Natural Gas Will Be The “Bridge Fuel” For Our Renewable Energy Future

There is no doubt that we need to decarbonize our energy infrastructure, but renewable energy sources are simply not coming online fast enough for us to switch overnight. In our opinion, we need a “bridge” fuel to sustain us through the transition to a renewable energy future that is powered by solar, wind, and other clean technologies.




Fossil fuels will remain a key part of our energy infrastructure for the next 50 years. There is a direct correlation between energy usage and standard of living, and it is politically unfeasible for wealthy countries to deny developing countries access to cheap electricity from fossil fuels. On average, people in a wealthy country like the United States consume petroleum products at a rate of roughly 3.5 gallons of oil and 250 cubic feet of natural gas per day.

The developing world needs economic energy production.

Current estimates say that demand for energy is increasing at about 2.1% per year. As the world uses more energy, we need to deliver that energy in an environmentally friendly manner.

In 2013, roughly 14% of US electrical generation came from renewable sources. According to current estimates, renewable energy will only account for 18% of US electrical generation by 2040. As you can see, renewable energy generation is increasing, but not at a fast enough pace to become our primary power source in the near future. In fact, energy efficiency (in appliances, lighting, cars etc.) has so far been more impactful than renewables when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint.

Improvements in energy efficiency (such as efficient freezers) have reduced our carbon footprint more than renewables.

While we develop our renewable energy supply, we will still require fossil fuels to sustain our way of life. In our opinion, this fossil fuel should be natural gas for the following reasons:

  1. We have lots of natural gas.
  2. Natural gas burns much cleaner than coal.
  3. Natural gas can be used to generate electricity, or directly burned in cars for transportation.

We have lots of natural gas. The shale gas revolution that has been happening since 2005 has allowed us economic access to lots of natural gas reserves. At current consumption rates, we have over 200 years of natural gas supply. This should be more than enough gas to carry us through the transition to have renewable technologies be our primary power source.

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Shale formation.

Natural gas burns much cleaner than coal. To produce the same amount of energy, natural gas only produces 56% of the CO2 that coal does. Furthermore, natural gas only emits 20% the NOx and .03% of the SO2 when compared with coal. Even if we don’t consider the difference in CO2 emissions, the reduced amount of pollution that would result from burning natural gas instead of coal would save many lives. Currently, air pollution is linked to 1.2 million premature deaths a year in China.




Natural gas can be used to generate electricity, or directly burned in cars for transportation. A very straightforward method to reduce our carbon emissions is to replace coal power plants with natural gas ones. This change will have an immediate impact, and there is no ambiguous technical issues that we need to overcome. Furthermore, there are vehicles that can run directly on natural gas by burning it instead of gasoline or diesel.

Filling up on natural gas.

The place of natural gas as a reliable “bridge fuel” comes as a result of its abundance as well as its clean burning characteristics (when compared with other fossil fuels). In future articles, we will examine what environmental factors we need to consider in order to responsibly produce the natural gas required to sustain us while we decarbonize our energy system.

Comments (14)

  1. Drew Reil

    Thank You for an informative and thought provoking article regarding energy sourcing in the 21st Century!

    1. Solar Consultant

      Hi Drew,

      Thank you for reading our article. We hope you felt that it was informative as well as unbiased as we want to ensure that we are presenting the facts fairly.

  2. Pio Scarano

    Well said. Natural gas is king of fossil fuels and it is the cleanest burning natural fossil fuel on our planet. Natural gas production has for the first time displaced coal as the largest fuel source for generating electricity. Natural gas will help balance the demand for energy while we continue to invest and expand our renewable energy infrastructure. Our U.S. government is helping and leading by example with the largest recent purchase ever of renewable energy. A 150-megawatt Mesquite 3 solar array plant located in Arizona will power approximately 33% of their 14 naval bases located in California. A balance of clean energy is achievable !

    1. Solar Consultant

      Hi Pio,

      We are definitely impressed with the progress that the US is making. Other countries should be following their lead!

  3. Jozsef Molnar

    The technology to use natural gas instead of petrol (instead of diesel or benzin) in car engines is proven technology by nearly all of engine makers. Do you know why the engine makers do not extend this technology much more intensive way in order to fulfill the tightening CO2 emission regulation? What percentages the natural gas cleaner than the petrol (regarding carbon and Nx emission)?

    1. Solar Consultant

      Hi Jozsef,

      I think there are a few reasons that car and engine makers are not widely adopting natural gas as a fuel. One of the main hurdles we see is the storage of the gas in the vehicle a it needs to be either pressurized or liquefied in order for the vehicle to have a comparable range to gasoline cars.

      When compared with oil, natural gas produce about 70% of the CO2 and 20% of the NOx for the same amount of produced energy.

  4. Andrew Krotewicz -semi retired power generation executive.

    I have read with great interest a number of international reports commissioned to identify transition opportunities and pathways to a carbon reduced future. All state that renewables alone cannot fully bridge the energy gap expected with growing world population and increasing standards of living especially in developing countries. Depending on availability of energy sources, each region and country will need to find the balance required to meet reliable, adequate and financially responsible outcomes. In some regions or countries the heavy lifting maybe gas in others hydro untapped and in others even nuclear. The key point in summary is their is no silver bullet in the transition process and the pathway/s may well change over the next few decades based on changes or breakthroughs in technology and other factors that we may not even be in our awareness today.

    1. Solar Consultant

      Hi Andrew,

      Thank you for the comment, and we definitely agree that there is no silver bullet solution. We have been advocating an “all of the above” solution, and would love to hear your thoughts on it: http://solarconsultant.ca/2016/10/11/an-all-of-the-above-approach-to-decarbonize-our-energy-infrastructure/

  5. Martin Rodgers

    All,
    Another obstacle to a more rapid conversion of vehicles from diesel & gas fuel to natural gas is the cost of converting vehicle maintenance facilities to accommodate the safety requirements necessary for working on natural gas vehicles. This especially applies to fleet maintenance and dealer service facilities. Along with the facility upgrades, assuming that the existing maintenance facility can accommodate these upgrades, is the additional training for the mechanics. Currently, if you are traveling across the US in a natural gas vehicle, you can fuel the vehicle along certain routes across the country. However, if the vehicle breaks down, good luck finding a facility capable of getting you back on the road quickly!

    1. Solar Consultant

      Great point Martin! We have a lot of infrastructure built to support diesel/gas vehicles, and a shift away from that will take a tremendous amount of money and effort.

  6. Luc Fromaigeat

    Yes!
    This idea si here for long, as we gradually decarbonize: from coal to petroléum, and from petroleom to gas, with more hydrogen and less carbon content. The trend is here for the 2 last centuries.
    Look at what did India: now after CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) is compulsory for buses, taxis and tuk-tuks in Delhi, Mombay, Calcutta and Bangalore, the air is now: simply respirable.
    Before, the dirty Diesel was a nightmare. I think CNG should be more widespread in Europe. The problem may rely on taxes, as governments feel the pain in decreasing their revenues. The danger of the high pressure reservgoir is only an bad excuse.
    In Switzerland this week-end. we voted against the immediate shutdown of our nuclear power stations. The decision made is: not to transform the operation of nuclear power plant illegal, as this was proposed by the initiative, but: not to build any other nuc power station; and close the existing one by 2040. The polls show a majority for getting out of the nuclear by 2040, so this time leaves us enough time to bridge towards other energy sources, and, we hope: more renewable: Hydro, Wind, Solar. The project of a CCPP has been dropped a few years back because the carbon tax made it not profitable. Hopefully this plant was not built, as the price of electricity has fropped to very low levels in Europe.

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