Report: Natural Gas, Renewables Working in “Tandem”; Key to Achieving “Substantial Climate Goals”

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions last year were at their lowest levels in three decades, propelled by pandemic-induced economic lockdowns and structural changes in power generation, data released today reveals.  

According Rhodium Group analysis, overall 2020 U.S. emissions were down 21% below 2005 levels, with those tied to the power sector 10.3% below the 2019 mark. The electric power sector “saw the second largest decline in GHG emissions from 2019 levels, dropping 167 million metric tons.”

Rather than a drop in electricity demand, which only fell 2% year-over-year, the rise of natural gas and renewables in power generation has been the primary driver of annual emission reductions.

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have seen a steady annual decline since 2005, The New York Times reported, “in large part because utilities that generate electricity have been shifting…in favor of cheaper and cleaner natural gas, wind and solar power.”

With market-driven, structural changes ongoing in U.S. power generation, where natural gas and renewables work in partnership, emissions reductions are likely to continue, even among post-pandemic economic rebounds.

In fact, neither natural gas nor renewables will be “sufficient alone” in decarbonization efforts, a recent GE whitepaper concluded.

“Deployed in tandem, [natural gas and renewables] can provide decarbonization at the pace and scale needed to help achieve substantial climate goals.”

The whitepaper, “Accelerated Growth of Renewables and Gas Power Can Rapidly Change the Trajectory on Climate Change,” reaffirms the best approach to achieving economic growth and sustainability goals is through an integrated renewable and natural gas mix.

Two key takeaways:

  • Gas is reliable, inexpensive, and doesn’t require a lot of land; the ideal complement to renewable energy.
  • While renewable power is variable, gas power is dispatchable, dependable and flexible, available as much as 90% of the time.

“Electrification by itself will not deliver on sustainability goals,” the whitepaper continues. And, in fact, even if the world could bring power sector emissions to zero immediately, – while unachievable – the goal of the COP 21 Paris Agreement to keep the global average temperature increase at less than 2℃ wouldn’t be realized.

Instead, there is potential to immediately reduce up to 1.2 Gt/yr of CO2 emissions in today’s power sector by running existing gas-fired plants and ramping up high efficiency combined cycle capacity, the report states.