While natural gas is sometimes seen as an alternative to coal, a new study suggests that a switch from coal to natural gas would have a minimal effect on the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – with a maximum reduction of 9% and even the possibility that levels would increase by up to 5%.
The researchers from the University of California Irvine, Stanford University, and the non-profit group Near Zero found that though natural gas’ generator efficiency and CO2 emissions per unit are lower than coal, a switch to natural gas would likely lead to increased demand for electricity and less investment in renewable energy. By modeling high, medium, and low gas supply scenarios with different climate policies, the study found that though the use of coal would decline with abundant natural gas, the portion of renewable energy providing electricity to the grid would drop by as much as 11% by 2050.
The Effect of Natural Gas Supply on U.S. Renewable Energy and CO2 Emissions finds that natural gas would generate the same amount of electricity as coal within 8-15 years, whereas it would take 15 years for renewables to catch up to natural gas under a low supply scenario and as long as 36 years with a high supply.
“Natural gas has been presented as a bridge to a low-carbon future, but what we see is that it’s actually a major detour. We find that the only effective paths to reducing greenhouse gases are a regulatory cap or a carbon tax,” says Christine Shearer, lead author of the study.