Russia, Gas, and Electricity

US Republicans have been asking President Obama to fast track liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals to allow North American gas to flow to Europe on an accelerated basis. The thinking is that this will relieve some of the strain on Europe in the event of disruption of Russian gas due to the Ukrainian crisis.

It is all well and good to build an LNG export terminal, but do we really have the vast surpluses of gas to allow this? Some have forecast that the fracking boom may be close to running it’s course. The depletion rates for fracked gas are very high – that is, the well stops producing very quickly. We may not have the surpluses we think we do. But we can make huge surpluses without fracking if we choose to.

In the US in 2012, natural gas generated 30% of US electricity supply. And this was 31% of US electricity consumption. Renewables excluding hydro generated about 5% of US electricity. Increasing renewables by a factor of 5 in the US within just a few years would not be that hard. After all, the wind industry alone has over 12,000 MW of projects in the pipeline, enough to increase installed wind capacity in the US by 20% by 2014. Just ratchet that number up, and add in the solar boom, and a healthy dose of conservation initiatives, and the pressure can come off the natural gas markets in just a few years.

Canada also has a strong pipeline of renewable projects. Natural gas generated only 9% of Canadian electricity (2010), compared with about 4% from renewables excluding hydro (my estimate based on known installed wind, plus some for solar). So doubling renewables would free up almost half the gas we use for generating electricity. 19% of Canadian gas was used in electricity production, so Canada would have 10% of its gas available for export.

The need is clearly urgent. Add the renewables faster.

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