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Natural gas fuels bright outlook for further emissions reductions

We know that burning natural gas for electricity reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 60 percent compared to coal-fired power generation – that’s a major factor behind the historic drop in U.S. emissions highlighted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Now it turns out the emissions reductions could be even more impressive going forward.

So conclude the analysts at Benjamin Schlesinger and Associates in a study of the shift from coal to gas in U.S. power generation. Their report was written up last week in Platts Inside Energy (subscription required).

The Benjamin Schlesinger report points out that generating baseload electricity with gas typically uses combined-cycle turbines which are relatively new and highly efficient.

By contrast, much of the coal combustion that is being replaced is from power plants that are far older and considerably less efficient. More than 60 percent of the nation’s coal-fired power plants are at least 40 years old, and many of these old facilities are being shuttered.

“When gas replaces coal in power generation,” the report states, “the old coal plant is slowed or shut down in deference to electricity from a new, more efficient gas plant. Thus, less fuel is required, with less CO2 emissions.”

The report’s numbers are eye-catching: As coal plants are retired over the next few years and their production replaced by electricity from natural gas, according to Schlesinger, CO2 emissions will plummet by an average of 68 percent.

There’s a lot of talk in Washington about how to slow the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. Seems like energy markets are already taking on that task, with the help of abundant natural gas.

  • Worth a deeper look...