Natural gas: Providing a helping hand for renewable energy



Gas-fired power plants solve solar and wind’s intermittency issues, says study

The blue flame may be essential to going green.

A new study, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, says that natural gas-fired power generation is pivotal to renewable energy development.

Solar and wind are intermittent sources of energy, dependent on bright sunshine and a steady breeze, and need fast-acting backup—specifically, natural gas plants that fire up quickly—to fill the gap on the electricity grid when renewables aren’t generating the power needed.

“Our paper calls attention to the fact that renewables and fast-reacting fossil technologies appear as highly complementary, and that they should be jointly installed to meet the goals of cutting emissions and ensuring a stable supply,” says Italian scientist Elena Verdolini, who led the research.

Verdolini and her team studied wind, solar and other renewable energy generation facilities in 26 countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) between 1990 and 2013. Large hydropower or biomass projects were not included in the research.

The abundance and low cost of natural gas in the U.S. has led to greater use of the clean-burning fuel, as well as falling greenhouse gas emissions. Adam Sieminski, administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), recently remarked that “the drop in CO2 emissions is largely the result of low natural gas prices, which have contributed to natural gas displacing a large amount of coal used for electricity generation.”

All of which could spell good news for renewables, says Verdolini.

“If you have an electric car, you don’t need a diesel car in your garage sitting there,” she says. “But in the case of renewables, it’s different, because if you have renewable electricity and that fails, then you need the fast acting gas sitting in your garage, so to speak.”


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Natural gas: Providing a helping hand for renewable energy

Gas-fired power plants solve solar and wind’s intermittency issues, says study

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