gas prices actually aren't a big problem for public utilities because they lock in contract terms for fairly long periods of time.

Regarding safety issues, the biggest known explosion other than a thermonuclear blast was caused by a leaky natural gas pipeline. It killed over 600 people and injured over 700 more. By comparison, the number of people who have been killed by accidents or explosions with modern light water nuclear reactors is, err.... zero.

-- Badtux the Glow-in-the-dark Penguin

[For the skeptics who say, "Chernoble!", Chernoble was not a light-water reactor... light water reactors are inherently safer than graphite-moderated reactors due to their fundamental technology, much as a modern automobile is inherently safer than a motorcycle. Graphite-moderated reactors are 1940's technology and nobody proposes building any here in the USA or anywhere outside North Korea for that matter because they are so dangerous.]

take note said...

The new gas plants being built to back up wind turbines are even more dangerous to human lungs than coal plants because of the finer particles they emit which lodge permanently in lung tissue.

In the words of Saint David Suzuki:

"Natural gas-fired power plants do emit lower levels of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides than coal-fired plants, but these emissions still contribute to acid rain and ground level ozone, both of which can damage forests and agricultural crops.

"Ground level ozone (commonly called smog) has also been linked to a range of respiratory illnesses. More recently, ground level ozone has been linked to the development of childhood asthma, the “most common chronic disease” among children.

"Possibly more troubling are the emissions of fine particulates from gas-fired power plants. Though particulate emissions are about one-tenth what they are for coal power, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 77% of particulates from natural gas plant are dangerously small. These fine particulates have the greatest impact on human health because they by-pass our bodies’ natural respiratory filters and end up deep in the lungs. In fact, many studies have found no safe limit for exposure to these substances.

"Natural gas also contributes to climate change. Burning natural gas produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions (25-40% lower, per unit of generated electricity) than coal or oil, but there will be no real climate change benefit until gas-fired power plants actually displace coal-fired generation. Across North America, gas-fired plants continue to be built in addition to coal-fired power.
Using natural gas as a “transition fuel” also poses risks. That’s because pipelines required to transport natural gas from its source to the power plant are expensive. High pipeline costs have to be spread out by building several gas-fired power plants that last a generation. Even the best-case scenario shows that natural gas is not a solution to climate change.

"Price Increases

"There is also the issue of the price volatility associated with natural gas. Many energy experts are predicting that North American natural gas prices will climb to twice their average price. This can be attributed to continued growth in gas-fired electricity in North America—driven by U.S. demand that is exceeding proven reserves of natural gas.
Canada is America’s largest source of natural gas, providing approximately 85% of their gross imports. But Canada’s reserves are dwindling. It is well known that Canadian conventional gas peaked around 2001. Half of all Canadian homes are heated primarily by natural gas. Based on proven reserves and 2002 production, Canada has less than ten years of production left. In the long run, increased supply will not be able to match demand".

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