The Role of Natural Gas in Decarbonizing the U.S. Energy and Industrial Economy

What role might natural gas play in deep decarbonization? Some think natural gas should play no role at all, while others think we can continue to use natural gas in the future as we have in the past. In fact, we need a third, or middle path, in which we steadily reduce our reliance on natural gas while simultaneously, and radically, improving natural gas’ environmental performance. This paper lays out in detail what that middle path looks like. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) has addressed policy specifics elsewhere, whereas this paper is focused on the feasibility of and emissions reduction from various decarbonization strategies. 

The techno-economic approach taken in this paper is grounded in a view that there is a climate crisis today, and the climate crisis will be worse tomorrow unless we take immediate action. As with an accident victim, we need to apply first aid, we need to repair the injury at the hospital, and then we will need to start rehabilitation. We urgently need to use current technology to minimize emissions: the first aid. We also rapidly need to develop better energy technologies to replace today’s energy technologies: the hospital. We will then need to implement negative emissions technologies— likely to be very expensive—to remedy the excessive carbon accumulations caused by the world’s delays and dithering: the rehab. 

The focus of the paper is on the potential quantity and cost of carbon abatement strategies that are technologically available now and are practical to implement today. Those immediately available strategies build the middle path for natural gas.