New Study: Switching from Coal to Natural Gas is Not Recommended

by Duane Nichols on February 19, 2012

The very first technical analysis published on the climate effects of a full transition from coal to natural gas has been prepared by Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution, and Nathan Myhrvold, the co-founder of Intellectual Ventures.

Despite its reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the fossil fuel energy needed to build out natural gas plants at a massive scale, combined with the long atmospheric life of CO2, means that construction emissions will place a heavy burden on the climate scale for gas into the next century. “If countries were to start right away and build really fast, so that they installed a trillion watts of gas-fired electricity generation steadily over the next 40 years,” Myhrvold said, “that would still add about half a degree Fahrenheit to the average surface temperature of the Earth in 2112 — that’s within a tenth of a degree of the warming that coal-fired plants would produce by that year.”

The study was published in Environmental Research Letters. “There is no quick fix to global warming,” Caldeira said in a statement. “Shifting from one energy system to another is hard work and a slow process. … If we expect to see substantial benefits in the second half of this century, we had better get started now.”

“Despite the lengthy time lags involved, delaying rollouts of low-carbon-emission energy technologies risks even greater environmental harm in the second half of this century and beyond,” according to the study. “This underscores the urgency in developing realistic plans for the rapid deployment of the lowest-GHG-emission electricity generation.”

Regarding their most optimistic estimate, natural gas would require a century to provide a 25 percent reduction from coal burning. And, regarding other scenarios, it would not reach that goal for more than 500 years. Meanwhile, solar, wind and nuclear power could achieve a 25 percent emission reduction within 25 years, and after a century, these three technologies could cross the 75 percent threshold.

See also other entries on this subject in FrackCheckWV, i.e. on this web-site.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: