Jul 17, 2019

The past and potential of replacing coal-fired power, heating with gas

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Expand chart
Data: International Energy Agency; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The International Energy Agency on Tuesday issued a report making the climate case for natural gas — with important caveats — and unveiled a tool for tracking methane emissions from oil-and-gas development.

What they did: The report explores the past (see chart above) and potential of replacing coal-fired power and heating with gas.

Here are a couple of big takeaways:

  • It has already helped. IEA estimates that since 2010, coal-to-gas switching has avoided CO2 emissions that are equivalent to putting another 200 million electric vehicles on the road drawing on zero-carbon power during the same period. And there's cost-effective potential for even greater switching.
  • It beats coal despite methane. While emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from natural gas production and transport erode its CO2 benefits to a hotly debated degree, IEA says it's still a winner.
  • By the numbers: "On average, coal-to-gas switching reduces emissions by 50% when producing electricity and by 33% when providing heat," IEA said.
  • Known unknowns: One important caveat is the information gap. “We don’t know the full extent of [methane] emissions globally because we have yet to see the kind of field studies of actual emissions" as done in the U.S., Mark Brownstein, a top official with the Environmental Defense Fund, tells me.
  • Better tracking is needed. IEA, in unveiling its methane emissions tracking tool, noted "wide divergence" in estimates and called for more data.
  • Industry can do more. IEA said the oil industry can do a lot more with available tech to detect and stem methane emissions at no net cost.

What they're saying: “The issue isn’t gas vs. coal. It’s whether the oil and gas industry is doing everything possible to make emissions of methane as low as possible,” Brownstein tells me. The answer, he said, is no, even as some major companies are clamping down.

But, but, but: Coal-to-gas switching does not come anywhere close to putting the world on an emissions path that avoids blowing past the temperature goals of the Paris climate agreement.

The bottom line: "It is clear that switching between unabated consumption of fossil fuels, on its own, does not provide a long-term answer to climate change, but there can nonetheless be significant CO2 and air quality benefits, in specific countries, sectors and timeframes, from using less emissions-intensive fuels," IEA said.

Go deeper: Natural gas is helping combat climate change — but not enough

Go deeper

George Floyd updates

Protesters gather north of Lafayette Square near the White House during a demonstration against racism and police brutality, in Washington, D.C. on Saturday evening. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been rallying in cities across the U.S. and around the world to protest the killing of George Floyd. Huge crowds assembled in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago for full-day events on Saturday.

Why it matters: Twelve days of nationwide protest in the U.S. has built pressure for states to make changes on what kind of force law enforcement can use on civilians and prompted officials to review police conduct. A memorial service was held for Floyd in Raeford, North Carolina, near where he was born. Gov. Roy Cooper ordered all flags to fly at half-staff to honor him until sunset.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 6,889,889 — Total deaths: 399,642 — Total recoveries — 3,085,326Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 1,920,061 — Total deaths: 109,802 — Total recoveries: 500,849 — Total tested: 19,778,873Map.
  3. Public health: Why the pandemic is hitting minorities harder — Coronavirus curve rises in FloridaHow racism threatens the response to the pandemic Some people are drinking and inhaling cleaning products in attempt to fight the virus.
  4. Tech: The pandemic is accelerating next-generation disease diagnostics — Robotics looks to copy software-as-a-service model.
  5. Business: Budgets busted by coronavirus make it harder for cities to address inequality Sports, film production in California to resume June 12 after 3-month hiatus.
  6. Education: Students and teachers flunked remote learning.
Updated 6 hours ago - World

In photos: People around the world rally against racism

Despite a ban on large gatherings implemented in response to the coronavirus pandemic, protesters rally against racism in front of the American Embassy in Paris on June 6. Photo: Julien Mattia/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of people have continued to rally in cities across the world against racism and show their support this week for U.S. demonstrators protesting the death in police custody of George Floyd.

Why it matters: The tense situation in the U.S. has brought the discussion of racism and discrimination onto the global stage at a time when most of the world is consumed by the novel coronavirus.