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Could Natural Gas Be a Bridge to Nowhere?

MIT paper raises conerns about whether gas's availabiity and cheapness could stunt carbon capture and sequestration

2 min read
Could Natural Gas Be a Bridge to Nowhere?

In a recent post I raised the question of whether the boom in U.S. shale gas, which has prompted the industry to widely advertise gas as a bridge to a green energy future, could actually discourage urgently needed R&D in alternative energy technologies, including clean coal.* A paper just posted by researchers at MIT raises the same question, but of course with much more intellectual rigor and documentation.

The report, "The Influence of Shale Gas on U.S. Energy and Environmental Policy," by Henry D. Jacoby, Francis M. O’Sullivan and Sergey Paltseva, appears in the journal The Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy. A press release about the report issued by MIT emphasizes the potential deleterious effect that fast-growing dependence on natural gas could have on R&D in solar and wind energy. But the paper itself emphasizes the unfortunate impact it might have on development of carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

Here is the salient concluding paragraph of the paper: "[T]he gas 'revolution' has important implications for the direction and intensity of national efforts to develop and deploy low-emission technologies, like CCS [carbon capture and storage] for coal and gas. With nothing more than regulatory policies of the type and stringency simulated here there is no market for these technologies, and the shale gas reduces interest even further. Under more stringent GHG [greenhouse gas] targets these technologies are needed, but the shale gas delays their market role by up to two decades. Thus in the shale boom there is the risk of stunting these programs altogether. While taking advantage of this gift in the short run, treating gas a 'bridge' to a low-carbon future, it is crucial not to allow the greater ease of the near-term task to erode efforts to prepare a landing at the other end of the bridge."

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* Note: Chris, commenting on that post, takes me to task for saying that neither of two ongoing U.S. clean coal projects provides for actually capturing or storing carbon dioxide. To the contrary, says Chris, the "Kemper plant [in Mississippi]  is set up to capture and sequester CO2. In fact, they have entered into a long term CO2 purchase agreement with Denbury Resources." I must have looked at somewhat obsolete literature about Kemper and am grateful to Chris for the correction.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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