Natural Gas as Cleantech Enabler?
By Erin Del Llano, Vice President, Schwartz MSL, MSLGROUP Americas
The high production levels of natural gas, due in large part to an abundance in shale reserves, has pushed natural gas prices to a 10-year low. Plenty of pundits are outlining the threat this poses to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, which are still working on creating a more competitive cost per kWh.
However, there’s room for optimism especially when we adopt a long-term vision of a more decentralized, flexible power grid. (Read: Frenemies—Why Solar and Natural Gas Will Be Central to US Energy Policy)
One clean energy technology that stands to benefit from low natural gas prices is the fuel cell.
Stationary fuel cell plants are in use by utilities, manufacturers, universities and other commercial facilities, to leverage more cost efficient and cleaner baseload power than what’s produced at traditional coal plants. These stationary fuel cells are more than twice as powerful as the ones used in vehicles, but go through the same type of electrochemical reaction that turns hydrogen and oxygen into electricity, heat and water. Cogeneration or combined heat and power (CHP) fuel cell plants that use natural gas as the feedstock offer tremendously powerful and cost effective, clean, distributed power generation. Dropping natural gas prices make these systems even more attractive.
Solar and wind stand to benefit, too.
Lowered Costs, Higher Efficiency, Plus Back-up
Most utilities, driven by renewable portfolio standards (RFPs), federal tax credits and corporate commitments to sustainability, will continue to look at a mix of energy sources that include solar and wind. What these ultra-clean power sources deliver in clean energy generation, however, they can lack in baseload power due to their intermittent nature.
Natural gas provides flexible and dedicated back up power generation for solar and wind plants, which can improve the higher costs and lost efficiency created by traditional, centralized coal plants that often transmit electricity to customers thousands of miles and several states away.
These more flexible, local and cleaner energy sources are critical to the power grid of the future. There is a PR opportunity here to shift the conversation onto the need for more integrated plants that use natural gas collaboratively with renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and fuel cells—and beyond the short term cost per kWh.
Originally posted on SchwartzMSL’s Renewablog.