Natural Gas a Feasible Alternative to Coal

power-plant-Once the most common energy source within the US, the use of coal to generate power is now, thankfully, on the decline as its harmful impact on the environment has been extensively exposed.

Enter natural gas as a viable alternative as is evident from the boom in its production in recent years.. This fellow fossil fuel is considered less dangerous than coal as it only produces half the amount of carbon dioxide.

This year, gas will power a total of 35% of total energy in the US while coal drops to 30%; these figures are in stark contrast to just a few years ago when coal was responsible for over 50% of all electricity generation and natural gas just 20%. What’s more, this trend is on the rise with natural gas industry expanding at alarming rate.

Other Deadly Greenhouse Gas Emissions

However, is natural gas really less harmful than coal? While its carbon emissions are lower, burning it also produces the potent greenhouse gas, methane as a by-product. Methane is more 30 times more likely to trap atmospheric heat than CO2. Hence if too much methane is leaked during gas production, its advantages over coal can soon be cancelled out.

According to scientific research carried out over the years however, results suggest that methane leaks are currently not sufficient enough to cause natural gas to fare worse for our planet than coal. Moreover, the gas production system is purposely not sealed properly since some methane should be allowed to leak for safety reasons.

In order for natural gas to uphold its reputation as a cleaner fuel, scientists say that the industry must exercise every effort to reduce methane leakages. Apart from being essential to keep global warming in check, eliminating unnecessary leakages will also prove more profitable to the organisations in question.

Short-term Use of Natural Gas Is Beneficial

The long and short of it is that natural gas power plants still have a lower impact on the climate than coal powered plants, even when methane leakages are accounted for.

Natural gas is now considered by many to be a ‘bridge fuel’ that should help us to move away from the detrimental effects of coal to eventually making use of entirely renewable energy sources to safeguard the future of our planet.

All things, considered, natural gas is definitely a better option than coal but it may still have detrimental effects on our ecosystem so it shouldn’t be glorified or used for long-term purposes. Efforts to transition to completely renewable sources of power such as wind or solar should be a priority for all nations to put a stop to further large-scale damage being done to our planet.

Natural Gas vs Renewable Energy

solar wind energyNatural gas has long been considered as a “bridge fuel” that marks the transition from the use of coal to eventually making use of cleaner energy sources such as solar and wind power. Multiple evidence has been discovered to favour natural gas over its more dangerous counterpart, mostly due to the fact that it is considered a cleaner fossil fuel and can be easily and efficiently substituted for coal in most instances of power generation.

 

Is Natural Gas a Clean Energy Source?

Despite these claims, when put into practice, the only reason for considering natural gas as a favourable alternative is that it produces the exact same side-effects as coal only at a much slower rate. It can therefore be considered the equivalent of smoking light cigarettes as opposed to smoking normal ones –  the damage is still being done but you may not die as quickly as a regular smoker of normal cigarettes

Like coal, natural gas is a fossil fuel with limited supplies. Moreover, while the cost of extracting and burning it to produce energy may be relatively cheap in the financial sense, it is costing us dearly in terms of both our health and our physical environment.  

The actual process of extracting natural gas from the depths of the earth’s surface, where it is found, poses detrimental risks to the environment such as possible water and land pollution from harmful chemical emissions as well as the reduction of their limited supply.

Transitioning to Renewable Energy

Using natural gas as a short-term measure is advisable as it does emit just half the carbon dioxide produced by coal and fits within the existing power generation infrastructure currently in place. In the long-term, however, greater dependence on greener renewable sources of energy are required if we have any hopes of undoing at least some of the havoc caused by fossil fuel burning over the past century.  

It’s important to be mindful that natural gas should only be an interim solution, until we can work out sustainable ways to use renewable sources on a permanent basis.

The massive financial investments, adding up in the billions, of some of the world’s leading nations into the natural gas industry is more than likely to hamper political acceptance of renewable sources , when these do become a more widespread reality. Additionally, the convenient reliance on gas is also apt to slow the development progress on clean energy alternatives.

The transition to renewable sources is not an easy one to make and we’re still a long way off with many evolving technologies in need of further refinement as well as the continuing development of regulatory frameworks that must be in place in order to make use of them.

Recent international action of the likes of the Paris Climate agreement should be applauded for their efforts, but these are only the start of a very long and turbulent journey towards fully renewable sources that won’t harm our planet.