Investment Outlook: Fourth Quarter 2021 - Fossil Fuels vs Renewable Energy
A recent Wall Street Journal special section, titled “How Far Have We Really Gotten With Alternative Energy?” highlighted that the share of fossil-fuel-generated electricity dropped from 67% in 2010 to 60% in 2021. It’s no surprise that wind and solar power accounted for most of the shift, as solar panels have decreased in price and larger wind turbines are price competitive. Unfortunately, the sun does set every night and the wind doesn’t always blow. Storage batteries are still expensive and currently only offer about three hours of power. Natural-gas-fired electric plants have taken market share from coal as natural gas burns cleaner and has generally been cheaper. Natural Gas “peaker plants” are relatively easy to start and stop, so they can step in to generate electricity while solar and wind are not generating power. Nuclear energy has also gained market share, but this carbon-free source is more costly to build due to its complexity and safety concerns after the Fukushima, Japan reactor meltdown. There is a lot of talk of small modular reactors (SMR’s) that could be mass-produced in factories to lower costs, but so far this has yet to be proven more cost-efficient. The nuclear engines used in our Navy’s aircraft carriers and submarines are of similar size to the SMR’s. Hydrogen gets lots of press, but it currently only supplies 1% of the world’s energy and only 1% of that hydrogen is “green” hydrogen—meaning it is made from hydrolysis using renewable electricity. The other 99% comes from carbon-based sources such as natural gas.
Geothermal power comes from heat deep inside the earth, but it is limited to certain geographic areas.
Toby Rice, the CEO of EQT, a large natural gas producer in Pennsylvania, stated in a December 07, 2021 letter to Senator Elizabeth Warren, that, “U.S. LNG is the Most Impactful Green Initiative on the Planet.” He backed his statement by explaining the shift from coal-fired electric plants to natural gas has reduced the CO2 emissions in the U.S. by 970 tons per year since 2005. He went on to say we should export more liquified natural gas (LNG) to developing countries such as India and China, so they may also shift away from coal. The shift of developing nations to natural gas could make a huge reduction in CO2 emissions and could develop much more quickly than a shift to electric vehicles. The U.S. has doubled natural gas production since 2005 while methane emissions have declined over that period. Rice is not against renewables but makes the persuasive case that encouraging the rest of the world to shift from coal to natural gas is by far the timeliest action we can take now to address climate change.
Read the full letter here.