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Natural gas has become an increasingly important energy source across the United States and the world. Its proponents tout it as a cleaner fossil fuel that can act as a “bridge” to a more renewable energy future. However, natural gas also has a number of drawbacks and risks that must be considered. Here are the 5 biggest pros and cons of natural gas as an energy source.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel that was created from decaying organic matter deep underneath the Earth’s surface millions of years ago. It’s found in underground deposits called “reservoirs” and is mostly made up of methane.
Over the past couple of decades, new drilling methods like hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” have unlocked huge new supplies of natural gas across the U.S. and around the world. This has helped lower prices and allowed natural gas to become the number one source of electricity generation in America, passing up coal.
Supporters argue natural gas can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions when it replaces dirtier fuels like coal and oil. But critics say natural gas comes with its own environmental and social issues. Here we’ll break down the main pros and cons of natural gas as an energy source.
Pros of Natural Gas
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1. Abundant domestic supply
One of natural gas’ biggest pluses is the huge amounts available right here in the U.S., especially with the fracking boom. The Energy Information Administration says the country has over 90 years’ worth of natural gas reserves at current usage levels. This provides energy security and reduces reliance on imported fuels.
The shale gas revolution has allowed the U.S. to become the top global producer of natural gas. This abundant supply has helped keep natural gas prices pretty low and stable. For producing states, the natural gas boom has also created jobs and economic growth.
When burned to generate electricity, natural gas emits around 50% less carbon dioxide than coal and 30% less than oil per unit of energy produced. It burns a lot cleaner too. This makes natural gas the fossil fuel with the lowest emissions and allows it to play a role in reducing greenhouse gases.
Switching from coal to natural gas for generating electricity has contributed to around a 30% decline in U.S. power sector CO2 emissions since 2005. Natural gas combined cycle power plants are also really efficient at converting the fuel into electricity.
3. Affordable price
Because of abundant production, natural gas prices have stayed relatively low, stable, and affordable over the past decade. Natural gas prices fluctuate seasonally but have ranged from around $3-$7 per million British thermal units (BTU) over the last 10 years.
This is way less expensive than residential electricity and heating oil. It’s cheaper than gasoline too when used as vehicle fuel. For consumers, affordable natural gas has helped lower costs for electricity, heating, cooking, and other uses.
4. Reliable power generation
Natural gas power plants can provide steady, 24/7 electricity production unlike some renewables that vary based on weather conditions. Gas turbines can also ramp up quickly when energy demand spikes.
This makes natural gas a good partner for intermittent renewable sources like wind and solar power. It provides reliable back-up electricity when needed. Approximately 43% of U.S. electricity is generated from natural gas.
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5. Safer than other fossil fuels
Compared to coal mining, oil drilling, and nuclear energy, natural gas extraction, transport, and use comes with less risk and fewer accidents or catastrophes. It does not spill like oil or create toxic coal ash. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. homes and businesses use natural gas with few safety issues when equipment is properly installed and maintained.
Over its long history as an energy source, natural gas has compiled a strong safety record. Deaths and injuries in the natural gas sector occur at a far lower rate than other fossil fuel industries. This relative safety is a major reason for its growing share of energy consumption.
Cons of Natural Gas
1. Still a fossil fuel
While cleaner than coal or oil, natural gas is still a carbon-emitting fossil fuel. When burned, it emits carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change. Expanding natural gas production and consumption may delay transition to zero-emission energy sources.
Some studies have found that methane leakage during natural gas drilling, transport, and usage could erase some of its emission advantages over coal. More research is needed, but methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas in the short term. Even small amounts of leakage could impact the climate.
2. Environmental impacts of fracking
Hydraulic fracturing has opened up huge new reserves of natural gas, but it remains a controversial extraction method. The high-pressure injection of chemical fluid deep underground has raised concerns about groundwater contamination as well as air pollution.
Fracking also requires millions of gallons of freshwater per well. Wastewater can contain toxic chemicals from the fracturing fluid. Disposing of this through deep well injection risks earthquakes. There are also impacts to land, wildlife, and communities near fracturing sites.
3. Needs infrastructure
In order to get natural gas from wells to consumers requires an extensive infrastructure network of pipelines, storage facilities, and import/export terminals. Constructing these comes with high costs, community opposition, and environmental impacts. Pipeline accidents or explosions can also be deadly.
Many experts warn the U.S. pipeline network is outdated and needs major upgrades. But the permitting and construction of new pipelines and facilities faces resistance from activists concerned about local environmental impacts. Transport and storage remain key hurdles for natural gas.
