Natural gas is viewed as a cleaner alternative to the traditional use of coal as baseload energy for utilities. The decreasing price of natural gas has lead to a replacement of much of the U.S. reliance on coal for energy, effectively acting as a bridge fuel until zero-carbon energy sources such as wind and solar become the standard. While natural gas was initially thought to be safer for humans and the environment, a recent study shows that natural gas facilities have much higher methane fugitive emissions than previously expected. Even if these methane emissions are reduced, they cannot be eliminated entirely and can pose a threat to any climate change advantage of natural gas over coal.
Current Clean Energy Sources
Clean energy sources, often referred to as renewable energy or net-carbon energy, come in forms such as solar, wind, and geothermal power. These sources do not release carbon emissions during energy production, causing less harm to the environment and human health. Previously, these clean energy sources have only been used on smaller scales such as homes and businesses due to upfront costs and lack of reliable cost-effective energy storage. Recently, wind and solar capital costs have fallen significantly. Costs of natural gas energy are linked to commodity prices and capital costs, whereas renewable energy prices are only dependent on only capital costs, which are rapidly decreasing.
About the Author
Kandyce Dunlap earned her BS in Community Health Education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 2017. She is currently a Master of Public Health candidate at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a concentration in Community Health Practice. Dunlap has a passion for improving the health outcomes of Native American and Tribal communities, including environmental justice.
National Shift From Natural Gas To Clean Energy
The main explanation for energy shifts is due to building construction and operational costs. Recent forecasts suggest that it may be cheaper to build new renewable energy sources with storage than to continue operating current natural gas plants by 2030-2035. Open-cycle gas turbines, referred to as peakers, are likely to be the first systems replaced by renewable energy sources. Recent trends show that by 2027, clean energy sources with storage would be cheaper than peakers.
With changes in the availability of storage, energy companies around the country are ditching coal and natural gas to produce clean energy. Arizona regulators placed a nine-month halt on new natural gas plants in an effort to push utility services towards renewable sources. Colorado’s Xcel Energy recently filed a plan to close two of its coal plants and replace them with clean energy sources. Michigan’s Consumers Energy also recently provided a plan to shift from natural gas and coal sources to both wind and solar.