I work in renewables, so anything fossil should make me shake my head. But I try my best to be a realist, so I know we got to live with fossils for a while.
Within fossils however, natural gas is the better evil, to use an oxymoron. Natural gas is the least polluting of the three main power production sources – coal, oil and natural gas. Coal emits about 950 Kg of CO2 per MWh, oil about 750 Kg per MWh and natural gas is less than 600 Kg per MWh.
Here’s a nice graph on comparative CO2 emissions (source).
Outside of the fact that it emits only about half the CO2 that of coal, equally important is the fact that natural gas could also be used as a transport fuel (CNG buses and three wheelers are already common) and as a cooking fuel.
It has been widely opined that this century could be the century of natural gas as the earlier one was that of oil. This is because of large deposits of natural gas that had been found in shale rock formations (called shale gas) in many parts of the world. The fact that USA is one such region with bountiful reserves of shale gas has suddenly made natural gas the darling of not just the traditional energy industry, but even for some in the clean energy industry.
The rise of natural gas has already resulted in some casualties. In the US, it has been wind, to a very large extent. As natural gas prices in the US dropped by almost 50% over the last 18 months after the large scale exploration of shale gas, renewable energy newbies such as Texan oil billionaire Boone Pickens switched from investing in wind power to investing in natural gas powered plants.
With so much potential for natural gas, it was hence a bit of a surprise for me to know that natural gas production in India had been dipping for a while – for seven straight months. According to a report in Business Line, the gas production in India fell 11.7% year-on-year to 3.98 billion cu m, during June 2011, resulting of course in higher dependence on imports. The reason for the lower output appears to be mainly technical problems. I have not seen the data for July yet, but am afraid the trend could continue.
Currently, about 150 mscmd (millions of cu m per day) of gas is available in domestic market; 115 mscmd (slightly less than 80%) is indigenously produced. Until about 2004, India’s consumption of gas was fully from indigenous sources, but then again we consumed much less then (less than 1 trillion cu ft in 2004 compared to 2.2 tcf in 2010).
It will be good to see the gas output scenario improve and become healthier. It will also be good to know if the potential / promised shale gas resources are actually exploitable, or whether these are just theoretical potentials. How environmentally friendly shale gas is anybody’s guess (the process by which shale gas is extracted – fracking – has left environmentalists world over fuming), so I might not have penned so good an eulogy for natural gas were it from shale resources.