In a recently published paper, CLEC has described the current energy crisis crippling New England’s economy and offered a realistic plan for natural gas to form the foundation of an affordable clean energy paradigm based on renewable energy, energy efficiency, smart grid technologies, and alternatives to oil in heating and transportation. Expanding natural gas pipeline capacity today by approximately 2 Bcf/d will enable this new energy paradigm economically, politically, and physically.
We must first use natural gas to lock-in the emissions reductions already achieved and to finish the displacement of our dirtiest, least efficient, and most expensive generators fueled by coal and oil. This will at a minimum allow the region to utilize its existing flexible natural gas-fired generators to integrate desired short-term levels of renewable energy, while preventing the re-entrenchment of inflexible coal and oil. It will also allow for natural gas to penetrate a heating market still dominated by oil in New England.
Expansion of natural gas pipeline capacity will also significantly reduce the cost of electricity and natural gas in New England. Lowering costs is absolutely essential to maintaining and increasing the necessary political support for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
When coal and oil are displaced, and New England’s energy costs are competitive with other regions, New England can significantly increase its reliance on intermittent renewable energy. However, this will require grid flexibility that can only be provided cost-effectively at the scale needed by the region’s existing natural gas-fired generators. These “Swiss Army” knives were built around the turn of the millennium and their inherent flexibility will be “stranded” unless they have reliable access to fuel. As their useful lives begin to expire around 2030, the region will have developed additional flexibility tools to further enable reliance on renewable energy.
As the region’s electric fuel mix is increasingly based on renewable energy, the region’s fleet of existing natural gas-fired generators, and a few strategic new ones, will transition from primarily producing electricity to primarily providing the back-up capacity for renewable energy. Less natural gas will be burned, and thus emissions will decrease. However, sufficient natural gas pipeline capacity is essential to ensure that this generation capacity can turn on and fully ramp energy production when renewable energy production inevitably wanes or is non-existent on various time scales.
Finally, with the framework for a significantly cleaner electric fuel mix in place, New England can tackle emissions from the stubborn transportation sector, which today relies almost exclusively on imported oil. EVs are a promising technology that can use renewable electricity to reduce tailpipe emissions, while providing ancillary services to the grid and enabling a smarter, more dynamic grid grounded in small-scale renewable energy.
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