4. Price volatility
While natural gas prices have been relatively stable recently, they have experienced volatility in the past and remain prone to price swings. Changes in supply, demand, and markets can send prices upward. Events like hurricanes can also disrupt production and cause spikes.
For consumers that heat homes or use gas-powered electricity, unexpected price rises can hurt. For companies or utilities invested in natural gas, the commodity risk and uncertainty around future prices is also a challenge to overcome. Price volatility has long been a characteristic of natural gas.
5. Non-renewable resource
Like all fossil fuels, natural gas is non-renewable. Current reserves may provide plentiful supplies for the next hundred years, but they will eventually decline. Gas production from existing reserves falls over time without new drilling.
While renewable energy sources like solar and wind are inexhaustable, natural gas supplies are finite. They will run out at some point in the future if consumption continues to rise. This means natural gas is only a bridge or transitional energy source, not the long-term path to sustainable clean energy.
EcoFlow DELTA 2 Max Solar Generator as a Clean Energy Alternative
While natural gas has some advantages as a fossil fuel, there are also renewable energy alternatives available today. Solar power is a clean, sustainable option that avoids many of the drawbacks of natural gas.
The EcoFlow DELTA 2 Max Solar Generator system is one example of how solar energy can provide reliable electricity without dependence on fossil fuels. Some key benefits of the DELTA 2 Max include:
- Clean, renewable solar power from attached solar panels
- Expandable 2-6 kWh capacity for home energy backup
- Lasts 6x longer than average solar generators, up to 10 years
- 3400W power output to run almost any household appliance
- X-Stream technology for ultra-fast solar and AC charging
- Maximizes solar input with 99% MPPT efficiency
- High conversion efficiency ratings for rapid solar charging
- Customized energy management via app
Solar generators like the EcoFlow DELTA 2 Max highlight the environmental and performance advantages of solar energy over natural gas. Solar power is unlimited, reduces emissions, and can provide reliable energy independence for homes or businesses.
Natural gas provides abundant, inexpensive energy with fewer emissions than coal or oil. But simply replacing one fossil fuel with another overlooks the long-term climate risks and sustainability challenges that come with natural gas.
The EcoFlow DELTA 2 Max Solar Generator demonstrates the viability of renewable solar energy as an alternative for reliable power generation. As solar technology continues improving, its advantages over any fossil fuel will only increase.
Natural gas may play a transitional role in the shift to cleaner energy, but solar, wind and other renewables likely represent the sustainable long-term future. Considering all the pros, cons and alternatives is crucial for making informed energy choices.
Here are the 6 FAQs:
What are the most common uses of natural gas?
The most common uses of natural gas are electricity generation, heating homes and businesses, fueling appliances like stoves and ovens, and as an alternative transportation fuel. It can also be used as a feedstock in the petrochemical and manufacturing industries.
How does natural gas generate electricity?
Natural gas generates electricity in power plants by burning the gas in a boiler to produce steam that spins a turbine connected to a generator. Gas turbines can also directly convert natural gas combustion into mechanical power to run the generator. Natural gas plants provide base load and back-up electricity to grids.
Can the EcoFlow DELTA 2 Max Solar Generator use natural gas as a fuel source?
No, the EcoFlow DELTA 2 Max is powered by a lithium-ion battery bank which is charged by solar panels or by plugging into the electrical grid. It cannot directly utilize natural gas as an energy input. However, natural gas could indirectly power the DELTA 2 Max if it is used to generate the electricity that charges the unit.
What are the advantages of the EcoFlow DELTA 2 Max Solar Generator?
Key advantages are its use of clean renewable solar power, expandable capacity up to 6kWh, long 10 year lifespan, high 3400W output, ultra-fast charging technology, maximized solar input, high efficiency conversion of solar to electricity, and customized energy management via app.
What are the disadvantages of using natural gas for heating?
Disadvantages include methane leaks contributing to global warming, non-renewable finite supplies, price volatility risk, infrastructure needs for delivery from well to end user, and safety risks if equipment is not properly installed or maintained. Long term, natural gas is not sustainable for heating as supplies decline.
How does natural gas fuel vehicles and what are the pros and cons?
Vehicles can use compressed (CNG) or liquefied (LNG) natural gas as fuel. Pros are lower emissions, domestic availability of fuel, lower fuel costs. Cons are high upfront vehicle costs, lack of fueling infrastructure, lower range per tank, and non-renewable resource.