It is Deeply Naive to Think Wind and Solar Are All We Need

My response to anti-gas critics.

As a New Yorker, a voter, and a landowner in the Marcellus Shale, I believe that New York’s fracking ban as well as knee-jerk opposition to every proposed natural gas pipeline project is bad for New York. Anti-gas opposition is based on a constant drum-beat of worst case scenario fear mongering that systematically ignores the benefits that natural gas brings.

Wind and solar and other renewable energy technologies are good growing industries that should be supported. Wind and solar provide beneficial fuel diversity and enable us to be more efficient in our use of hydrocarbon fuels. But it is deeply naïve to think that wind and solar can provide all the energy we need. Our energy needs are wide and deep and require enormous quantities of concentrated energy 24/7/365. Intermittent and diffuse energy sources such as wind and solar simply do not provide the quantities or qualities of energy modern civilization requires.

New York State consumed roughly 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas last year, and those quantities are growing as increased use of natural gas is mandated by public health officials under both the EPA’s Clean Power Plan intended to reduce carbon emissions and the PlaNYC clean air initiatives in New York City. Any gas produced in New York State would be consumed in New York State, even if export facilities in the region did exist.

Natural gas exports should not be feared they should be encouraged, they are a sign of strength and self-sufficiency. The United States continues to be embroiled in increasingly unstable and violent circumstances in the Middle East because we are dependent on the region for critical energy resources. Ironically though, North America has all the energy resources we need. Through a combination of technology shifts and increased efficiency North America could be a net energy exporting region, completely removed from reliance on hostile foreign sources for energy.

It is important to recognize that electric power is only one portion of our energy needs, around 30% in the USA. Even if we were to develop a completely emissions free power grid with a full complement of renewables, nuclear and carbon capture technologies we will still require fuels for heavy duty transportation and industrial heating loads.

Battery powered electric vehicles are an excellent emerging technology, but they are only suitable for light duty purposes. Heavy equipment such as tractor trailers, freight trains, container ships and airplanes still require fuels. Heat pumps are a proven electrical powered heat source for individual homes, but this technology does not scale to heavy duty loads such as heating apartment blocks and skyscrapers in Manhattan. Big buildings use furnaces and boilers for heat, and these require fuels. Corning Glass runs glass factories in New York State, again these run on fuel, not wind and solar. Even the manufacturing of wind turbines and solar panels requires fuel, wind and solar can’t even power their own manufacturing much less all of civilization.

Natural gas is an excellent and environmentally friendly resource because it is clean and can be used across all energy sectors. Natural gas can be used to produce power, fuel heavy transportation, and handle the most demanding industrial heating loads. Natural gas is non-toxic, this is important and generally overlooked by anti-gas opponents. Aside from being a greenhouse gas, natural gas is completely harmless if spilled. The earth releases natural gas in far greater quantities than humans every single day, and always has throughout geological history.

It is worth noting that flaming water faucets in people’s homes have long been documented in New York and Pennsylvania in areas rich in natural gas. Health officials have long stated that having natural gas in your drinking water is not a health hazard, though it is a fire hazard. Health officials recommend venting the gas from wells to prevent fire risk, not for fears of illness or disease.

When natural gas is used to replace diesel fuel in tractor trailers, or replace even filthier bunker fuel in container ships, or replace coal in power plants, these are victories for the health of the planet and all living things. The emissions from natural gas are completely minimal, which is why you can combust natural gas in your kitchen with no exhaust and cook your food on it. Could you imagine cooking your food over diesel fuel or coal? The exhaust would immediately make you sick. The benefits of using natural gas instead of dirtier fuels saves lives and reduces pollution in every application around the world.

Wind and solar and efficiency are all good and should be encouraged, but they simply have no role to play in heavy duty applications that consume enormous quantities of fuel. For these applications we need to shift from dirty contaminated fuels to clean, non-toxic fuels such as natural gas (methane), propane, DME, and other synthetic fuels.