By Chris Romer
Here’s a simple truth: the world uses natural gas for heat and electricity at home and work every day. Demand will grow by 31.6% until 2035, when it’s expected to plateau as the energy transition matures. Renewable energy sources and battery storage technology have made incredible advances in a short time. However, natural gas will underpin the world’s energy demand as they rely on it for dense energy.
This is the reality we’re living in. The energy transition is just that – a transition. There is no binary switch to flip.
Building a net-zero energy mix requires dense energy molecules and time. We don’t know how fast we’ll get there, but we know that our current infrastructure holds the potential for a clean energy future. Moving more renewables and, eventually, hydrogen through the pipes will help us forge a new path towards a low-carbon future.
As world leaders convene for their second week in Glasgow to discuss accelerating toward the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, methane has dominated the conversation, finally. Measuring, mitigating, and managing potent methane emissions is technologically possible and affordable.
The world’s energy transition needs to be carefully planned and managed so climate action doesn’t impede developing nations’ economic growth and create energy shortages and price spikes. Unfortunately, some of this is playing out in Europe and parts of the U.S. today, where shortsighted policies have undermined baseload grid capacity, forcing a rise in coal use or dependence on fuels produced under less-than-ideal environmental standards.
Driven by the need to provide backup supply to intermittent renewables and fuel switching in Asia, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects global natural gas consumption to rise by a third through 2050. As economies grow, creating greater demands for reliable, affordable energy, the solution is to clamp down on the leaks rather than abandon natural gas altogether.
Tackling methane emissions from oil and gas operations “represents one of the best near-term opportunities for limiting the worst effects of climate change,” the International Energy Agency reported last month. According to the global energy research organization, there are “practical measures” governments and companies can take to secure a 75% reduction in methane emissions from fossil fuel operations.
COP26 and The Biden Administration’s Methane Pledge highlight the progress that both global mindsets and technology have made to help us realize a greener mission. ESG was a niche acronym a few years ago, and now it’s a mandate that should push commitments into action. Natural gas producers, transporters, and consumers (through their utility companies) can expect cleaner molecules today. ESG pledges are not the same as ESG progress. The annual measured proof will be the reigning currency. By applying qualitative and quantitative measurements to methane emissions for every well-pad, we could help avoid the worst effects of climate change. Now. That is something we can see in my lifetime and yours.
Companies can fix leaks, upgrade equipment to lower or zero-emission, and invite outside operational reviews with high-fidelity data and environmental performance certifications in hand. An environmental performance rating by independent third parties gives gas buyers confidence that the product delivered to homes, businesses, and manufacturers were produced in the most advanced and environmentally responsible manner.
These simple adjustments are commonsense, private sector-led, and reflect the environmental values investors, governments, and the general public seek from companies today. According to the IEA’s analysis, the bulk of current oil and gas sector methane emissions can be avoided at no net cost because delivering methane to the market is more valuable than letting it escape.
The sequential energy transition has begun. Displacing the growth of Chinese-coal generation and gaining control of methane emissions are the actions we can, and must, take next. Our ways of life and ambitions for future generations are only possible if we create a resilient energy future. Climate has no borders, and it’s going to take innovative, pragmatic solutions from governments and the private sector to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.