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Can We Skip Straight to Renewable Energy Without Natural Gas?

A protest this weekend at the site of a proposed natural gas power generator on the Cape Cod Canal highlights the controversy surrounding the rise of natural gas. Some say it’s an improvement over other fossil fuels, and a necessary bridge to a more renewable energy system. Others say it’s still a fossil fuel, and we should be investing in solar instead.

The director of research at MIT’s Energy Initiative, Francis O’Sullivan, says neither side is completely right – or wrong. In a 2011 report on the Future of Natural Gas, O’Sullivan and colleagues predicted that natural gas would play an increasing role in energy generation and could provide deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to coal. Then, in a 2015 report on the Future of Solar Energy, the same group called for a massive scale-up of solar power.

O’Sullivan doesn’t see a conflict there. Rather, he says, what we’re seeing right now is the two technologies “coming together sensibly,” with natural gas providing cleaner power than coal, and buying time for the development of the technologies and economic systems necessary to eventually transition to a renewable-based energy system.

28 Comments on "Can We Skip Straight to Renewable Energy Without Natural Gas?"

  1. Boat on Mon, 4th Dec 2017 6:55 pm 

    Buying time by using Nat gas for new demand is a bit far fetched. Replacing coal? An easier sell.

  2. onlooker on Mon, 4th Dec 2017 7:03 pm 

    Better hurry up with that transition ,because the tight oil/shale miracle is fizzling out

  3. Davy on Mon, 4th Dec 2017 7:09 pm 

    Cockiness. We are going to find ourselves needing all of the above once or if the economy deteriorates and economic activity declines significantly. There is likely never going to be the resources and capital to build out the solar/wind complex the fake greens talk about. It is very possible we are going to find ourselves grabbing what is available and that will be what is built out. I hope many more renewable energy projects go through where they are economic. We need a diversity of sources to guard against all those weak links that can disrupt any one source.

  4. deadlykillerbeaz on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 3:56 am 

    Those who don’t want fossil fuels used in any way can quit right now. Can’t use renewables either, since renewables are derived using fossil fuels, solar and wind are auxillary energies of fossil fuels. Have to abandon the renewables project.

    Can’t have anything at all connected to fossil fuels. No car, no house, no luggage, no airplane flights, if you want to be at the protest to end the use of fossil fuels, you will have to walk to get there and wear shoes with leather soles.

    Have to live in the verdant hills, can’t use paved roads either, so don’t go there to the protest against fossil fuels via paved highways either, you stupid green energy hypocrite.

    All afflicted with cognitive dissonance and have no clue what a life without any oil would be.

    Probably never find out either, they’d be among the victims of the die-off.

    Good riddance.

  5. brough on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 6:43 am 

    With regards to this debate the world is focused on S.Australia at this moment in time.
    If Elon Musk fails to stabilise their grid with Li ion technology, I expect a minor slump in the deployment of renewables everywhere. I look forward to the results with interest.

  6. Davy on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 7:39 am 

    We have so many fake greens protesting fossil fuels yet, they do not realize what real green is. Even at a minimum being “kind a sort a” real green means do not drive and do not use a/c. This included EV’s too. EV’s are not green they are dirty and nasty too. Do not participate in consumerism except for the bare minimum basics. Do not buy food from a grocery store. Buy locally and it should be local produced food and in season. A farmers market with apples from a good drive away is not local either. Use the bare minimum of electricity and preferably it be renewable from a simple system. Wash your cloths in a wash tub. Don’t shower and shave daily. Don’t participate in the digital world. Health care should be downsized and for god’s sake don’t travel and vacation.

    I have gone through periods in the past where I tried to live this way and it is hard because you must do it in most cases alone. Believe me people think you are crazy. I know I did it for a year and it really caused problems with family and friends. If you want to be real green go to the poorest parts of the world away from the urban areas and live in dirt poor poverty. That is an easy way to get to real green. You have to buy things that are alternative. It takes the status quo to leave the status quo. This is the paradoxical predicament we green wannabees in the west are in. In the poor parts of the world they are naturally green but even they catch the drippings. Even the poorest can’t leave this nightmare we created. I call it a nightmare if you look at modernism as killing the planetary system. Trying to do good means doing bad.

