A new report by Cambridge Energy Research Associates predicts that America’s power generation industry may default to shale-gas as the preferred fuel for the next generation of Americans. “Fueling North America’s Energy—the Unconventional Natural Gas Revolution and the Carbon Agenda” concludes that energy industry leaders believe gas-fired generation is likely to increase dramatically over the coming decades.
This unconventional natural gas revolution is happening so quickly that many are not aware of its emergence or the impact shale-gas will have on power generation. Some are calling it the “shale gale,” a force that is transforming supply and price outlooks for natural gas that may blow away competing fuels, namely coal.
The technology to tap shale-gas was only proven the first decade of this century. The potential scale was not even recognized until 2007, and it did not enter the U.S. national energy discussion until the second half of 2009. Yet, it ranks as the most significant energy innovation so far this century, one that could cause a paradigm shift in the fueling of North America’s energy future.
The power industry will likely increase the share of natural gas in the fuel mix because of its lower carbon footprint compared to coal-fired and because it can be built more quickly and easily than coal, nuclear or hydro. It also benefits from credible expectations of lower long-term natural gas prices.
While shale-gas accounted for only 1 percent of U.S. natural gas supply in 2000, today it accounts for 20 percent. By 2035, it could represent 50 percent. Shale gas and other forms of unconventional natural gas, such as methane harvested from landfills, would underpin a significant increase in U.S. natural gas consumption and could allow the electric power industry to almost double its use of natural gas, from 19 billion cubic feet per day at present to 35 billion cubic feet per day by 2035.
An abundant natural gas resource shifts the choices for power generation technologies to meet both growing demand for electricity and the need to retire aging power plants, and it changes the costs for addressing greenhouse gas emissions. It also could have an effect on transportation fuels—a more cost-efficient way to power natural gas vehicles, power compressors at natural gas filling stations or power turbine-generators to charge electric vehicles.