A group of the world’s leading gas groups are calling on the world’s leaders to give it favourable status ahead of coal in terms of its contribution to overall power generation, a move the coal industry claims is opportunistic.
The International Gas Union — whose members are industry associations and leading gas companies including Gazprom of Russia, Saudi Aramco and Qatargas — is highlighting at COP21 in Paris, the benefits in terms of reduced local pollution from switching away from coal and oil to gas.
However the head of the association of coal importers (CoalImp), Nigel Yaxley, has hit out at the claims being made by the gas industry, telling Power Engineering International, "It is not surprising that the gas industry should seek to grow its market share and its profits on the back of climate change concerns."
"This ignores however the affordability and security angles of the energy trilemma. Coal remains the cheapest and most secure fossil fuel source. It is of course right that gas has lower CO2 emissions than coal, but it remains incompatible with a low carbon future unless fitted with CCS. There is a risk that new gas stations being built now lock in emissions for decades to come."
The gas lobby claims gas can play an essential role in helping to reduce carbon emissions particularly in cities while not compromising energy security.
Large oil and gas groups including Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total and Reliance have signed a statement supporting efforts to curb carbon dioxide emissions, and see an opportunity in shifting power generation from coal to gas.
Coal-fired power stations release roughly twice as much CO2 as gas-fired power plants for an equivalent output of electricity.
The FT reports that cities that have used more gas and less coal and oil have achieved large cuts in pollutants.
Mel Ydreos, IGU Coordination Committee Chair of the IGU, which launched a report in Paris on Thursday setting out the industry’s case, said: “We believe that gas stands apart, and should not be dumped into the same bucket as other fossil fuels.”
The IGU argued that cities such as New York showed how urban air pollution could be tackled. In New York City, the utility Consolidated Edison has since 2011 switched almost 5,000 large buildings over from using heavy oil for heating to gas, encouraged by an initiative launched by the mayor and backed by the Environmental Defence Fund.
The weight of particulate matter in New York’s air has dropped from an annual average of 17 microgrammes per cubic metre in 2003-05 to 10.6 microgrammes per cubic metre by 2014.
Scott Foster, director of the sustainable energy division at the UN Economic Commission for Europe, a policy promotion body, agreed there was a vital role for gas.
“There is no plausible scenario that doesn’t include a significant proportion of the energy mix being fossil fuels for the near to medium term,” he said. “Governments need to put in place policies that recognise the benefits that natural gas can bring.”
The assertions made by the IGU seem to contradict what coal chiefs told Power Engineering International in recent weeks.
The IEA Clean Coal Centre told the power news site with regard to a recent move by the British to phase out coal, “Building unabated gas-fired power stations locks the UK in to substantial emissions from fossil fuels for possibly the next 40 years.”
“The IEA CCC published a report this year comparing the greenhouse impact of coal and gas. It found that if the rate of methane leakage is more than 3 per cent during the upstream sourcing and processing of natural gas, then the climatic benefit of substituting gas for coal is negated.”
The IEA CCC also pointed out that emissions from gas are comparable to those from new top-of-the-range ultra-supercritical (USC) coal-fired plant and would be higher than those from USC coal with CCS.
Meanwhile Benjamin Sporton of the World Coal Association had argued that the UK government was incorrect to remove coal from its power generation portfolio, saying, “Fuel switching is not an effective strategy to address climate change."
“In the future, gas too will require CCS. The Government should adopt a technology-based approach to energy policy and invest in carbon emission reductions expertise regardless of energy source. The world’s first large-scale CCS project was launched in 2014 at SaskPower’s coal-fired Boundary Dam power plant in Canada. This coal-fired CCS project is an example of what can be achieved, capturing 90 per cent of CO2.”