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Using Natural Gas for Decarbonizing Economy Calls for New Approaches

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Published on : Dec 18, 2019

Ascertaining the role of natural gas in decarbonizing the economy is nothing short of a herculean task for researchers and policy makers. Factors are multidimensional and widely varied. Hence its needs multiple approaches to assess its role in transition toward net-zero-carbon energy system. Over the past few years, industry players have pinned great hopes on using natural gas in generating low-carbon electricity. However, the results have been mixed.

Unarguably, natural gas is a significant source of methane. This means that it is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The governments have taken several measures to cut down on intentional emissions. But, what about ‘fugitive emission’? This is the methane emission that silently emits through production sites and distribution pipelines for natural gas complicates things considerably. Monitoring these methane emissions is increasingly difficult, let alone using right measuring methods for quantifying these.

Need to Improve Methane Leakage Detection Methods

So improving leakage detection method can be first step. A study by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has shed light on multiple aspects. They have come with promising approaches toward the problem. They opined that the present methods have to increase by at least 30% to as much as 90% in some situations, for natural gas to play definite role in greenhouse gas reductions.

However, determining actual rates of leakage and on universal basis is a tough nut to crack. The researchers found that the rates lie anywhere between 1.5 and 4.9% of the total natural gas in production and distribution.

Key is to Embrace Uncertainty in Assessing Risks; Tough Questions Remain

However, uncertainly still lingers on. For instance, should economies move rapidly toward transition to carbon-free power, typically renewable energy such as wind and solar. Well, given the current situation, this isn’t at all wise. Or, should they put more stress on replacing coal-fired plants with natural gas. The best way is a multi-pronged approach.

Squarely, the study, points out that embracing the uncertainty in monitoring and assessing the fugitive emission, rather than evading from it, should be the first step. Next, carbon dioxide is no less culprit toward aggravating the problem of greenhouse emissions. So the levels of both need to come down.

The study also has posed several concerns. The economies also have to take into account local conditions. Should they move rapidly away from natural gas production or should they be focus more on strengthening their production infrastructure. These are tough questions and call for analysis on case-to-case basis.