As a bridge to a low-carbon future, natural gas can’t – and shouldn’t – meet every need.
Dr. Carl Linvill is Principal with the Regulatory Assistance Project and leads RAP’s work on renewable energy integration and transmission planning in the Western U.S. He was principal author of Western Grid 2050 for the Western Grid Group and served as a consultant to the California Energy Commission on the CEC’s demand-side and energy efficiency capabilities. Dr. Linvill received his PhD in Economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The low price and relative abundance of natural gas bring good news for both consumers and society. Consumers benefit from cheap gas. Society benefits from the availability of gas to help reach emissions reduction targets for 2030 and 2050. However, if we lean too much on gas in the near term, that low cost and abundant supply could encourage ill-advised investments - investments that create stranded cost burdens and delay progress toward a least-cost and least-risk low-carbon future.
Some describe natural gas generation as the "Swiss army knife" of technologies, as it can meet a variety of electric system needs. Yet while a Swiss army knife can prove handy, we don't often use it when we have access to a well-equipped toolbox. And that's the case here. Gas-fired generation may be functional for a number of uses, but it is not optimal for each one if we equip the electric system toolbox with least-cost, least-risk tools. Indiscriminate use of gas generation is not smart. It can introduce unnecessary costs and unacceptable risks.