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Why does natural gas play a pivotal role in energy transition?

With growing concerns about global warming and climate change, the energy transition aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use through various decarbonisation forms and increase of renewables' share in energy demand.

Natural gas, the cleanest hydrocarbon source, has a role to play in supporting a balanced energy transition. Natural gas is one of the global enablers for reducing emissions quickly, cost-effectively, and steadfastly. It also provides a competitive energy source due to an abundance and diversity of production centres and supply routes. All major energy scenarios that earnestly forecast the achievement of sustainable development goals signal an essential role for natural gas in the global energy mix. 

There are three ways for natural gas to support CO2 emissions reductions and carbon intensities:

i) switching from polluting and carbon-intensive fuels;

ii) complementing intermittent renewables;

iii) improving energy efficiency.

Natural gas is a fuel that is more widely used since it emits fewer CO2 emissions and has a lower carbon footprint. Natural gas is expected to have an average CO2 emission factor of 2.2 tonnes per tonne of primary energy consumed, which is around 20% less than the emission factor for oil and 43% less than the emission factor for coal.

In addition to its role in reducing carbon emissions, natural gas has undeniable benefits in reducing emissions of hazardous pollutants that are responsible of air quality degradation, such as nitrogen oxides (NOX), sulphur oxides (particularly sulphur dioxide, SO2), and particulate matters (PM2.5). Based on the respective emission factor, natural gas emits 50% less nitrogen oxides than coal and 85% less than oil. Regarding sulphur dioxide, gas emits 98% less than coal and 96% less than oil; gas emits almost no fine particulate matter.

toe: tonne of oil equivalent;source: GECF Secretariat

Natural gas has numerous advantages that make it the best partner of renewables in the transition to low-carbon economies, especially in the power generation sector, which drives renewable development. One of the most significant advantages of natural gas is the technical flexibility of gas-fired power plants and their ability to respond rapidly to large variations in renewable output. Another major advantage is the abundance and diversity of production centres and supply routes. 

Energy efficiency is yet another key advantage of gas-based technologies and processes, and this is further reinforced when the whole energy supply chain is considered. 

Of all the conventional energy sources, natural gas is the most efficient - reaching up to 60% efficiency- when combusted in the internal combustion engine of gas-fired power plants. This allows utility companies to generate more electricity with less fuel consumption.

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