    Unfortunately if you want to be real green in the west you have to spend money to do it. In fact there is no real green that is affluent. You will have to take a distant variant that is a hybrid affluent trying to act not affluent. In today’s world affluent in any way except spiritually is not green. Have you noticed most of the so called greens today are wealthy and they act self-righteous and special? They are disgusting hypocrites in some way but to be fair it is better than just shit stain brown like many science denying could care less sheeples. At least these fake greens believe the science of climate change and are trying to do less harm yet, being rich is no way to do less harm. These people hate reading my rants. Yes, they are rants because the world wants nothing to do with anti-affluence.

    I am trying to get closer to real green just like I am trying to get closer to the truth spiritually. This is tough because you must live in the surreal of a split world of the status quo and not. I have considered going offline but I have decided it is likely coming anyway. I have more prepping to do. The status quo makes dooming and prepping a lot easier. Amazon is handy for a prepper. Is Amazon green, hell no. Living real green means a lonely existence in many cases because friends and family are fully plugged into the status quo and you are trying to leave it. Society has all these big worlds about green and change and all it is doing is adding to the development. Nothing is changing except another layer of growth on the already teetering house of cards of a late term civilization.

  7. Richard on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 10:44 am 

    Davey you lived a green way of life? Sounds hard for me to believe. I think Green party folk, which I have voted in the UK for, want cleaner air, but not a society with nothing, that is extremist.

  8. Davy on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 11:37 am 

    Richard, that’s great, vote clean air into existence. Why didn’t I think of that??? You UK guys invented the industrial revolution I would not put it past you to figure out how to create clean air by voting. Bravo!

  9. bobinget on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 12:06 pm 

    Planted a bitcoin mining computer in the trunk and parks all day at a SuperCharging spot for free.

  10. Apneaman on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 1:01 pm 

    No, but you can skip to the never ending (until human extinction later this century) wailing gnashing of teeth to replace the useless hope-denial.

    The world’s astonishing dependence on fossil fuels hasn’t changed in 40 years

  11. MASTERMIND on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 4:21 pm 

    This tax bill is an abomination, an act of brutal plunder. Its sponsors should be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail, if not hung from a lamp post.

    -Dr Paul Craig Roberts

  12. rockman on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 5:16 pm 

    Again another report lacking a critical detail: do the protestors live in that portion of the grid to be supplied by the new plant?

  13. peakyeast on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 5:28 pm 

    My personal opinion is that oil will continue to be extracted as long as it provides more energy that is needed. Profits doesnt matter much – except to the companies and their owners.

    For some time there may even be extraction with negative EROEI, but sooner or later reality will have to make its entrance.

    As the tarsands / shale-oil companies bankrupt themselves others will take their place and possibly with a cheaper work force and/or better methods and/or less debt. As they say: There is a new fool born every minute. Hmm… Make that every second. Until the wages are at a minimum level – wherever that is. I suspect the level is about: just enough to put food into the mouth and living in a box at work.

    There will be a lot of stuttering and moaning, but as long as there is no alternative it must go on.

    The debt from the bankrupcies will be absorbed and spread out through society – possibly throughout the world – which is still very rich – which is why it will take some time for reality to make an impact.

    Even after negative EROEI has been reached there will be extraction, but not as a main fuel of society.

  14. Boat on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 5:48 pm 


    You think another pipeline from Canada signals a slowdown in shale?

  15. Boat on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 5:50 pm 


    Don’t forget the pulling of the hair.

  16. peakyeast on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 6:17 pm 

    @Boat: Why would I think that? It is just about the opposite I argue for.

  17. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 7:10 pm 

    Let’s skip the windmills, and go straight
    to Thorium nuclear power. Diversify the
    mix with some garbage incinerators.

    That way no need to kill birds with
    ugly big useless windmills. Or run them
    in reverse, big fans to blow the smoke
    out of Los Angeles.

  18. Boat on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 7:43 pm 


    Point is tar sands grew with low prices at 40-45. At 50+ now and into the foreseeable future they will grow faster.

