Coal currently tops the charts as the largest source of electricity in the world. Indeed in the US in January 2018, 31.8% of electricity was produced from coal fired stations, 29.4% from natural gas and 20% from nuclear out of a total of 373,213 million kilowatt hours. Unfortunately, it also remains top of the charts as the dirtiest fuel, not only for its carbon emissions but due to its ability to tarnish the air that we breathe with particulates of cadmium, mercury, sulfur oxide, and nitrogen oxide to name a few. The CEO of Vistra Energy, Curtis Morgan confirmed earlier this month that coal is a less competitive fuel, having already closed down 4200 megawatts of coal fired capacity this year. The question is, how much longer will coal survive as the dominating energy source?
Natural Gas Now
Increasing the supply of gas can be seen as a positive as it draws away from the current demand on coal. Natural gas is clean, affordable, safe and efficient. By converting to natural gas, homeowners save energy and money, as it costs 50-70% less than electricity. Also, a modern natural gas heating system gives you almost instant heat, whereas resistance coils take longer to warm up. New gas furnaces can be up to 98% efficient and with current energy costs, it is more important than ever for the customer to use all energy wisely, irrespective of its origins. So, integrating renewable gas into the natural gas infrastructure may be a feasible prospect. However, there is no magic wand to put this into action just yet.
Bill Gates is one of several wealthy investors set upon accelerating the transition to non-polluting energy sources through research. He is the first to admit that transitions in the field of energy were ‘implicitly harder and slower than in other sectors’. Renewable and sustainable energy sources offer a low carbon energy source for the future. These include solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and biomass. However, the integration of sustainable energy into the current electric grid system presents challenges in efficiency, reliability and the capability to forecast energy production that are also yet to see any major investment.
Intermittency And Infrastructure
For the same reasons we haven’t had a boost in renewable energies into our systems, the infrastructure or long term energy storage is not yet in place to meet the supply and demand of our needs. It is not acceptable in modern-day America to only be able to use gas in the afternoon to power the fire pit – it’s like going to the supermarket and only being able to buy beans between two and half past three – it’s simply not realistic or practical. That is the colossal challenge associated with the intermittency of supply of renewable power. More pressure than ever may be on to reduce poor coal burning efficiencies but the favored replacement is that of natural gas. It is more than likely that this will also be the flexible friend to renewable energy sources in the future, providing the complementary back-up system to fill in the gaps when the sun simply doesn’t want to shine.
Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash