Natural Gas Use to Double in US in Coming Decades: MIT Report

natural gas photo

photo: citylovesyou_ffm via flickr

After two years of study, researchers from MIT have forecast natural gas use in the United States doubling in the coming decades, increasing energy market share to 40%. That increase comes largely because natural gas eventually replaces more coal in electricity generation thanks to future carbon emissions reduction policy. Too bad, as the New York Times point out, that even though natural gas does have a far less impact on global warming than does coal, if we're going to reduce carbon emissions by 2050 enough to prevent the worst of climate change, the increase in natural gas usage won't cut it.

Renewable Energy Currently Replacing Natural Gas, Not Coal
There's another really interesting observation in the report:

The authors point out that there is a mismatch between current energy practice in the United States and the nation's energy goals. As zero-carbon wind is added to the national electric system, the report said, it is being used to reduce consumption of natural gas, which is relatively benign in carbon impact, rather than coal, which has twice as much carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour. The reason is that gas is more expensive than coal.

Gas will eventually replace some of the coal used to make electricity, the study predicts, and gas will be the benchmark against which other carbon-saving technologies like wind or nuclear will be measured. But those other technologies will eventually be needed.

Which makes unfortunate sense when you look at where the most development of renewable energy in the US has occurred--largely in places which already had low to no coal-fired generation and not in those states which are already well above the national average for coal usage.

Some other forecasts from the report:
Electricity prices increase, regardless of whether a price on carbon is established or not: +30% by 2030 and +45% by 2050.

Natural gas vehicles comprise 15% of the private vehicle fleet by 2050, even with more widespread use of biofuels. Assuming a price is actually set on carbon, oil and current biofuels are replaced by advanced biofuels.

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