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This might seem unlikely as some debate whether natural gas is a backbone fuel for the electric system over the long term or a bridge to new breakthrough technologies. That’s an important conversation – but today, this combination is helping companies like mine reduce carbon emissions while meeting the changing demands of our customers.
A new partnership
Only 10 years ago, coal was the dominant fuel source. Industrywide, natural gas generated 21 percent of the power in the United States. And renewables, including wind, solar and biomass, were even smaller, generating just 3 percent. At Duke Energy, these sources combined were a meager 3.5 percent of our portfolio.
However, the rise of natural gas and renewables has helped utilities send its carbon emissions to 25-year lows. Today, these two sources account for nearly half of the power generated in our nation, and that figure will keep rising.
Renewable energy is a true success story. Wind and solar power have no air emissions, and spurred by new technology, prices have dropped dramatically. And demand is strong: In the first two months of 2018, the U.S. added over 2 gigawatts of new generation, and almost all of it was renewable energy.
But it’s no secret that renewables cannot operate 24 hours a day and require a delicate balancing act to maintain power quality. Battery storage has shown promise to fill some gaps in supply, but more R&D is needed before it can become renewables’ predominant, long-term partner and support large, utility-scale development.
Enter natural gas – now the cheapest form of reliable, around-the-clock generation. It can ramp up or down faster than coal or nuclear plants, making it the perfect complement to meet demand when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.
One piece of the puzzle
The transition to a lower carbon future is well underway in the electric sector – with natural gas and renewables leading the way and playing a complementary role to each other. EIA projects that 21 gigawatts of natural gas-fired generation will go into service this year, as well as over 5 gigawatts of renewables.
But we should recognize this combination is only one piece of the puzzle. Nuclear, coal, hydro power and energy efficiency complete the picture.
Nearly 60 percent of our nation’s clean energy comes from nuclear, providing the 24/7 power our economy needs. As the second-largest nuclear operator in the U.S., we continue to believe that nuclear, the workhorse of our fleet, is an important part of the carbon-free future we all want. That’s why we’re investing to enhance nuclear plant efficiency as well as exploring options, including second license renewals, to safely run these plants as long as possible.
Renewables and natural gas are strong on their own, but together they can transform the energy industry. That’s why choosing one over the other is a false choice. To provide affordable energy nonstop, we need both working together.
History has shown the power of partnerships. But even the great ones – Lennon and McCartney, for example – do not always last forever. Time will tell if this partnership follows suit. But for now, natural gas and renewables are proving they belong together.