June 26, 2013


Coal Killer : How Natural Gas Fuels the Clean Energy Revolution (Alex Trembath, Michael Shellenberger, Ted Nordhaus, Max Luke, 6/25/13, The Breakthrough)

Amid a flurry of regulations and political activism against coal plants, one phenomenon has proved the most effective in killing coal in the United States: the arrival of cheaper, cleaner energy. Natural gas fuels the clean energy revolution by displacing dirtier coal, lowering carbon emissions, providing a platform for deployment of lower-carbon energy technologies, and creating economic surpluses that can be directed towards energy innovation. And while questions have arisen in the last several years regarding the local and global environmental impacts of the shale revolution, a survey of the empirical literature reveals gas to be a highly favorable environmental alternative to coal.

In a new Breakthrough Institute report, Coal Killer: How Natural Gas Fuels the Clean Energy Revolution, we document the energy and environmental benefits of natural gas and gas's exceptional position in accelerating the transition to a zero-carbon future.

The rapid displacement of coal in recent years has allowed the United States to achieve the largest recent carbon emissions reductions of any country in the world. While natural gas poses significant environmental challenges, its benefits over coal are undeniable. Mercury pollution, sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, water intensity, and pollution-related costs and mortality are all reliably lower with natural gas than with coal. Methane leakage mitigation opportunities will typically prove profitable for drillers, and leakage's effects on global climate change will prove relatively minor as long as policymakers sustain efforts to accelerate decarbonization.

While the prospects for zero-carbon technologies like renewables and nuclear are certainly affected by cheap natural gas, worries that the shale revolution will kill zero-carbon energy are overblown. Cheap, flexible natural gas generation will become more and more essential as variable renewable technologies like wind and solar achieve wider penetrations in electricity grids. And while natural gas has been partially responsible for some recent closures of nuclear power plants in the United States, the major challenges faced by nuclear power -- high capital and refurbishment costs, regulatory uncertainty, and public skepticism -- predate and overwhelm the competitive pressure posed by the American shale revolution. Zero-carbon technologies remain far more dependent on innovation policies than the relative price of natural gas.

The arrival of a cheaper energy technology to displace coal has provided more than $100 billion a year in economic benefits to the United States, and tens of millions in state and federal revenues. Within the next few years the shale revolution will have contributed more to the US economy than all cumulative federal expenditures on all energy industries since 1950.

Posted by at June 26, 2013 5:19 AM

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