Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Natural Gas Bridge to Nowhere

Natural gas is often touted as a "bridge fuel" to get us from coal to renewable sources like wind and sun. I have long been suspicious of this metaphor...we should remember that coal used to be described as a bridge fuel too. The problem I first thought of was that reliance on natural gas means reliance on gas infrasctructure (pipelines and power plants), which creates a path dependency. We won't bridge anywhere if we are locked into this system.

Turns out the bridge metaphor is even more suspect. The natural gas glut caused by hydraulic fracturing of shale formations has cut electricity prices by 50%. This means that investment in costlier sources of energy (wind and solar!) has declined. Indeed, the largest U.S. wind energy producer has just shelved plans for more wind production. Why can't we see this for what it is: same old addiction to fossil fuels.

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