Will fracking give us the breathing room we need for renewable energy development.?

There is a lot of concern right now about the environmental impacts of fracking for natural gas. Natural gas production by fracking, though, is considerably more environmentally friendly than coal production by mining. Production and transportation costs are enough lower for gas than coal that gas is now a cheaper energy source than coal in the U.S. There are substantial reserves that can be developed by fracking in the rest of the world as well.Coal, which fuels about 45% of U.S. electrical power generation right now, generates about .96 Kg of CO2 per Kw-hr of electricity produced. Natural gas only exhausts about .57Kg CO2/Kw-hr when burned in the same efficiency powerplant. Newer dual-cycle gas-fired plants can about double the efficiency of coal-fired plants. Replacing coal-fired plants with natural gas would therefore decrease our CO2 output from electrical generation by more than 20%. In the 10-20 years until solar becomes the cheapest form of electrical energy, will lower-priced natural gas decrease our CO2 output enough to keep us below a 1000 Gt budget for world cumulative output from fossil fuel?
Edit – Larry, Who’s this "they" you are talking about?I was in the semiconductor manufacturing business in 1974 and heard no such thing.
Edit – Larry The Chairman of Evergreen Solar has stated that they will have grid parity in less than 3 years, with no improvement in the cost of silicon. MIT Tech review lists several companies that have demonstrated use of a recently off-patent technique for making silcon/polysilicon wafers at about a 50% savings. I base the 10-20 year estimate on those two sources, Moore’s law, and my expectations of how fast the solar industry can scale up.
Z – The reason natural gas prices are so low right now is that fracking has brought so much more production online. Those left-wingers must not be quite as effective as you think. Can you give anything other than your opinion why solar won’t be cheaper than fossil?
D/dx – I’m of the opinion that biomass methane can’t scale up fast enough to make a significant contribution before solar dominates. Contradictory evidence will be read and appreciated.

9 Responses to “Will fracking give us the breathing room we need for renewable energy development.?”

  1. d/dx+d/dy+d/dz Says:

    Methane can be made quite easily from biomass and then cleaned to pipeline standards, so fracking is not necessary. The cost of production is about $4/GJ, which is close to the current spot price for natural gas. The economic merit depends on location because pipeline transport is a significant cost. Locally, the consumer cost of natural gas is about 75% over the spot price due to pipeline charges. That leaves room for local production from biomass sources to be profitable. $4 cost of production + $2 profit margin + $1 local distribution. For fossil natural gas the numbers are $2 cost of production + $2 profit + $2 pipeline + $1 local distribution. The consumer price is the same, but local production from renewable sources is preferable because all of the money stays in the local economy and it is carbon neutral.

    Edit: RE solar vs biomass scale up. I like both technologies. Solar captures a larger fraction of solar radiation than plants, but comes at a higher capital cost. At 50 N, a solar PV panel operates at 25% efficiency in December and January due to low solar irradiation. Solar PV panels are more suited to lower latitudes where the longer duty cycle will justify the investment. I think that biomass energy is more suitable for high latitudes where solar irradiation is more seasonal. The technology for biomass methane is quite simple. If 20,000 peasant farmers in Bangladesh can build anaerobic digestion pits with minimal resources and cook their meals with the gas produced, the technology is within reach for most Americans (although some of the comments on YA make me wonder…). The main limiting factor for biomass methane is political will.

  2. Larry Lawrence Says:

    "In the 10-20 years until solar becomes the cheapest form of electrical energy, …"

    That’s what they were saying in 1974 when I was in college.

    "In the 10-20 years until solar becomes the cheapest form of electrical energy, …"

    I’ll cite my source if you’ll cite yours. Of course my sources were a bunch of idiots. I’m guessing yours are too.

  3. Pindar Says:

    You’re obviously sort of intelligent,so why are you wasting your brain power on this global warming drivel.

  4. Shlaw Says:

    Maybe, but won’t the additional supply of energy decrease the demand and urgency of developing renewable energy?

    Assuming that the development is driven by the demand for it, fracking will prolong the development of renewable energy sources.

  5. jim z Says:

    It has been the goal of many of the left to make energy so expensive that alternatives have a chance to compete. This lopsided reasoning has helped put us to the mess we are in. In no sane world would solar compete with natural gas in 10 to 20 years.

    I am skeptical that widespread fracking is needed to produce methane. We have abundant methane deposits. Fracking is simply a tool to use in some deposits to increase yield. I would love for us to use our natural gas supplies. It takes entrepreneurs to make methane more viable and entrepreneurs hands are tied by the government largely from pressure from leftists (aka alarmists). There is no other country in the world that has abundant supplies that ties their hands behind their backs. Even in Europe where they talk the talk, they don’t really walk the walk and always seek more and more natural gas. I think we should utilize our easy to obtain and efficient gas. The problem is that on one side of their mouth the left (aka alarmists) say we need alternatives, and on the other they restrict exploration and utilization. They aren’t really serious in their energy policy except to restrict any and all energy.

  6. Chem Flunky Says:

    It might be a good idea. Especially since a plant designed to use natural gas can probably also burn methane from biofuel sources, so we wouldn’t necessarily need to design or build new plants to make use of bio-sourced fuels. (in fact, pair it with a thermal depolymerization plant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_depolymerization , and you can get both petroleum and electricity from the same biofuels)

    Though it looks like fracking may have secondary harms to be concerned about, and any new operation should be evaluated for safety and environmental concerns, particularly if it’s anywhere near an inhabited area.

  7. Bad Moon Rising Says:

    Fracing is not an issue of any sort, except in jurisdictions that lack a history in the technique and lack the appropriate regulatory and oversight bodies with which to adequately deal with Oil and Gas Industry activities.

    Fracing has been conducted extensively since the 1950’s without any major incidents of an environmental nature at all! It is the hysteria of uninformed "environmentalists" and uneducated citizens that have made this a false issue in the last several years. The real issues of water usage and disposal, which are the biggest ones, seem to have been completely overlooked in favor of false claims of water well contamination, earthquakes and surface rights issues.

  8. Vince Says:

    Renewable energy is something we can do if we wanted to. Many states could have solar panels and wind mills. But they choose to burn coal instead.

    We have plenty of natural gas. We should be using THAT for transportation. Instead, we burn natural gas for electricity and import oil for transportation. If Obama issued an Executive Order mandating that all new government vehicles run on natural gas, we wouldn’t have to import so much oil.

  9. Mr. Blob Says:

    If fracking destroys a landscape and property value (and a water supply to boot) what good is it? We are trading one fossil carbon problem for another. It’s a moot question though, shale gas will be fully developed whether people like it or not. The question is whether we will use the time and low carbon energy wisely. It’s time to get off non-renewable energy once and for all starting now.