Natural Gas, Not Renewable Resources… At Least Not Yet

Renewable energy, the wave of the future, right? Yes and no. What if I told you that I think we should curb production of renewable resource technology such as wind turbines and solar panels? Most people would think I’m crazy even environmentally irresponsible. However, I have an alternative to the immediate deployment of our current renewables technology.

For anyone interested in the global markets, the low price of natural gas is no shocker. This past week the commodity hit a 10-year low. The basic economic principal of supply and demand is the primary driver of commodity prices. In the case of natural gas, recently, supply has skyrocketed and demand has plummeted. For all those a little rusty in Economics, a drop in demand and an increase in supply results in a decrease in price.

While the mild winter is sustaining a low demand, the recent discovery of abundant shale gas reserves has created a relatively high supply. The incredibly low natural gas prices have actually caused major energy companies such as Chesapeake Energy, ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum, etc. to reduce their natural gas production activity.

How does the low price of natural gas “fuel” my opinion that we should slow down our deployment of renewable resource technology? Natural gas is an efficient and relatively clean source of energy. Natural gas produces 30% less carbon dioxide than petroleum and 45% less than coal. Regardless of the future seasonal changes, the plentiful supply of this commodity will continue to keep the price of producing energy from natural gas relatively low compared to other common energy commodities as well as renewables.

Cheap and relatively clean fuel is exactly what this country needs. Not to mention, natural gas will help curb our dependence on foreign energy commodities. Since natural gas is difficult to transport because of its low density, the market for the commodity is primarily regionalized and domestic.  The only efficient way to transport the commodity overseas is liquefying it into liquefied natural gas (LNG) and therefore most of the gas is utilized where it is produced. The process of liquefying natural gas is relatively expensive, and the specialized containers needed to store the liquefied gas are also costly to construct. Therefore, LNG has quite some time until we see its widespread use. The U.S. estimates that we have enough natural gas to last the country for roughly 100 years.

So, lets take advantage of this abundance of natural gas. Currently most renewable energy technology is fairly expensive and not very efficient. If we continue to deploy this technology we will have to constantly spend money to update it and maintain the infrastructure. Most likely, as technology progresses most of the current renewable technology will even need to be replaced. My proposal is to stop deploying our current technology. Let’s save the money and use the cheap and comparatively clean commodity – natural gas – that we already possess.

Do not get me wrong, I still strongly believe that renewable resources are the key to our energy problems. However, we need to be patient. Rather than jumping the gun and continuing to switch to renewable resources  let’s make use of our natural gas resources and use our money for accelerating the development of renewable technology. Our current technology will never meet our energy needs. Natural gas will allow our nation to produce relatively cheap energy giving more freedom to research and develop new technology that will make clean-energy more efficient and adequate for meeting our energy demands.

The current deployment of renewable technology is a money pit. We will need to continue to fund these inefficient technologies that will never be sufficient. As a nation, we need to heed to the old saying, “Patience is a virtue.” Let’s not be overanxious. What the U.S. needs is what the energy community refers to as a “black swan” technology. More or less a “black swan” technology is a development that will revolutionize the field of energy. More than likely it is something that we cannot even currently imagine. Something along the lines of incredibly cheap and efficient energy storage, which is currently impossible, but would completely upend our take on energy production. In order to discover such advancements more funding towards research is necessary.

Today, 30 states have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in place. These require a certain amount of energy production to come from renewable resources. In keeping with my idea of halting the deployment of renewable technology, I think all RPS should be temporarily eradicated until more efficient technology is developed. Rather than RPSs, the nation should create mandates that require a certain percentage of states’ budgets to go into research and development for renewable technology. Federal funding that is currently used for renewable projects should be rerouted to research laboratories.

Let’s reconsider our current objectives. Thinking that today’s clean-technology is sufficient to meet our carbon dioxide reduction goals is foolish. It’s like trying to use firecrackers to demolish a building, when really what is needed is TNT. Renewable resources are, in my mind, no doubt the future of energy production, but not the near future. We need a solution that will buy us time in order to help develop our renewable technology. This solution is the utilization of natural gas to power our nation. So while we should not forget about the potential of renewable resources, we should put our deployment efforts on hold until the time is right. Natural gas is a fantastic energy source that needs to be fully exploited. When technology has advanced enough to create the means necessary to meet our demands for carbon dioxide reduction, then lets start to aggressively deploy that technology. In the meantime we should accelerate our development of this technology while continuing to make full use of natural gas.

Luke Richner is a Program and Research Intern with the SISGI Group focused on global health issues, energy markets, and economic development. He is a senior at Duke University, completing his final semester.

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