9 Ways Renewable Energy & Natural Gas Could Together Alter Our Energy Future
We tend to imagine the renewable energy and natural gas industries as two worlds destined to wage war until one side wins. However, as is often the case with conflict, innovative thinking might just be the key to peace (and even prosperity). One case in point is the growing dialogue around combining renewable energy and natural gas technologies synergistically for the good of the world. One of the more insightful pieces in this dialogue comes from a recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NRE) technical report, which offers up nine “Platforms for Partnership” between natural gas and renewable energy in the production of electricity. Following is a quick summary of the nine.
1. Hybrid technologies
The NRE points out that “Hybrid technologies can uniquely capture the respective benefits and minimize drawbacks of individual technologies,” and offers several examples. Three of these examples really peaked our interest: (1) hybrid systems combining concentrating solar power (CSP) and natural gas-fired power generation; (2) natural gas and biogas co-fired combined cycle gas turbines; and (3) the storage of non-peak renewable electricity generation for peak period usage by way of natural gas powered compressed air energy storage (CAES).
2. Systems integration
Here, the NRE calls out the need for more cooperative research between the two industries, saying, “Broader complementarities of natural gas and renewable energy technologies can be realized through co-optimized system integration.” But to be effective, they say these integrations require deep understanding of both industries on both sides, because the growing use of electricity systems incorporating real-time energy pricing, smart grids, demand response, energy storage, and other new technologies is increasing the need for finer compatibility across components. To this point, the NRE adds that “proactive engagement on planning for and investing in new infrastructure can significantly improve the ability of energy systems to handle changing consumption patterns and future industry trajectories.”
3. Revamped market design in the power sector
In this insightful point, the NRE touches on the problem of isolated planning that has characterized the two industries. They suggest that if electricity market structures and regulations, daily operations, and joint transmission planning could be developed collaboratively, it could optimize the use and abilities of the separate technologies.
4. Comparative pathways analysis of alternative transportation
Here, the NRE suggests that a deep analysis of alternative transportation pathways is necessary to determine the U.S. transportation sector’s evolutionary path. The report reads: “One immediate question is whether natural gas vehicles or electric vehicles are a better choice in view of cross-sectoral interests and public policy goals. Another question might be whether natural gas could serve as a useful conduit toward a hydrogen-based transportation sector.”
5. Quantitative tools and models should be enhanced
According to the report, models such as those for electricity reliability should be adjusted so they accurately reflect probabilities of risks such as gas plant outages due to fuel supply constraints. Particularly important, they say, are models pertaining to natural gas.
6. Goals for public policy
In this point, the NRE calls for a greater dialogue and more intense analysis of technologies to better understand the ways natural gas and renewable energy can be employed to enhance energy diversity, mitigate climate change, and increase economic prosperity. They say, “Integrated action plans can realize the opportunities of all options in achieving public policy goals at federal and state levels.”
7. Research & Development – a portfolio approach
Here, the report points out the problem whereby renewable energy, energy efficiency, nuclear energy, and carbon capture use and sequestration options are often placed at odds with one another, especially in regard to funding and support. This problem severely limits R&D that might examine the combined potential these options have to decarbonize the energy sector. The solution, they say, may be the pursuit of a portfolio approach to supporting all for future flexibility and to focus efforts on complementary technologies.
8. Cooperative myth-busting & FAQs initiative
In point eight, the NRE proposes an excellent way to address an enduring problem for both industries—inaccurate portrayals and misinformation. They suggest that the industries combine powers in a joint initiative to answer questions each has about the other.
9. Utilization of energy resources optimized for long-term, between sectors
In this final point, the report suggests a joint research effort and analysis to discover optimal utilization of our nation’s energy resources. If conducted across sectors and timescales, the NRE says such an effort could shed light on each industries’ potential to support the other’s role.
At Lyall, one of our main goals has always been to help build a better world through technologies that support safer, more effective energy distribution. Reports like the NRE’s outlined above are a real encouragement to us, because they show us that this movement is picking up steam. We agree wholeheartedly with the NRE’s closing statement, where they say, “…joint efforts of the natural gas and renewable energy industries to engage on these and other platforms of dialogue and collaboration in good faith can bring new insights to existing bodies of knowledge that will help define and frame current and future policy questions. Policymakers and regulators can then use this foundation to craft well-designed and complementary energy policies and regulations to successfully guide the evolution of the U.S. energy industry along desired long-term pathways.”
Here’s to a bright energy future!