Cheap Energy Can Be a Bridging Fuel Needed to Get to the Endpoint of Renewable Energy Sooner

Cheap Energy Can Be a Bridging Fuel Needed to Get to the Endpoint of Renewable Energy Sooner

October 21, 20202 min read

Far from banning fracking, the Biden/Harris ticket appears to be allowing it if not tacitly supporting it. This is not a contradictory stance to their aggressive renewable energy policy, according to Scott Jackson, a visiting professor of chemical and biological engineering at Villanova University's College of Engineering, who previously directed the microbial enhanced oil recovery program at DuPont Corporation. "Rather, it is recognition that cheap energy—especially natural gas produced as a result of fracking—can be a bridging fuel needed to get to the end point of renewable energy sooner," Jackson says.

No one can dispute that the share of our energy coming from less efficient/more polluting coal has dropped dramatically despite the current administration’s attempts at supporting the coal industry. The reason is obvious—cleaner burning energy (less CO2 emissions) from gas fired turbine generators make more economic sense. Gas fired turbine generators are economical at a smaller scale and provides an energy source that can be rapidly turned on or off at any time. This helps to counterbalance the intermittency of renewable energy and, in some sense; this has allowed greater adoption of renewable energy.

The cheapest energy source on the planet is land based wind power. The market has responded to this and now renewables make up 19 percent of our electricity. This percentage was thought to be impossible just a few years ago. Wind power energy payback time (time needed to recoup the energy invested) is measured in months and not years, and investors understand this. A much greater share of renewables (wind and solar) is very doable and makes economic sense.

Jackson notes that development of cheap energy storage technology will help and must be implemented once economies of scale are achieved, however, a national power grid capable of moving energy from the wind- and sun-rich Midwest to the West Coast and East Coast will improve the reliability of renewables to the point where as much as 70% of our electricity can be sourced renewably—without new storage capacity (2018 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory).

Improvements in battery technologies and economy of scale are starting to drive down the costs of electric transportation and storage. Eventually, natural gas sourced power generation will not be competitive to renewables," notes Jackson. "Despite the current low price of gasoline, in part as a result of fracking used in oil fields, electric cars are far more economical to operate. Companies like BP, Exxon-Mobile and Shell recognize that they are energy companies and are pivoting to more renewable sources of energy.

"Ultimately, our government has a responsibility to invest in the technologies of the future that make economic sense—as renewables do—and not support the more costly and outdated fossil fuel industry," says Jackson.

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