Renewables must give way to 'natural gas revolution'
by Benny Peiser
We will not run out of cheap fossil fuels for a long time and there are much better replacements than renewables, when it does happen, argues think-tank director
By 2020, British Energy Secretary Chris Huhne routinely insists, families and businesses in the United Kingdom will be better off - despite his plan to shift the country towards expensive renewable energy. His claim is based on the assumption that the price of fossil fuels can only go up as we "run out" of oil and gas supplies. As a result, energy prices will inevitably shoot into the stratosphere, making very costly renewables competitive in the future.
I am afraid Huhne's assumptions are misguided. In reality, we are in the middle of a global natural gas revolution. The abundance of natural gas and of ever more abundant shale gas, in particular, has prompted a global rush to explore for the new gas resources. The International Energy Agency estimates that supplies of natural gas are likely to last more than 250 years. Indeed, gas prices have dropped by half in the United States in the last two years as a result of a glut in cheap and abundant shale gas.
Now, another energy revolution may be underway. Methane hydrate is natural gas that is locked in ice. Huge amounts of this unconventional form of natural gas are potentially available for utilisation as soon as technologies to produce them become economically viable. Methane hydrates represent by far the largest source for hydrocarbons on earth. They are said to contain more energy than all other fossil fuels combined and are much cleaner than oil and coal. Global estimates "range from merely jaw-dropping to the truly staggering", according to the American Department of Energy.
Once clean and economic technologies are developed to exploit this massive new resource, there will be enough energy to fuel the global economy for many hundreds of years. Methane hydrates are widely present around the globe – particularly, under the deep seafloor. But they are also found in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The US is now partnering with Japan to test technologies for producing methane hydrates in Alaska. The tests include injecting carbon dioxide into methane-hydrate-bearing layers, the release of methane gas and the storage of carbon dioxide underground.
But getting the gas out is tricky and expensive. The biggest challenge is how to bring down production costs of methane hydrates given the competition cheap shale gas. There are growing expectations that methane hydrate will become a reliable and long-term energy resource of the future. The US, China, Canada and Japan are among the countries seeking to develop economically feasible extraction. But the economics of production from gas hydrate remains challenging. The geographic remoteness of the resource and costly infrastructure for transportation pose economic obstacles.
For countries that have extensive shale gas and other natural gas reserves, methane hydrates is unlikely to be of high priority for decades to come. But Japan and other energy-poor nations, methane hydrates have much more significance and economic potential. No wonder Japan is keenly probing to exploit economically the abundant methane hydrates in its waters. In light of ever increasing shale gas supplies, it remains questionable if we will see full-scale commercial extraction of methane hydrates any time soon. But we are certainly not running out of cheap fossil fuels for a long time.
Dr Benny Peiser is director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation think-tank, in the United Kingdom
EU-Canada trade agreement threatens European fracking bans
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This would be an excellent solution, if holding back global warming was not one of the most pressing issues for humanity. Dr Benny Peiser's think-tank looks little more than a crude propaganda front for the vested interests of the fossil-fuel industry and is in no way providing a public service for Europe, which could gain hugely from making its economy more fuel and resource efficient.
Louise - London
With true renewable energy infrastructure, there is no cost for incoming energy to convert. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Sunshine, wind and geothermal energy is free. Gas isn't.
Canadianmom - Waterloo
The greatest thing about natural gas is that it will eventually free the western world of Middle Eastern oil. Even better, this will happen without government intervention. Historically, the main problem with natural gas has not only been the high price but the high volatility of its price. Shale gas will solve both these problems during the next ten years.
Certainty of a stable and low price of natural gas will encourage the car industry to develop Ing engine technology the few needed steps further. The technology itself has been around for decades, and is currently in use all over Asia, e.g. Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia. It has been used in Australia and New Zealand also, but is currently uneconomical there because of high price of lng. Price of natural gas in Oz/NZ is currently about triple the US.
Car technology is crucial, because almost all oil the western world imports goes into combustion engines i.e. cars. This will be the next revolution but first shale gas will carry wind and solar to a place the belong. A tip.
Green scientist - Helsinki
If those who say CO2 production will cause a disaster, could possibly answer a few basic questions, I would have a little more respect for them. Question 1 - what caused the last ice age? Question 2 - what ended the last ice age? Question 3 - what was all the coal in the ground before it was coal? Question 4 - if you answered trees, you are right but what was it before it was locked up in trees? If you answered in the atmosphere, you are correct - therefore, high levels of CO2 enabled huge growth of plant life.
Question 5 - what percent of atmosphere is CO2 and what was it when all these trees were growing before they turned into coal? Question 6 - how many acres of forest are destroyed every year? Question 7 - how much sun energy were these trees previously absorbing? Question 8 - what is happening to this energy now? Question10 - how many trees have you planted each year?
John - Shepperton
We need to transition to renewables now. We don't have the time for another delay caused by natural gas. This article just supports previous assertions -- the oil and gas company doubling down on natural gas is aimed to serve one purpose for them. And that purpose is another attempt to kill renewable energy. Dark days ahead.
Robert Marston - USA