NREL Chief: Natural Gas Has Limited Role in Energy Future
Even as utilities — such as Xcel Energy in Colorado — move to build gas-fired power plants, fossil fuels should be phased out by 2040 to blunt man-made climate change.
That was the message delivered Monday by Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory , at the opening session of the World Renewable Energy Forum in Denver.
The biennial meeting is being attended by about 3,000 renewable-energy representatives, advocates and policymakers from 66 countries .
The majority of utility investments in the U.S. over the past few years have been for renewable-energy sources. Every energy investment is long-lived, operating for 50 years or more, Arvizu said.
In the U.S., utilities are making their biggest investment — aside from wind and solar — in gas-fired power plants.
In Colorado, Xcel is investing $1.4 billion to close four coal-fired units, switch another to natural gas and build a new gas-fired plant under Colorado's Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act of 2010.
"What happens in developing energy now really matters," Arvizu said. This is even more of an issue in growing developing countries, such as India and China.
Natural-gas-fired plants emit about half as much carbon dioxide — which is linked to climate change — as coal plants and also produce less in other air pollutants.
"If we don't start phasing out even a scale-up of natural gas by 2040, 2050, we will not achieve any of the carbon-loading goals we have set for ourselves," Arvizu said. "Natural gas, while it might be a nice bridge technology, is not the answer to what we are actually looking for in terms of a transition and transformation."
Which low-carbon technologies — nuclear, carbon capture, solar — fill the gap remains to be determined, he said.