• Max Clark

Natural Gas Plays Key Role in American Energy Mix

Pennsylvania’s natural gas plays a key role in shoring up the nation’s energy security by helping support diversity in the nation’s energy mix. Energy mix is a term used describe the various primary energy sources used to meet a region’s energy needs that include electricity generation, heating, and transportation fuel. The idea of energy mix can be further broken down into categories like power generation mix, the proportion of different energy sources that are used to create energy, which will be further discussed below.

Having secure and reliable electricity supplies are important. Most everything we consume, use, and services that we use rely on electricity. Electricity powers things we often take for granted like gasoline pumps, traffic lights, office buildings, schools, hospitals, and manufacturing facilities. Because we are so reliant on electricity, having a diverse and robust power generation mix to ensure the United States’ energy security is important.

At this point, most scientists and environmental experts agree that carbon emissions and pollution created by burning fossil fuels to generate electricity negatively impacts the environment, but at present time, most energy production in the United States is driven by fossil fuels. According to the EIA, natural gas, crude oil, and coal still account for most energy production in the United States. While experts agree that, for the sake of our natural world, energy generation should come mostly from renewable means, it is not feasible to make the switch without a transitional period. This is why diversity in the energy mix also provides opportunities for the US grid to smoothly transition from being primarily fueled by fossil fuels without compromising the service levels provided.

Luckily, the US energy supply already has some resilience already built into it, so that while the industry looks to cut carbon emissions, energy supplies should still meet all consumption needs. The reliability created by having a diverse power generation mix that includes renewable energy sources as well as fossil fuels provides transitional opportunities without compromising access to electricity.

Natural gas is considered by many to be the energy source that can best sustain US energy needs while moving towards renewable alternatives. The Union of Concerned Scientists finds that natural gas is a much cleaner energy source than coal, emitting 50-60% less carbon dioxide than coal during electrical generation. Additionally, the technology to retrofit coal-fired plants into gas-burning plants exists and has been utilized in power plants throughout the Commonwealth, making natural gas a viable substitute for coal.

Advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies have fostered access to vast reserves of natural gas. Compounding abundance with the ability to produce, transfer, and store natural gas results in a product that is commercially viable, and hence, suited to play a supporting role in the transition to the nation’s clean energy future.

The Annual Energy Outlook purports that natural gas production will increase throughout 2010-2035. And even as natural gas usage in electricity production rise, predictions for 2035 have renewables accounting for 15% and natural gas another 28% of the total share of generated power, which is also an increase renewable electricity. If accurate, new technologies will have disrupted the United States’ historical reliance on coal-fired power plants as their share of generation continues to decline.

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