  19. peakyeast on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 8:03 pm 

    Yes – I can believe that. I can also believe that even if the price goes down and the current producers die – others will take over in some shape or form. Possibly with a lower debt burden or lower wages for workers.

    But the oil will flow.

  20. Anonymouse1 on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 8:07 pm 

    No, narrartiveman. All the protesters live in teepees, eat bark soup(or just grass if no bark is available). They sit around the teepee, banging on drums, and smoking dope all day long, while waiting for the next protest to get started.


  21. GregT on Tue, 5th Dec 2017 10:30 pm 


    “Point is tar sands grew with low prices at 40-45.

    Point is, 40-55 are not low prices.

  22. Antius on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 5:49 am 

    “Can We Skip Straight to Renewable Energy Without Natural Gas?”

    Answer = Yes, but it’s expensive.

    As Cloggie can expand upon, there are a huge range of energy storage technologies (and demand management techniques) that could in theory be applied to wind and solar, such that they meet electricity demand.

    But they are expensive. In theory, we could have used some combination of wind, solar, thermal storage and pumped storage, to provide base load power using intermittent renewable energy, at any point in the past 100 years. But no one ever has, because it is extremely tough to develop a system capable of competing with other fossil/nuclear baseload grid electric sources at a competitive price.

  23. Davy on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 6:04 am 

    Touché Antius

    Dutchy can ramble on for paragraphs telling us about fantasy futures of 100% renewable world (Euroland) and in two small paragraphs your reality douses the flames of his delusions.

  24. Cloggie on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 11:58 am 

    But they are expensive. In theory, we could have used some combination of wind, solar, thermal storage and pumped storage, to provide base load power using intermittent renewable energy, at any point in the past 100 years. But no one ever has, because it is extremely tough to develop a system capable of competing with other fossil/nuclear baseload grid electric sources at a competitive price.

    That’s a bold statement. Did you knclude the cost of environmental damage in your price calculations (if any)? Solar cells exist only since the space age. Oil was 100 years ago as good as it is now, but industry was not ready to invest in manufacturing equipment like this:

    One 5-10 MW offshore windturbine can now be installed within 24 hours.

    Our scientific and technological base is now so much more advanced than in 1900.

    But the most illustrative fact is that last year 90% of all new energy generating capacity in Europe was renewable, with the UK a front runner.

    Bingo! The dice is cast.

  25. Antius on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 2:48 pm 

    The question is whether industrial society can transition to renewable energy sources as its primary energy source, without the use of natural gas. My answer is that it will be expensive – much more expensive than we are accustomed to. You disagree with that statement?

    Up to this point, the amount of dedicated electricity storage added to the European grid has been paltry. Yet the systems involved really aren’t that complicated. Things like CAES, pumped storage and thermal energy storage, could have been built at any time over the past century.

    Solar PV is a relatively new development, but solar thermal power is not. Solar PV has never convincingly outperformed solar thermal electric power on either a cost or EROI basis. We could have built solar thermal power plants for as long as we’ve had steam engines. Wind turbines are even more simple. The technological simplicity of these things is a large part of their strength. No one bothered mass producing wind turbines or solar PV until massive subsidies were rolled out.

    As things stand, the continued roll out of renewable electricity is an expensive gimmick that marginally reduces the fuel consumption of coal and gas plants. Unless we are prepared and able to pay a lot more for electricity, that is all they will ever be.

  26. Dredd on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 4:33 pm 

    I doubt that it matters enough.

  27. peakyeast on Wed, 6th Dec 2017 4:40 pm 

    @Antius: Here in Denmark a KWh cost about 2.4DKR. Which is about 33 UScents.

    About 15% of that is the actual electricity production.

    With renewable power its is a little different – since its “subsidized”. Meaning that the government taxation is slightly less.

    When I look at my electricity bill I get the feeling that the only reason why renewables dont take off is because they are held back by an absurd degree of taxation and greed.

    It is one of biggest cash cows of the country.

    I can understand this when it comes to fossil fuels because of their many externalities – pollution, wars e.t.c.

    But with renewables this level of exploitation and greed is killing our future.

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